As 2023 begins to wrap up and 2024 approaches, it’s a valuable time to reflect on how recent setbacks can give way to new opportunities. For some who wish to journey from individual contributor to management, these setbacks have been more disproportionately felt. 

In DDI’s 2023 Global Leadership Forecast, the percentage of women in tech leadership roles has dwindled to 28 percent. This statistic raises questions about gender disparity in the industry and underscores the need for actionable insights and guidance for women aspiring to break into people leadership. 

Although only a piece of the puzzle, candid conversations with current leaders can unearth strategies, mindsets and approaches to help other women in tech propel their careers forward. Their experiences are not just personal success narratives; they serve as an inspiration and resource. 

Conversations with women in leadership at Honeybee Robotics, Chime, Workiva, Elevate K-12 and Transfix offer invaluable lessons on self-advocacy, mentorship, skill development and fostering leadership skills as an individual contributor. 

In a time when the tech industry stands at a juncture, these leaders are empowering women professionals to take proactive steps toward leadership roles. 

This goal is more than just increasing numbers; it’s building workplaces where diverse leadership thrives and setbacks become stepping stones for future success.

 

Candice Hayes
Director, Fraud Investigations • Chime

Chime helps members avoid bank fees, save money automatically, and lead healthier financial lives.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for management roles?

Management encompasses various skills. If management is your goal, getting comfortable as an individual contributor is necessary, as well as learning how to assess nuanced situations and being ready to contribute guiding thoughts and opinions. Speak up often. This is particularly critical as you lead others since you’ll be the person to whom your team or peers look to resolve issues.

 

“If management is your goal, getting comfortable as an individual contributor is necessary.”

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

Building out the fraud investigations team at Chime showed my resiliency and that my skill set is boundless. It’s been amazing developing other managers to take on the evolving challenges that can make up our day-to-day. Growing my team has been an achievement that I meditate on to motivate myself and scale my future endeavors.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Be a good listener. You must listen to your peers, leadership, team members and, most importantly, yourself. Listening allows you to learn, think and act.

 

 

Sarah Tye
Vice President of People Operations • Honeybee Robotics

Honeybee Robotics develops advanced robotic and electromechanical systems that operate in challenging environments in space and on Earth. The company serves as a research and development partner to help solve its customers’ unmet needs with robotic systems that extend and enhance capabilities in extreme and unstructured environments. 

 

How can individual contributors prepare for management roles?

Don’t wait for or expect others to advocate for you. It’s absolutely critical that you advocate for yourself constantly. The best career advice I ever heard was to “find a problem and run towards it.” A great way to prove yourself is to identify a problem the company has — an inefficient process, a technology gap and so on — and volunteer to lead change and thus solve the problem. 

In doing so, you help the company, learn something new and demonstrate your abilities and potential to lead. In everything you do, be a sponge and learn everything you can. Seek out people who have interesting jobs or roles that look interesting. Ask people about their career paths — people love talking about their successes. You never know when that skill or relationship will position you perfectly for the next big opportunity.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

For me, there wasn’t just one specific moment or achievement. Rather, it was the combination of efforts over time. Early in my career, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” but I realized early on that no one would do this for me. If I wasn’t driving my career growth, no one else was going to either. When I did push for opportunities, people noticed and helped me over bumps and detours.

I didn’t wait for inspiration; I went out and found it. I put myself front and center when and where business decisions were being made. I volunteered to help when people said they lacked bandwidth. I caught problems that seemed to be falling through the cracks. I asked for feedback often, not just on my performance but also on my strengths and development areas. 

 

“I didn’t wait for inspiration; I went out and found it.”

 

Lastly, I built a network at work. I didn’t do this by going to happy hours or networking events. I did it by showing up, raising my hand and being willing to do whatever needed to be done. It wasn’t always glamorous; sometimes, the takeaway was learning about areas I didn’t want to pursue. It paid off when opportunities came up later. I was front-of-mind for business leaders who knew me to be eager and willing.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Good managers are observant and listen — really listen — to what their people need and want. This allows them to focus on team members’ unique strengths. Building a team where the individuals complement each other is a recipe for a very solid team. You can’t do any of that without listening and understanding people for who they are and where they are at.

 

 

Kim Huffman
Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer • Workiva

Workiva provides cloud solutions for improving productivity, accountability and insight into business data. The Workiva Platform includes proprietary word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications integrated and built upon a data management engine. 

 

How can individual contributors prepare for management roles?

The move from individual contributor to manager is one of the most significant transition periods of an individual’s career. Why? You move from being responsible for your own delivery, time management, communications, performance, desire and so on to being accountable for the motivation, delivery and coaching of others. 

Just because someone is a top performer as an IC does not mean they will thrive as a manager. There are a few things one can do to prepare for this. Talk to others about this transition. What was easy or difficult, how did they overcome challenges as they arose, and what techniques did they use to motivate others to deliver? 

Find opportunities to practice some of these aspects in roles before officially becoming a manager. Offer to be a mentor, manage a project or initiative, serve as a technical lead on your team, onboard and train new team members, fill in for a manager in some capacity if they are out on extended leave and so on.  

Many online and in-person courses are available to help individuals prepare for roles: manager essential, servant leadership, communications, delivering feedback and so on. Take advantage of these opportunities. 

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

A key moment was realizing the most important role a leader has is to create an environment where individuals are encouraged, coached and supported in a way that allows them to reach their full potential. To be successful, leaders need to develop leaders on their teams who, in turn, develop and support high-performing team members. It’s a flywheel that enables and lifts the entire team and, ultimately, the organization.

 

“The most important role a leader has is to create an environment where individuals are supported in a way that allows them to reach their potential.”

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Good managers care about their team members on a personal level. A team is a collection of people, and each of those people is unique, so getting to know them is important. 

Understand their why and learn what makes them tick. Find out what motivates and excites them and what they are passionate about. Talk to them about what they aspire to be or do. Learn how they process ideas and what types of communication they respond to. Take note of how they like to be recognized — some folks don’t like public recognition, others love it.

 

 

Lindsay Donikian
Senior Vice President of Teacher Growth • Elevate K-12

Elevate K-12 is passionate about creating high-quality teaching and learning opportunities for all teachers and students, irrespective of zip code.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for management roles?

Take note of how you are already managing projects, developing talent and improving the collective work delivered. Ensure you find those opportunities, sharpen your skills and be intentional about sharing your wins with your manager. These skills are needed to be a people manager, and many people — and their bosses — don’t realize they’re already doing it. 

Be proactive and vocal about managing that x-functional project. Offer positive and constructive feedback to peers and others you’re working with. Hold a high bar for your own work, as well as that of others, and demonstrate what excellence looks like. Mentoring or supporting a more junior team member is nice to have, but look how you can help those around you succeed. Those are the traits that become critical to success in management.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

Always look for that stretch assignment outside of your day job. In a prior role, I managed a team of e-commerce site merchandisers. We were heavily focused on how the products we managed appeared on the website, how customers were shopping them, site traffic and conversion, and so on. 

 

“Always look for that stretch assignment outside of your day job.”

 

One of our roadblocks was having static website content; it was not dynamic based on how different segments of customers might use the product. Dynamic website content was a corporate tech initiative, but it was moving slower than I needed it to. So I jumped in, volunteering to be a business leader on this x-functional, tech-focused product. In doing so, I could get the work moving faster by accelerating collection and prioritization of use cases, acting as QA, unblocking approvals, and ultimately being first in line to test the launch. Doing this meant going outside of my comfort zone and empowering my line managers to run the day-to-day team management. It ended up being a win for my team, the company and me professionally.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

The best managers can unlock the best performance out of their team members through opportunities and growth. This means giving feedback, offering guidance, making connections, providing air cover, unblocking roadblocks and then getting out of the way to let their team members shine.

 

 

Eileen Yang
Director of Product Management • Transfix

Transfix provides trucking brokerage services in the United States.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for management roles?

A common path, especially within product, is mentoring other PMs. In the beginning, this does not need to be official or labeled. I think people sometimes overload what it means to “be a mentor”. Are people coming to you for advice or guidance? Great! You’re actively developing the skill of teaching someone else what you know. This is a core part of managing, especially in the early years.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

I got my “lucky break” when my manager left the company, and I became responsible for managing one of the PMs on the team. Within a year, I was managing three PMs; within two years, I was managing seven PMs.

I recognize that it’s tough to replicate my specific situation, but aspiring managers can focus on three things:

Firstly, be clear about your career goals, especially with your manager. There was a long period of time when I thought about managing but never expressed it at work. I was waffling over what I wanted, partly due to fear. I was worried that I wouldn’t be good at it, I was worried about messing up someone else’s career, and so on. The advice I got still sticks with me today: “People can’t help you if they don’t know what you want.” 

 

“Be clear about your career goals, especially with your manager.”

 

Secondly, earn the increased scope. The baseline is performing in your current role. From there, demonstrate that you can think beyond your area. That way, when the opportunity presents itself, your track record makes the decision easy.

Thirdly, remember that the environment matters. Your skills and efforts don’t solely determine your career. Ensure you’re at a company that’s shown a willingness to invest in you.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Managers need to be able to deliver constructive feedback. This can be uncomfortable, but developing the muscle to give unfiltered, direct and hard feedback early is important.

 

 

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