Annette Alexander HeadshotTell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role (this can include anything you are up to in terms of projects/initiatives – feel free to plug)

I am the Chief People Officer at WP Engine and have proudly held that role for almost six years.

I was born and grew up outside of Oslo, Norway. I moved to America to go to university, and kickstarted my HR career after grad school, working across America and Europe.

I started working for Dell in my first HR role in Austin and they brought me back to Europe where I worked in Oslo, Glasgow, London and Paris. I moved on to Barclays Bank, in London, and then took a new role at Danaher where I worked in a consulting role, mostly in the Middle East and the Netherlands. I have spent the majority of my career in technology, working for companies such as eBay and PayPal in Europe.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I studied psychology at university and enjoyed learning about people’s behaviours and what makes them unique. It was at university where I learned that there were jobs where you could combine this with business, and that job was called Human Resources.

I would classify my early career as an evolution, rotating through various HR functions and I quickly realised how much I loved HR because you get to work with people, think about people, and use psychology, but in the workplace.

Initially, I didn’t know what industry was the right industry for me and I started out in the tech industry right after grad school which introduced me to this industry. As I got more experience and worked in different industries I realised that I liked tech as it was a fast-paced environment, people friendly, and such a fun place to work.

The challenge of work matched with my aspiration to be independent and successful has led me to this role at WP Engine, leading all facets of our human resources, which we call employee experience.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Something that I had to learn early on in my career was how to deal with stress. My personal stress was inflated early on as I was unable to switch off, creating sleeping issues. I would find myself never feeling fully present because I was stressed or worried about something, but I learned to let that go. Now, even if I am stressed I try to do the best that I can and accept that not everything can always be perfect, and that there is always a solution.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of having an international background and my international career experience. I’m also proud of collaborating in teams and being part of the successes and failures, always doing it together. I’ve made a lot of good friends throughout my career and I’m grateful that I’ve led a fulfilling and interesting life.

At WP Engine, I’m proud of being part of a scaling and growing company. Although we’ve gone through a lot of turbulent times, with COVID and now a challenging economy, we always come out ahead. I love being part of our team.

And finally, I am super proud of my leadership team. It’s a very tenured, smart, caring team who have worked together for many years. There’s a lot of trust and camaraderie. I take personal pride in this and It’s been a big achievement for me working alongside this talented group of colleagues.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think it is all about consistency and showing up to do your best every day. Show up and be present.

I also think that honesty is fundamental. Be yourself, which I know can sometimes be hard when you don’t feel confident in who you are or feel you belong. All you can do is try to be yourself and be true to yourself.

Finally, be okay with being vulnerable. When you don’t know something or if you’re not sure, ask for help.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Never hold back on ideas or thoughts or feedback, no matter what your role is or what level you are in your career. If you have something to say, don’t be afraid to say it. I find so many people are holding back. People will notice that you have your own thoughts and opinions and that you’re thoughtful – going out of your way to provide feedback and help improve everything.

Also, don’t be so focused on your individual contribution at work that you forget to build relationships. I think relationships are everything. Without them, it will be hard to progress in your career. Because you’re going to need the mentorship and the sponsorship to help support your career progression.

Teamwork is important and something I value highly at WP Engine and across my career.

Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I work for Heather Brunner, WP Engine’s CEO—she creates a different technology company compared to others I have worked for. We’ve always had women around the executive table, it’s never been only males.

Family is important to everyone here. At our executive meetings, we often share something personal. Often we end up sharing stories about our families and being open about something that we might be happy or stressed about.

With everyone sharing something personal, it provides a nice vibe and warmth across the team. It gives everyone an understanding of each other.

At times, my barriers to success ranged from overthinking my performance, putting myself down, and sometimes losing my confidence. It’s hard to remain optimistic all the time, but asking for feedback can really help you. Knowing what you excel at and where to improve can put your mind at ease as you can focus on the task at hand over wasting time worrying about what it might be that you need to work on. It also allows you to focus on what  you are good at.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Let’s start with the flexibility that I started with. First, if women are at an inflexible company where everyone has to be in the office for 10 hours a day, it prevents a lot of women from progressing in their careers in tech. A lot of women are still the primary caretakers at home, on top of a full-time job. We’ve got to start with allowing women the flexibility to do their roles as as they need to.

Second, great leaders must get to know the whole person to understand their career aspirations and how they can be best supported in their career and life aspirations. Managers can help balance both.

Thirdly, companies must ensure pay equity. At WP Engine, we’ve done a lot of work in this space. Companies must invest in development, training, and mentoring to help female talent progress in their careers.

Finally, role models in a leadership team are everything. Having inspiring females representing other females at the top table is super important. Representation is everything.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Companies simply have to put women in leadership roles to allow this balance to change from the top down. It’s essential to see inspiring and intelligent women in positions of power, which is an important way to encourage more women to pursue careers in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I graduated from Purdue, along with my class of HR professionals as part of a Masters programme. We’re still really good friends, and a lot of them are also in c-level roles at big companies or are partners at consulting firms, all focusing on HR. I like to get their opinion on current global issues affecting our talent – anything from covid to total reward strategies. It is fantastic to get input from my professional peers and to be able to help them out when I can too.

As well as helpful insights from my brilliant colleagues, I also read reports from Deloitte and McKinsey as good sources for HR. I also subscribe to CHRO daily.

All of the above helps me understand what we need to have a stand on as a global technology company.