5 Learnings from DocuSign Women, on Becoming and Being Leaders
Like many others in corporate world, DocuSign recognises that teams are stronger, ideas better and the culture richer with a diverse workforce. In APAC, half of our functional teams are managed by female leaders which creates an environment that benefits from gender diversity.
To capitalise on this, we hosted our female leaders in a panel Q&A, designed to harness their collective experience for the benefit of all our employees.
Participating in the panel were: Emily Creer, Head of Account Management, Jacinta Harding, Head of Recruiting, Jacqui Gillett, Head of Sales Development, and Lisa Munnings, Head of Partners & Alliances (with me as facilitator). In this session attended by male and female employees, a number of interesting perspectives arose.
1. Leaders rarely arrive via the shortest path
It was interesting to hear our female leaders answer the question on what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many had attached themselves to something often associated with a female career path, possibly influenced by TV and their childhood environment; hairdresser and actress were among the answers. I know that at age five I was convinced I would be a vet and get paid to hug kittens all day.
And, while those weren’t the careers we ultimately pursued, I did note the would-be actress is now a compelling stage speaker.
The exception was Jacinta, who revealed a funny story of how as a child of around eight years she had drawn a picture of herself in a suit, with the words “When I grow up I want to hire and fire people.” Lo and behold, today she’s leading the recruiting organization!
Even more interesting was that almost nobody had chosen to study at university the business function in which they currently operated. There was wide variation in the respective paths that brought them to DocuSign, which for me perfectly showcased the flexibility and opportunity-seeking mindset of leaders.
2. Leadership doesn’t mean assertiveness
When asked which skills they found most valuable to have or acquire to be an effective business leader, the group responded with an abundance of valuable advice; including the need to observe and learn from other leaders you admire in your business, and to practice long-term thinking to business solutions. One example was the future-proofing of your team through acknowledging not only its members’ performance, but their potential - your weakest link could be your strongest asset given the right encouragement and enablement.
Jacqui felt strongly that leadership can get confused with assertiveness, and there’s absolutely a place for the quiet leader. Jacqui advised that data carries you further than volume in strategic meetings. She shared that the majority of her meeting time is spent in preparing for them, to ensure that when she does speak, her words are as impactful as possible.
3. Leaders back themselves
Lisa felt that to continuously add value as a leader, and to gain career satisfaction, it’s important to stay hungry. She told the room to perceive nothing as insurmountable, and in this way they would avoid stagnating. She challenged people to always be looking to stretch to the next level. And, where that level doesn’t exist within your own role, know when to start looking outside.
Emily agreed and championed the position of backing yourself. She generalised that males often don’t need to feel they have every skill box checked before taking up a new challenge. On the other hand, women are typically reluctant to step up until they’re sure they meet all of the criteria. She advised the room to be vocal about what they want, but to back it up with concrete rationale and have the ability to validate their position.
4. Feedback must not only be gratefully received but freely given
Jacinta advised people not to be afraid of failure, to ask for feedback above all when you feel you have failed and be ready to learn from it. She added that, as leaders, we should also be willing to give constructive and thoughtful feedback to others, no matter how uncomfortable that might feel. She shared the example that if a candidate has made it through the interview process but was ultimately unsuccessful, you owe it to them to tell them why they didn’t receive an offer. This is critical information to their self-development and improvement for the next role.
5. Not only women care about women in leadership
One last thing to note. All questions from employees on this occasion came from males. There can be a tendency to believe that only women can learn from women leaders. It’s simply not true.