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From Consumer Goods to Tech: Three Lessons Learned in Navigating Career Change as a Senior Female Exec

I’ve spent much of my career in industries where women are frequently in leadership roles, particularly in the public relations and consumer goods sectors. During that time, I was fortunate to have worked in companies known for a focus on home-grown talent and promoting from within, nurturing female talent. 

Having transitioned into a very different industry now working as a Chief Commercial Officer for a SaaS company, I’m now working in what has frequently been seen as a ‘man’s role’ focused on sales and customer contact, within what is a very male-dominated industry – real estate. In a short time, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about how to navigate career change in the tech industry, including dealing with challenges to gender perceptions and building an effective commercial team within a quickly growing technology company. In this article, I’ll share a few of those lessons along with the positive outcomes I’ve experienced. 

let us continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech, paving the way for women to join this exciting field and help drive the curve of disruption and innovation now, and in the future. 

Lesson Number One: Recognise That You Have an Opportunity to Shape Gender Dynamics in Tech for the Better

In public relations and consumer goods, female decision-makers are prevalent, but in the landscape of real estate and climate technology, the expectation is often that the man in the room must be the most senior. In an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to work to establish credibility or assert themselves in the male-dominated technology sector but the reality is that, even if you don’t have work to assert yourself, as a leader, you must be prepared to address imbalances for the women working for you, and to assure they also have credibility.

In leadership, I’ve realised that I’ll get put to the test: people will question my knowledge, my understanding of customers, or even my demeanor. The key is finding the right balance between asserting yourself and being direct and transparent. As a woman in leadership, there may be perceptions about toughness, but ultimately the ability to deliver what customers truly want and empower them in the process – this is my job as a customer-facing leader. 

Lesson Two: Build Influence Rather than Authority

The “do it because I said so” approach to management will have as little effect on your team as it will on children. People don’t respond well to leaders who assert authority without lessons or rationale – bringing others with you. 

What is true in PR or consumer goods is also true in tech – influence rather than authority will yield better results. Rather than simply instructing my team to carry out tasks, I prefer to demonstrate why certain decisions are essential for our organisation’s success. By empowering my team with understanding, I aim to foster a culture where they can confidently make their own decisions in the future.

I also firmly believe in leading by example. Observing from the sidelines while my team works tirelessly does not build credibility. In sales, healthcare, or any field, it’s crucial to show your team that you’re willing to go the extra mile for them. Whether it’s assisting with a project, shielding them from unnecessary meetings, or simply offering support. Demonstrating your commitment to their success fosters loyalty and inspires them to excel. 

Lesson Three: Don’t Let a Non-Technical Background Stop You From Pursuing Roles in Technology

It goes without saying that to be a software developer or engineer, you do need a highly technical background. However, technology companies aren’t run by technologists alone. There’s a huge number of roles and skills required to research, define, build, test, market, and sell software. Tech companies wouldn’t exist without the lifeblood of talent management, commercial, and financial roles. 

While it can be daunting to join tech from a different sector, it’s not always an arduous process getting yourself up to speed with the inner workings of the product, the technology development lifecycle, and the ingredients for commercial success in technology. In my experience, I wasn’t left to navigate the learning curve solo. I always felt supported, with a big team of experts behind me. It helped that I sat in on demos from day one, and within about six months I was able to run prospects through nearly all technical aspects of the software on my own. 

Conclusion

It’s safe to say that’s been a year of discovery for me. I’ve learned invaluable lessons that have truly shaped my approach to leadership and teamwork. As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, let us continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech, paving the way for women to join this exciting field and help drive the curve of disruption and innovation now, and in the future. 

Hannah Stern

About the Author

Hannah Stern, Chief Commercial Officer, BuildingMinds

At BuildingMinds, Hannah Stern drives the company’s commercial strategies and brings 10 years of experience in engaging and supporting multi-national customer accounts across sectors. She also focuses on analysis and utilisation of market insights, ensuring relevance of product offerings for partners and customers. Hannah holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.


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