It’s one of the biggest barriers to achieving professional success, especially for women in the tech industry.
Just ask Sheila Oh. “If you allow yourself to be quiet in the background, no one will know your point of view or who you are,” she said. “Don’t ask for permission to lead. Empower yourself. One of my mentors once gave me the best advice: Act like the leader you want to be. Don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder. Think about the impact you want to have, and drive it.”
Oh spent more than a decade of her career finding her voice in a high-tech industry, learning how to lead through influence and advocate her thought leadership in a male-dominated industry. And as a senior product marketing manager at Sisense, she has the chance to keep growing while prioritizing the duties that come with being the mother of two young twin boys.
“What I think is unique about Sisense is its culture of support,” Oh said.
With this flexibility, she feels comfortable stepping away from her computer to take care of personal matters, such as caring for a sick child at home. It’s an environment that Oh believes supports not just women, but everyone who works at the company.
While it’s important for women to have the flexibility to juggle both personal and professional responsibilities, it’s equally important for them to have a space to support each other. Director of Global D&I and Experience Susanna Tharakan said Sisense’s employee resource groups, particularly #WomenAtSisense, offers women the opportunity to share their experiences and gain their peers’ perspectives.
“Having a safe space to discuss issues women commonly experience and having that support system at work can drastically improve one’s sense of belonging and overall engagement in the company,” Tharakan said.
Up from 30 percent last year, women now represent 60 percent of the leadership team at Sisense. With this kind of representation and support, women have plenty of resources and outlets to help them thrive professionally. But what happens when they sign off from work?
According to Senior People Partner Leighton Martin, the support is still there, taking the form of a thoughtful benefits package that includes women-centric perks, such as fertility treatment support under some medical plans.
All of these efforts — from a focus on work-life balance to benefits that support women’s needs — foster a workplace in which women, such as Martin, can grow in ways that impact both themselves and the organization as a whole.
“I’ve felt enabled, empowered and equipped to own employee groups and autonomously make decisions that are best for the business and align with broader organizational goals, which has helped me advance in my short time here at Sisense,” Martin said.
WHAT SISENSE DOES
Sisense’s AI-powered cloud platform enables companies to embed analytics into any application or workflow to make critical business decisions. The company’s technology is used by organizations spanning a wide range of industries, including life sciences, financial services and retail.
Breaking the Silence
Tharakan knows how intimidating it feels to be the only woman and person of color in a room. She has also seen firsthand how powerful it can be to be encouraged by women leaders.
“My female managers always did what they could to elevate me and my work to senior leaders and create a space that made me feel safe to speak up,” Tharakan said.
Realizing the impact of this encouragement, she strives to pay it forward through the work she does as a D&I director. By consistently garnering feedback from employees, Tharakan aims to establish ERGs — she’s helped create two new ERGs while fostering growth of four others on a global scale — that reflect what team members wish to see in the workplace.
“I often use the feedback I hear from my ERG leaders and members on how I can better create programs that would be both resourceful and of interest to them,” she said.
Even Tharakan herself has benefited from the company’s ERGs. Her involvement in #WomenAtSisense has left a lasting impression on her, as she has seen the group successfully foster gender equality by emphasizing community, networking and leadership development.
“Through various educational and training opportunities, members of #WomenAtSisense can enhance their skills, gain valuable insights and develop the confidence needed to take on leadership roles,” Tharakan said.
By cultivating a sense of togetherness, Sisense enables women to continuously learn through their peers — and their work. Martin said that the company emphasizes professional growth, which is encouraged through access to LinkedIn Learning courses, management training, career pathing and internal promotions.
AUTONOMY MEETS EMPOWERMENT
Since joining Sisense, Oh has been impressed by the company’s focus on professional growth and the access employees have to the leadership team. Her managers have consistently guided her growth, giving her the chance to take on stretch projects and share her opinions. “I feel empowered to come up with suggestions for process improvements and know they will be considered and valued,” Oh said.
Tharakan’s managers have had a similar impact on her, handing her stretch assignments when possible. She said that, with their support, she has been promoted every nine to 12 months since joining the company.
Martin believes there’s one element that’s critical to the developmental support women receive across the company: “Creating safe spaces for courageous conversations,” she said, “whether that's through a women’s ERG or simply building trust and psychological safety on a given team.”.
Because managers are expected to lead by example, Tharakan added, the company ensures managers undergo regular training related to various topics, such as gender sensitivity and unconscious bias.
“This helps managers understand the challenges women face in the workplace and provide strategies for creating an inclusive environment,” she said.
When it comes to empowering women at home, Sisense offers perks that make it easy for women to prioritize their personal lives. Tharakan said various benefits, such as setting one’s own work schedule, working from home when needed and paid parental leave, reflect the company’s emphasis on empowering women to find balance in their lives.
In Oh’s mind, these perks embody the company’s uniquely empowering culture, which respects the nuance that defines people’s lives.
“There’s a unique culture of empathy and an approach to people management that’s flexible and comfortable with gray areas,” she said.
DIG INTO THE DATA
Martin believes that one of the best ways to support women in the workplace isn’t holding events or establishing committees — it’s using data more effectively. She explained, “Utilizing data — whether through understanding opportunities for advancement, considering better ways to engage or implementing a rewards and recognition strategy that fuels women’s growth — can also improve how women are supported in the workplace.”
Like many women, Martin has experienced imposter syndrome over the course of her tech career, despite achieving countless milestones, such as overseeing onboarding efforts across 25 global offices.
She encourages others in her position to pursue avenues that will unlock doors to support and confidence.
“Mentorship is critical to combating imposter syndrome,” Martin said. “Seeking feedback in growth areas, embracing failures and learning how to advocate for yourself have definitely helped make my professional experience more positive.”
“Mentorship is critical to combating imposter syndrome.”
Building confidence can be difficult when working in a male-dominatd environment, such as sales or engineering. That’s why Tharakan believes it’s important to know what a company prioritizes before accepting a role.
“It’s really important to ensure you’re joining a company that values diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” she said.
For women who wish to continue climbing the career ladder, there are a few things Oh recommends that they do. First, it’s crucial to have a desire to continuously learn, whether that involves tackling a project that excites you or one that brings you outside of your comfort zone.
Not only will this help you sharpen your skills, Oh noted, but it will also help you develop a network of people who can help you progress in your field. And considering how quickly tech trends come and go, it’s especially important to maintain a change mindset.
“This is an industry that’s constantly changing,” Oh said. “Keeping your skills and network current is key.”