Lisa-Edwards

Inspirational Woman: Lisa Edwards | President & COO, Diligent Corporation

Meet Lisa Edwards, President & COO at Diligent Corporation.

Lisa-Edwards

Lisa Edwards is President and COO of Diligent Corporation, the leading governance, risk and compliance SaaS provider with more than $500 million in revenue and a $7 billion company valuation.

Lisa is responsible for commercial growth and performance. Prior to joining Diligent, she served as EVP of Strategic Business Operations at Salesforce, after serving as Chief Procurement Officer and running the company’s Global Corporate Services.

Lisa also held leadership positions at Visa, Inc. and KnowledgeX, and co-founded Valubond, prior to the company’s acquisition by Knight Capital.

Lisa received a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She serves on the Board of Directors of Colgate-Palmolive Company, and is deeply involved in two non-profits where she previously served on the board: Playworks and the Presidio YMCA.

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

I grew up in Silicon Valley as a bit of a technology baby, as my dad was with IBM for 40 years. I went to school locally at Stanford, then spent three years in Mexico City working for a consulting firm. Following Mexico City, I headed to Harvard Business School. And, after a small stint in strategy consulting at Bain and Company, I had an entrepreneurial phase where I was CEO of a small software company that I sold to IBM. I was also co-founder of a fintech company that built an exchange for fixed income securities that was sold to Knight Capital. Following that, I moved back to California and continued in Fintech by working for Visa for eight years. I then left to work at Salesforce not for the role – which was sort of lateral to almost a slight backward step – but because I really liked the CFO and thought I could learn a lot from him. I ended up at Salesforce for eight and half years. I most recently moved to Diligent because I believe that Diligent can be the foundation of the next new category of enterprise software: governance, risk and compliance (GRC). Every company needs to digitise the entire back office, and allowing the components of governance, audit, Risk, SOX, third party, cyber and ESG to work together seamlessly and collaborate brings incredible strength to the function. It’s game changing.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never sat down to plan my career and, honestly, I think it would have been almost impossible to look forward and predict this rambling road I travelled to be an actual plan. But looking backward I can connect some of the dots. I’ve developed a passion for operations, but with a strategy lens, which turns out to be a real differentiator. I’ve toggled between operations strategy and top line functions in a way that brings extra value to my role. I’ve chosen to work for people who I think I can learn from and not always been concerned about the details.  I’ve worked for companies that I admire and that I think will do well. I like that old saying, “take a seat on the rocket ship, and don’t worry too much about what seat.”

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

I think everyone faces career challenges along the way, what matters is how you choose to address them. Do you use them to get smarter? Learn more to grow as a person and as a worker? I even tell people in many ways, having a bad boss once or twice in your career can be a really helpful (albeit painful!) learnings and a growth opportunity. Because you learn what not to do. And you also learn how to function with lots of different people.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I don’t know that there’s been a single biggest career achievement. I feel like my career has been a slow but steady build to increased scope and responsibility as I get older and wiser and have more life experiences under my belt. It turns out its super helpful to have seen the movie before and know how it ends. That said, one thing I’m incredibly proud of is the number of people, particularly in Silicon Valley, who I have worked with or have worked for me and who have gone on to bigger and better things. I love to see people who have worked for me go out and take leadership roles that are bigger. Like that old saying, “If you love them, set them free.” Except I don’t want them to come back to me! I want them to grow and thrive and continue to nurture the next generation so that they can have that same experience and satisfaction.

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

I would be naive if I didn’t say having a father in the technology industry gave me a leg up, particularly as a woman. My dad probably always wanted me to be a son and pretty much treated me that way. So I was knee deep in looking at green screen and code in the early 80s well before PCs were mainstream. I think that exposure took away the fear factor of the unknown that I think technology can represent. And there was never an assumption that because I was a girl, I wasn’t going to be interested in it. It was always assumed that I would want to check out the latest and greatest technology. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving women exposure. If you don’t ever see it then it’s just that much harder to be it. That’s why, as a female leader, I think it’s really important to be visible. To talk about the good, the bad and the ugly, to lead by example

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

Stay smart on the latest trends. Network, even if that is not comfortable.

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

I do, simply because women are still a small percent of the tech workforce and are not graduating from computer science programs fast enough to address that issue. Interestingly, the proportion of women graduating from college is around 60%, at least in the United States. In theory we should see a workforce that skews towards women and a leadership team that skews towards women. But we don’t in the tech industry. This could be because we don’t see women graduating at the same rate in the actual disciplines that rise to some of those leadership levels in technology. In response to this, I would like to see early intervention. To make sure girls are excited about math and science. And to nurture that interest at a young age.

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

I think companies can continue to shine light on the issue. By that I mean, each organization needs to look at their percentage of women – every quarter. Not just the absolute number, but the hiring statistics, the attrition statistics, the promotion statistics. Are you moving women along the funnel? At least the rate of how they are represented in the population. If you aren’t, maybe there’s a problem.

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?

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a magic wand. But I think companies can be more mindful of attracting and retaining women. Things like having balanced interview panels where women aren’t interviewing with just men. Or making sure that if a woman chooses to have children it is not career limiting for her. We need to figure out ways to accommodate working moms in order to keep them in the workforce.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There’s so much good stuff out there as far as resources go. I don’t know that I would recommend anything specific, but there are a few resources that come to mind. For example, for a quick “cyber 101” lesson almost nothing beats Countdown to Zero Day. For podcasts, David Sachs’s is pretty good, albeit a bit niche sometimes. Are you in middleware, are in B2C, are you in fintech? Cyber? That’s where you should go, and that’s what you should get super smart on – build the domain expertise.