Helen is one of the most successful women in enterprise software in the UK today. Over her 20 years of experience, she worked across all industry sectors, with customers ranging from SMEs through to the largest in the world and has been responsible for both UK and European/Global teams setting and executing strategy. She has worked for the full breadth of company types including Listed, Private Equity owned, and has been through the transition from private through to successful IPO at DocuSign in 2018.
Her most recent role was on the EMEA leadership team at Splunk, as Area Vice President EMEA: Observability. She initially joined Splunk as UK & Ireland Country Manager and following her success in the role was asked to lead the EMEA Observability business following the acquisition of SignalFx for $1B at the end of 2019.
Tell us a bit about your career background
I moved from a degree and background in engineering, which I enjoyed and found pretty character building, particularly being in my early twenties and often the only woman on site. You quickly have to find a way to get your point across without being intimidated. My first pivot was moving from this to presales for an ERP vendor for manufacturing companies. My first leadership role was running a European Pre-Sales team, and I spent 12 years at SAP in a variety of leadership roles.
I would encourage anyone to take opportunity as it comes, as you build up a wealth of insight without realising it.”
What did SAP do to encourage diversity?
Nobody is going to make your career for you, you have to work quite hard to be visible and make sure that people know what you’re doing. Don’t just assume that people will proactively do it for you. Everyone is massively busy.”
SAP were really good at helping you to develop your career, and later in my time there I became involved in the Early Talent Development scheme, with a particular focus on diversity and age. At the time SAP’s age profile was older than they would have preferred and not necessarily representative of our customers, so we started bringing on board interns and doing graduate programmes which I become a sponsor for.
How important is it as a woman to find a sponsor or mentor?
How would you advise someone to go about finding a mentor?
A lot of it comes down to being proactive and asking people. It’s about having the confidence to ask people who you admire. I still do it, where I ask people their advice and use them as a sounding board. It can be anyone, they don’t have to be super senior.
How do you encourage more women into sales roles?
Hiring is the critical thing and thinking about hiring slightly laterally, such as hiring early talent. Rather than just hiring the person who has the skills to be an account director now, look at the pool and consider what can be achieved with development. It’s difficult to do that with all your hires, but you can be a bit more open to growing your own talent. We have the perfect vehicle with sales as you can have someone start as a Business Development Representative, who moves to Inside Sales and then Field Sales – there is a well-defined career path that you can put someone on and I’ve seen this work really well.
Alongside hiring early talent, another way of increasing your talent pool is to avoid always hiring from your network. It may be easier, but you will end up hiring people just like you. When you’re in a high growth organisation and you’re in a massive hurry it’s very tempting sometimes to just go back to your network. It’s important to insist on opening up the network whether it’s someone inhouse doing the hiring or an external agency.
Do you see a change in the pool of senior women in tech?
There are just not enough senior women in the market. However, what’s happened with Covid has been fascinating in terms of career movement. It’s clearly been proven that remote working is possible. People have found out that they are able to juggle a lot more and I do think it will open the net to more options. Such as, is it going to be possible to have part-time Field Salespeople? I think it probably is, and I’m guilty of having said no in the past. I’ve supported part-time Presales in the past, but I’ve not yet seen a full quota carrying Sales Director work part-time.
I think now there will be more opportunities which will encourage people who want to work four days a week or do something slightly different in terms of balancing home and professional life.
It’s a pivotal moment in opening up the pipeline for more senior women. I wonder whether we might increasingly be able to open up the pipeline a bit more by relaxing the strict criteria that we’ve been working to.”
Experience tells me that it is possible to have that flexibility and perform at a senior level. There will also be plenty of senior women who will be interested in the flexibility of location that we will increasingly see following the pandemic.
What advice would you give to the next wave of women aiming for leadership?
- Don’t limit yourself in your own mind. You are your own limiting factor, you don’t need to be a 9 out of 10 for a role, go for it when you feel you’re a 6 out of 10.
- Go left and right in your career. Take on other roles that will allow you to develop the complementary skills that you need to progress.
- Be proactive in looking for sponsorship, no one is going to do it for you. At the end of the day you have to take ownership and make it happen for yourself, regardless of what programmes your company may have put in place.
- Take control and start up initiatives for yourself. Grass roots stuff is really important. For example, at DocuSign 2 senior executives in my network and I started an International Women’s Day party, inviting 100 women from across various companies at a range of seniorities. I know a number of important connections were made off the back of this.
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