Becoming a mother is a big step in a woman’s life. But there’s no reason to let the birth of a child prevent a technology professional from advancing her career, according to Jennifer Lee, chief operating officer at Intradiem, which offers intelligent automation solutions for customer service teams.
“In 2019, our CEO asked me to become chief strategy officer, even though I was six months pregnant with our daughter,” said Lee, who is now chief operating officer at Intradiem. “I told him I was about to become a mother, and he said, ‘I chose you based on your proven results, along with your experience and qualifications.’ That was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me.”
Lee was the keynote speaker at a recent IAUG webinar on “The Power of Mentorship, Sponsorship and Allyship: Journey to C-Suite.” Board member Adriane Davis, president of the South Florida chapter, moderated the discussion as part of IAUG’s ongoing “Women in Technology” initiative. “As a mother of four, I know the importance of dedicating time to your family, as well as your job,” said Davis. “Kudos to you for accomplishing that difficult balancing act.”
A path to leadership
Lee kicked off the discussion by outlining her personal career path from being a call center agent 20-plus years ago to her current COO role, leading Intradiem’s Product Management, Product Marketing, Marketing, and Customer Success teams.
“I started in call centers and didn’t have a plan for my career,” Lee said. “I found that this was a merit-based environment, where you can keep learning and growing if you are willing to put in the effort. You certainly learn about the voice of the customer, and how to feed that back to the organization.”
Lee said she took advantage of opportunities to advance her career, including a few sideways steps, and moved into operations, workforce management and client services. But after several years of being constantly on the road, Lee wanted to improve her work-life balance. “I knew the leadership team at Intradiem through consulting engagements, so I decided to take the leap into software as director of the customer success team,” she said. ‘I know right away that this was the right move, and I was invigorated by the company’s culture as well as its product line.”
Finding male allies
When asked by Davis about how to develop male allies, Lee said it’s important to point out subtle biases like stereotypical roles. For instance, Lee said she was often asked to schedule leadership meetings and take notes as the only woman in the room. “I spoke up and said there is nothing in my professional role about being assigned those tasks,” she said. “You could see the light bulbs go off. A lot of men don’t realize these patterns, so speak up and point things out.”
With growing global awareness of the importance of diversity, equity an inclusion (DEI) initiatives in attracting and retaining talent, now is an excellent time for women to step forward and take their place at the table, Lee said. “Organizations are wresting with how to turn this fundamental value into action that drive change in an authentic way,” she said. Lee added that Intradiem is kicking off a women’s leadership group. “After I signed up to lead the group, I realized I didn’t have the bandwidth, and had to admit that I needed help.”
Advice for career success
During the discussion, IAUG leaders Marilyn Shuck and Paula Brown-Hackett joined Lee in sharing their experiences and offering leadership tips. For instance, Brown-Hackett noted that many women – unlike men – feel they need 100 percent of the specified qualifications when applying for a new position. “So, be mindful what you ask for when posting an IT position,” she said. “After all, it’s the team work and soft skills that are most important for career success. So, look for the talent and teach the hard skills.”
Shuck emphasized the value in finding sponsors who offer “you can do it” career advice about new opportunities. She added that it’s a myth for women to think they can do it all every day. “Understand that there are some non-vital tasks that can be picked up later on and don’t overextend yourself,” she said.
Summing up an overall theme, Lee said women should say “yes” to developing new career skills, keep learning and celebrate the results you achieve for your organization. “At the same time, don’t put pressure on yourself to be a” superstar,” she said. “It’s okay to just be human, as long as you keep showing up – and speaking up.”