Helen SimpsonHelen Simpson is a high-performing director-level sales professional, operating within the unified communications sector.

Key to her success is her ability to influence at strategic level in support of enhanced profitability, performance and competitive advantage. Maximising opportunities and exceeding targets are of paramount importance to her, and she is particularly proud of her entrepreneurial flair.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve always been interested in data analysis, presentation, and communication, which is why I decided to undertake a degree in Linguistics at the University of East Anglia. My knowledge of different branches of linguistics such as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and computational linguistics led me to the tech industry, and I was fortunate enough to secure a position at PictureTel straight out of university.

Working for one of the first commercial video conferencing product companies made it clear to me that this was the industry in which I should forge my career. The audio and video industry was exciting, highly innovative and a space in which I felt confident I could make a positive impact.

From there I continued my career in tech and moved to technology giant Poly (formerly Plantronics and Polycom), working my way up to EMEA director of inside sales and renewals.

I head up a team of sales and channel account managers and renewal reps (with a 50/50 male and female split), driving the sales activity across Poly’s entire solutions range and supporting the company’s partner ecosystem, which is a critical route to market.

Working at Poly has given me the leadership skills and confidence to advocate for women working in tech.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. Career guidance at university centred around the idea of a “five year” plan; the notion being that it promised certainty and if we followed a linear path to success, happiness would follow. I think there’s merit here, but I felt that trying to predict my future career based upon a rigid fixation of planning could backfire, closing me off from other opportunities to grow.

I also felt I could easily become so preoccupied trying to perfectly execute the details of my plan that I’d get trapped in analysis paralysis, missing new directions where I might otherwise thrive. How right I was. My first career step was in contracts administration, and while I did find it challenging, it didn’t end up as my chosen path. I quickly re-routed to a career in sales and flourished!

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

Challenges will always arise in working life, but my top tip would be to change your perspective and view them as privileges.

For example, at one point in my career there was a decline in the services revenue stream, I was challenged by the business to rectify this. It was a pivotal moment in my career to prove myself as a trusted advisor and someone who can deliver results.

I had to in-source and build a new EMEA renewals team, which was a big undertaking and could have been overwhelming had I not tackled it head on with a positive perspective.

I built a rigorous and detailed plan and hired a whole new team of renewal reps. The hard work paid off — in our first year we delivered $10 million of incremental bookings and secured significant cost savings to the business.

Additionally, in 2019 when Polycom and Plantronics merged to become Poly, I had to deliver a rigorous and detailed integration plan to bring together a centralised EMEA inside sales teams from two distinct $1 billion companies. I created extensive onboarding programs and am proud to have developed a defined career progression programme to ensure inside sales became a destination career at Poly.

I’m also privileged to say that my amazing team achieved stellar results, exceeding sales expectations for FY20 by achieving 122% of our target.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2011, Poly shipped its 4 millionth conference phone and that was a huge milestone in our history of innovation in the unified communications market, and I remember feeling so proud to be part of the company.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have been recognised in the industry and been awarded some prestigious accolades. Most recently, I was awarded the CRN Role Model of the Year Award in 2020 that one of my kind colleagues nominated me for, which I’m so grateful for.

Another personal stand-out was winning a prestigious President Club award, which recognises top salespeople for overachievement of their goals and quota. The win got me a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Puerto Rico and Maui and memories I will treasure forever — from trekking through the El Yunque National Rainforest and experiencing a traditional Hawaiian lūʻau, to snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea.

However, the achievement I am most proud of has been the process of becoming a global mentor that sponsors female talent at Poly. I really enjoy helping women to develop their skills and competencies and advocating for them throughout the business.

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

For me, its always been about creating and maintaining a strong sense of self-worth. I’ve always believed you’re your best self-advocate. Having a positive sense of self-worth lends itself to self-confidence, which in turn allows me to trust in my abilities, qualities and judgement. There should be no shame in recognising your self-worth. It’s allowed me to make better decisions, advance my career and be successful.

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

Think like a scientist and experiment. I know that might sound strange, but bear with me. Rather than setting yourself daunting long-term plans with set timeframes, try and imagine yourself one year from today. Ask yourself what will be different? What will stay the same? Where do you want to make your biggest changes or learnings? I’ve always asked these questions through the lens of my personal priorities as well. By adopting a more experimental mindset and making smaller goals that you can adapt, build, or expand upon is less scary and easier to change.

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

One big barrier for women in tech is the one we set for ourselves. When working with my female colleagues, I challenge them to resist self-limiting behaviours and ask them, “If you knew you could not fail, what would what you do?”

I’m proud to be a role model at Poly and lead by example because when women see other women represented at senior levels, they are more likely to feel they have a place here.

It’s also really important for me to be an authentic role model, like anyone else, I’m multi-dimensional and I work hard to show this in all areas of my life. I have to multitask as a businesswoman and a parent, shifting roles between sports day and presentation preparation, and networking and parents evening. There will always be trade-offs and I think showing vulnerability allows me to dance between the different areas of my life while being true to who I am and encouraging other women in tech to do the same.

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

Allies and advocates that encourage and empower self-belief are so important. Companies need to embrace gender diversity and create a safe space for women to experiment and innovate without fear of repercussions.

I feel very lucky that Poly embraces diversity through its Inclusion, Diversity, Education and Awareness (IDEA) programme that maintains a diverse, inclusive and accessible workplace where all people are welcome, respected, accepted and valued.

From a personal perspective, I’d also say that mental health is key to supporting the progress of women’s careers. I’m a Mental Health First Aider for Poly and am incredibly passionate about the wellbeing of my teams. Sales is very high energy, target-based environment and this can lead to increased stress. Being able to spot symptoms of poor mental health in my team and signpost them to areas of help is key for a happy working environment and also allows me to nurture talent; people who feel overwhelmed are more likely to give up. This is especially important for women working in tech, as we may feel added pressure to achieve more or not show perceived ‘weakness’ when stress is affecting us.

There is currently only 17 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?

Every organisation needs to ensure that its hiring policy safeguards the fair and effective hiring of the most suitable talent who support them in meeting their business objectives. This means a standardised process, where candidates are selected based on merit, by a diverse interview panel.

Inclusion and diversity practises also need to be an integral part of every organisation’s culture to ensure every voice, including women’s voices, are heard and valued. A commitment to creating a diverse workforce of talented individuals, who are confident enough to bring their authentic selves to work is crucial to accelerate the pace of change. At Poly we currently have a ratio of 53:47 male-female employees, including our manufacturing sites.

Estelle Jackson, global diversity, inclusion and belonging lead at Poly, has championed the IDEA programme that sits at the heart of everything we do. This diversity and inclusion ethos is woven through corporate, CSR, HR and culture strategies to ensure that all employees are exposed to IDEA during every aspect of their working lives, both internally and with our partners. It involves constant education and awareness and feedback sessions and gives us all a sense of belonging and empowerment I wish upon other organisations.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of the most impactful recommendations I can give is to find yourself a great mentor. Mentors can help you pursue opportunities, tap into resources and create a feedback loop that is essential for your career journey and progression. Don’t forget your mentor will also have a network of business professionals that you can lean on for different perspectives. From there you can apply your learnings, build allyships in the right places and make your strengths visible.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a number of great mentors throughout my career who have helped me to give my goals real clarity.

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