5 Women Leaders Share What They Learned on the Journey to the Top

Local women leaders reflect on the biggest lessons they learned in their careers and offer advice for the next generation.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Mar. 08, 2023
5 Women Leaders Share What They Learned on the Journey to the Top
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When it comes to women in tech, Lyn de Leon could talk for hours. De Leon is VP of product and integrations at CreatorIQ and has worked in tech for more than 25 years. She told Built In Los Angeles that she’s frequently asked about how she has been compensated, perceived and treated throughout her career — and that she’s tired of these questions.

“The real question is why are we still asking these questions and what can I do as a female leader to dispel these questions,” de Leon said. “The answer is pretty simple: Be loud! Use your voice and demand to be heard.”

It’s not that de Leon is tired of talking about tech’s gender gap. It’s just that after so many years of conversation she’s committed herself to action. She’s not alone, either. 

Built In Los Angeles recently spoke with de Leon and four other women who have defied the odds to reach VP, director and lead roles about how they motivate women at their companies and their advice for the next generation aspiring to climb to the highest rungs of the career ladder.

 

Ngan Bui
Lead Data Analyst • MobilityWare

MobilityWare is the studio behind mobile gaming’s most popular Solitaire game, among others. With over 450 million downloads across its product portfolio, the Orange County-based publisher is dedicated to its mission of bringing joy to others, one game at a time.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned as you grew your career?

In the beginning it was extremely difficult for me to speak up, especially during meetings. When faced with questions, I usually wanted to be 120 percent sure of the answer before answering, causing several instances where I questioned my competency and expertise. A mentor at the time told me, “You are the subject matter expert in the room. Most of the time you already know the answer. Trust yourself.”

I took that advice to heart and became more outspoken during meetings, and gradually I learned to trust myself and my abilities. I became more self-assured, and as a result, my peers and managers put more trust in me. Women, unlike their male counterparts, are traditionally not encouraged to speak up, but our opinions and presence matter in the workplace. My advice to other women is to speak up and be confident in your abilities.

You are the subject matter expert in the room. Most of the time you already know the answer. Trust yourself.”


How do you stay motivated and inspired as a leader, and how do you try to motivate and inspire other women at MobilityWare?

I have been fortunate enough to work at various companies where women held leadership positions. For example, at MobilityWare we have several women on our executive leadership team. It comes naturally to me to watch how these women lead and learn from them. I try to foster a positive working environment where my team feels comfortable voicing their opinions and challenges to me. I also try to provide regular feedback to my team that is both encouraging and constructive so we can all learn and grow together. 

As a woman, I try to lead with empathy and humility. I want to help other women find their voice as they climb the corporate ladder. As a leader, I know that my experience is unique, so I am always eager to be a mentor to other women in the industry. That’s my way of giving back to the community.

 

What advice do you have for the next generation of women in tech, and why is this advice important?

Believe in yourself: You can take that STEM course. Don’t let stereotypes dictate your career. I was told to my face by a female teacher in the fifth grade that, “Boys are better than girls at math.” I refused to believe it and kept going with the field I was interested in. Study what you want, find a mentor and the rest will come. Just because something doesn’t come naturally to you doesn’t mean that you should give up on it. Sometimes being stubborn can be an asset.

 

Dana Finding
Director of Product • Route

Route is an e-commerce company whose mobile app enables online shoppers to track the status and location of their orders and discover new merchants.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned as you grew your career? 

I have always prided myself on what I can do and on trying everything. I’ve been the person who would say yes to any assignment and use it as an opportunity to learn and prove myself. In fact, I often advise people to say yes because that can be a major contributor to an individual’s and company’s growth. But at a certain point, it’s time to start saying no.

Ten years ago I helped build a company from the ground up, and we had the common startup mentality of going after any revenue we could generate by saying yes to everything. As the company matured, we needed to be more strategic. The wise advice that our COO gave us — by way of Michael Porter — was that it was time to be more selective, to start saying no and, in doing so, choose what we were going to be really good at.

I reference this constantly: Don’t let your business get stuck in the trap of too many yeses because the result is a resource-strained company with an identity crisis. Being selective and unafraid of saying no to features, products, business lines or even customers can liberate you and give your business the time and energy it needs to invest in the areas that matter most. The way I have internalized it is to stop trying to be something to everyone because you may very well end up being nothing to anybody. 

On a personal level, I think it rings very true for my career as well. It’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others in your field. You can’t have all the same strengths as your counterparts and can’t do all the same things. At a certain point, it’s time to specialize, to lean into your power place and own the areas in which you may just never excel. Great teams are woven from threads of uniquely skilled and different people, so learn what kind of people and skills compliment you best and don’t be afraid of what you aren’t.

In the rare moment I find myself in a meeting with more women than men, I am emboldened by how much safer that space feels.”


How do you stay motivated and inspired as a leader, and how do you try to motivate and inspire other women at Route?

For me, the best part about getting to work in tech is all the wildly smart people I collaborate with on a daily basis. I love solving hard problems, and there’s nothing more inspiring to me than hearing a bunch of great ideas flying around. It’s my job to give those ideas legs and get out of the way. If you’re ever finding yourself too disconnected from the day-to-day work of the company, go find a hard problem to work on and roll up your sleeves. There’s no better way to reengage and remotivate yourself. 

I think being inspired and being inspiring is about being bold and emboldening others. Speak your mind as if you have nothing to lose. People need to see that. They need to be reminded that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. In the rare moment I find myself in a meeting with more women than men, I am emboldened by how much safer that space feels. I don’t feel as worried about if I’m being heard, how I’m being perceived or if I’m being misunderstood. There’s an unspoken camaraderie that our male counterparts benefit from every other minute of the day, which we get to experience less often. It’s important to try to create that for each other whenever possible. So speak up.

 

What advice do you have for the next generation of women in tech, and why is this advice important?

When I reflect on how far we’ve come, I can’t help but see how much women have had to assimilate to fit in and be taken seriously. My advice for the future generations of women in tech is to empower each other to be yourselves. The more you show that intelligence and value can look and sound many different ways, the more you will be able to bring your unique strengths to the table. Sometimes it will feel like the deck is stacked against you — because it frequently is. You’re playing a game that wasn’t made for you, but the phrase “game-changer” exists for a reason.

 

Tiffany Redford
Senior Vice President, IT Service Management Office • City National Bank

Headquartered in Los Angeles and founded in 1954, City National Bank offers personal as well as business and commercial accounts and investment services.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned as you grew your career?

The most important lesson I have learned in my career is to believe in myself — to stop questioning myself and feel confident in my abilities. One situation that really stands out is when a male engineering manager approached me about stepping into a management position as his peer. I had never managed people and would be overseeing several older men who were extremely technical, which was quite frightening. They convinced me to take the position, which I held for three years. 

Looking back, I would say I learned the most I have ever learned and grew substantially as a person and a leader. I came to believe in my ability to speak up in meetings, hold others accountable and stand up for myself and for others by asking questions. As I continue to grow my career, I check myself quite frequently to ensure that I still believe in myself and remain confident in my abilities.

The most important lesson I have learned is to believe in myself — to stop questioning myself and feel confident in my abilities.”


How do you stay motivated and inspired as a leader, and how do you try to motivate and inspire other women at City National Bank?

I stay motivated and inspired as a leader through making people better. I don’t believe that people wake up every day thinking they want to come to work and do a bad job. I truly think people want to be challenged to perform well and provide value in everything they do. As a leader, it is my role to ensure my employees are building upon their strengths and learning and growing as individuals. I have high expectations and push people to be the best they can be. I can only hope that, with this leadership style, I serve as a role model to other women and enable them to want to be the best they can be.

 

What advice do you have for the next generation of women in tech, and why is this advice important?

Love yourself. Technology has previously been a male-dominated industry but is changing. Do not allow yourself to feel intimidated but rather feel confident in who you are and the value you can provide. As I moved up my personal career ladder, I lost myself because I allowed my manager of six years to mold me. Remember that feedback is a gift, but you should not have to change who you are fundamentally. Always observe others around you and take note of what you want to emulate and what you don’t ever want to repeat. Use your notes as guidance to assist you in being the best you can be.

 

Lyn de Leon
VP, Product & Integrations • CreatorIQ

Disney, H&M and Mattel are a few of the companies that use CreatorIQ’s cloud-based platform to launch, manage and measure influencer marketing campaigns.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned as you grew your career?

The most important thing I’ve learned is to stay curious. For me, constant curiosity drives resourcefulness, continuous learning and the openness to step out of my comfort zone to experiment with new ideas. These three drivers have also allowed me to accept failure and not let it shake my confidence level. Instead, it encourages me to try again with new techniques or a new thought process. This was something that took years of experience to learn about myself and has helped me grow as a leader and accept any challenge thrown my way.

Constant curiosity drives resourcefulness, continuous learning and the openness to step out of my comfort zone to experiment with new ideas.


How do you stay motivated and inspired as a leader, and how do you try to motivate and inspire other women at CreatorIQ?

I started my career in tech over 25 years ago when a woman in IT was very rare. I’ve seen the women in the tech sector evolve throughout the years up to the present day, and that in itself inspires and motivates me to keep going. As a product leader, I have to be a great storyteller and I often share my experiences with other women in my company. But more importantly, I share outcomes and learnings with team members so they can try things for themselves.

 

What advice do you have for the next generation of women in tech, and why is this advice important?

I could spend hours telling stories of what it was like to be a woman in tech 25 years ago. I always get asked about how I was treated, how I was perceived and how I was compensated. But the real question is why are we still asking these questions and what can I do as a female leader to dispel these questions. The answer is pretty simple: Be loud! Use your voice and demand to be heard.

Trish Stone
VP of Sales Strategy and Operations • Edify

Edify’s cloud-based contact center platform provides a single source of information and communication options — which include phone, SMS and chat — for customer support agents.

 

What’s the most important lesson you learned as you grew your career?

I’ve learned many lessons over my more than 25-year career, and these are the three things I always share when people ask my advice. First, be your authentic self. It’s obvious when you aren’t, and frankly, people are naturally drawn to those who are. When you’re authentic, it’s contagious and creates a safe space for others to seek your advice, tell their stories and make mistakes without judgment. And in turn, they reciprocate. It takes a lot more work to put up a facade than to just be real. 

Second, work hard and play hard. There is no question that to succeed you must be present in your job and dedicated to your craft. Always look for ways to add value to your role and the company, but remember to have fun. My motto is  “work to live,” not “live to work.” This is a conscious decision to make time to enjoy friends, family and hobbies. It will throw you off balance if you don’t.

Third, be open to making mistakes. As a matter of fact, if you’re making mistakes you are inevitably learning, and when you’re learning you won’t go wrong. By getting things wrong, you’ll improve your skills and grow in ways that you never imagined. Be willing to take chances. I do this every day!

Always be present because opportunities are presented to people who are authentic, have a great attitude and aren’t afraid of a challenge.

 

How do you stay motivated and inspired as a leader, and how do you try to motivate and inspire other women at Edify?

Without a doubt, I’m motivated each day by my talented team. Whether it’s solving problems, building new processes or winning new business, it’s the teamwork that keeps me inspired. I personally spend a lot of time getting to know the people around me, both on a professional and personal level, because I’m genuinely interested in them. If I understand where they have been, what they enjoy doing and what motivates them, I can lean on them and also push them in the right direction.  

Everyone has past experiences and each person brings different skills to the table. It’s important to embrace these differences and leverage each individual’s unique skills to achieve the common goal. If you do this right, everyone learns, everyone wins and, in the end, everyone is motivated to do it again. It’s important to me that other women in my company see that I’m not perfect, that I don’t know everything and that I respect the fact that it takes a diverse group of people to accomplish great things.  

 

What advice do you have for the next generation of women in tech, and why is this advice important?

The tech industry needs more women, as we inspire people and companies in new ways. We have a fresh and interesting perspective on how to solve problems and conquer challenges. With that said, keep in mind that self-doubt may rear its ugly head along the way. You may have moments when you feel overwhelmed or in over your head and possibly even undeserving of your past achievements. Today we call this phenomenon imposter syndrome, and I’m here to tell you that it’s legit.  

Remember to stay true to yourself, embrace your skills and remain motivated and positive. Speak the truth, but be mindful of others; find a mentor and build a support team by collaborating with a diverse group. Never stop learning and learn how to take criticism. 

Always be present because opportunities are presented to people who are authentic, have a great attitude and aren’t afraid of a challenge. My dad always told my brothers and me, “Work hard, always improve and great things will come.” It’s simple advice, but it works and will minimize your self-doubt and get you focused on doing your best work.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via featured companies and Shutterstock.

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