8 Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

February 12, 2020

“If you’ve always wanted to be a people manager because of the title or salary bump, dig deeper, said Erin McCann, vice president of people operations at SevenFifty.

“A manager has to be invested in another person's growth,” McCann said. For chronic overachievers, this can be a difficult, but necessary realization. Suddenly, they have to give up the reins, or as Christine Pecina, engineering manager at Haven Life said, “guide, but not overrule.”

Trusting your employees and giving them room to occasionally fail strengthens their skill sets and allows managers to better understand their unique strengths and weaknesses. 

We talked to eight managers about how they developed their management styles and gathered advice for future women leaders. Besides investing in the team, they said embodying values like respect and autonomy were essential to their success.

 

Jesse Pierce
Director of Operations

Never assume you understand how someone feels following a conversation or event, Neverware’s Director of Operations Jesse Pierce said. Managers at the IT and software company make a point of checking in with direct reports frequently, ensuring they have a solid grasp on each individual’s perceptions and experiences.

 

What's one really important lesson youve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

It is so important as a people manager to do your best to try to understand each person’s perceptions and experience, learn from them, and make sure you are listening and communicating openly. No matter the circumstance, each person will have a different perception or takeaway from a conversation or event. There is so much value to doing the work of checking in more than once and making sure the conversation is continued in a way where everyone feels heard and understood. I’m a better manager because I’ve learned to try and assume less and get clear confirmation more on any decided path forward.

Always make sure the people on your team are front and center.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

My best advice is to always make sure the people on your team are front and center. If I’m doing my job right, the individuals on the team are the ones shining and getting the attention for all the great work they’re doing. There is no other feeling like connecting with each person, trusting them to do the good work and seeing the results. 

 

Christine Pecina
Engineering Manager

Haven Life’s goal is to simplify purchasing life insurance by enabling customers to do it online. To make a complicated service seem easy requires clear communication between teams. Engineering Manager Christine Pecina said delivering the truth (without fluff) is key to earning trust with your team. “Try to guide, but not overrule,” said Pecina.    

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

One important lesson I have learned is that people always prefer to hear the truth. I can attest that teams are more motivated when they feel that their management team is straight with them. Managers have to learn to resist the temptation to hide or “spin” information in the hopes of avoiding negative reactions because the major downside is losing the trust of your employees. Basically, treat people like professionals and they will stay loyal and hardworking through the best and worst of times.

One important lesson I have learned is that people always prefer to hear the truth.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

My advice for women who aspire to manage in the engineering industry is two-part. First, you must master the material. Get good at whatever technical thing you do because competence is the key to earning respect in an engineering environment. Second, focus on improving and empowering the expertise of your team. 

Respect is the currency of any good manager. Try to guide, but not overrule. It can be difficult for overachievers who get promoted to learn to trust their teams rather than rely on their own judgment. If you hire well, give people room to make mistakes and provide constant support; your teams will ultimately provide far better output than they would if you attempt to give them all the answers.

 

Annalisa Lester
Head of Delivery for North America

Any creative freelancer recognizes that half the job can be spent writing budget reports and chasing invoices, which can put a halt in productivity. Meero’s AI technology assists with the data-entry tasks and allows photographers to focus on their craft. In order to keep her team focused on their talents, Head of Delivery for North America Annalisa Lester said she makes sure employees are “healthy, heard and connected.”

Practice holding up your own vision of leadership.”

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

Something I am reminded of on an almost daily basis is that people are people and it’s vital to hold space for them. I view my team as a micro-community in the broader company culture and I invest a lot of time in making sure my community is healthy, heard and connected. I’ve seen  this cascade into the teams we have common touchpoints with, and this ground-up view of company culture has as broad an impact as any top-down initiative.

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Practice holding up your own vision of leadership. One of the hardest parts about transitioning into being responsible for other people is digesting the broader view of where your team fits into the organization and understanding how to pass that on to your reports. Practice looking up and looking forward, contextualizing the asks of your manager and thinking about how you would deliver scope and impact. 

 

Erin McCann
Vice President of People Operations

SevenFifty’s communications platform connects alcohol buyers, sellers and distributors under a complete end-to-end supply chain. To encourage her team to successfully communicate with different consumers as well as different teams, Vice President of People Operations Erin McCann explained why it all boils down to respect.

When you accept that any other person may not approach a problem like you, it's game-changing.”

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

 I lead SevenFifty's people operations, so I work with all of our leaders and I'm also a manager myself. I interact across all teams, with lots of different contributors. This, along with my experience at a few startups, has given me the chance to try lots of management tricks and tips. When I reflect on what has worked, I think it boils down to respect. Respecting each person as a unique being, with their own experiences, motivators and opinions. 

When you accept that any other person you work with may not approach a problem like you or react to a situation like you, it's game-changing. It's easy to prescribe a solution because it's worked in the past. But by taking the easy path, you could miss an opportunity to change your team member's career trajectory. Keep taking the shortcut, the more likely you'll have to replace that person, which will cost way more time in the end.

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

First, understand what it is about being a manager that is exciting — if it's title or promotion, dig deeper. A manager has to be invested in another person's growth. 

Second, identify a manager you admire and ask them out for coffee. Ask lots of questions about how they became the awesome manager you think they are, and what they think you could do to model them. 

Third, make a list of the things that make you uncomfortable in your current role that you'll need to do regularly as a manager and practice, practice, practice. Perhaps that's having a direct conversation or giving difficult feedback. 

 

 

Madeline Vu
Director of Product Design

Transfix connects shippers to a national network of carriers in the freight trucking industry, which requires a seamless operations system. Just as all freight trucks are different, so are team members. To manage her diverse group, Director of Product Design Madeline Vu uses the Skill Will Matrix to evaluate her team members and diagnose which coaching style works best for them as individuals. 

 

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

When you become a first-time manager, it’s very easy to bias your management style based on constructs that resonate with your own belief systems. The one framework that helped me personalize my approach to managing different types of people successfully was the Skill Will Matrix. 

The matrix uses a combination of skill level and willingness to accomplish a specific task to help you choose the best management or coaching style depending on which quadrant the individual falls in. So depending on the person and scenario, you can easily identify and customize your technique to either guide, empower, motivate or direct someone successfully. Out of all management frameworks, I still use it to this day.

It’s very easy to bias your management style based on constructs that resonate with your own belief systems.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Some of the best managers I’ve worked with are often the most thoughtful and considerate people. Sometimes this thoughtfulness may come off as unconfident or hesitancy in certain work cultures that may skew to prioritize the voice of extroverted, action-oriented individuals. This is unfortunate, as divergent thinking often leads to some of the biggest impacts on the success of a business. 

Advice that I would have given to my younger self: If you want more time to think through things, don't hesitate to communicate your opinions as a hypothesis, with the action item to prove or disprove it. This is how you put your stake in the ground and create traction with others to drive forward the more thoughtful or unexpected outcomes you believe in.

 

Syeda Tarannum
Implementation Services Manager

At Abacus, a fintech company that wants to make expense reports obsolete, Product Support and Implementation Services Manager Syeda Tarannum said it took significant time for her to learn to trust her direct reports to deliver great work. For future female leaders, she recommends volunteering to take on new projects and reaching out to employees when there are questions.

Speak up and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

At Abacus, I went from being an individual contributor to a people manager. When I started the new role, I tried to do too much and I became overwhelmed and frustrated. I very quickly learned that the only way I could be successful and maintain my sanity as a manager was to invest in my team and trust them. If I dedicate time to train, coach and support my team, I can trust that they will produce their best work. 

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Speak up and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you have an interest in managing a team, make sure the leaders at your company know it is something you are interested in and look for opportunities to gain skills that will help you be a better manager or leader. For example, ask to lead a project with multiple stakeholders. Get comfortable not having all the answers your team may be asking you and be prepared to reach out to people and ask questions.

 

Alice Campos
New Business Head of Product

There are many benefits to exercise: less stress, better sleep and an increase in endorphins. Gympass’ discovery platform enables companies to provide employees with access to a large network of workout facilities. But exercise isn’t the only way to be active. To successfully manage her team, Head of Product of New Business Alice Campos recommends active listening.

My advice for all managers is to learn and practice active listening.”

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it is not up to me to choose my managing style. Every individual deserves a unique approach when it comes to management. Listening to my team and being empathetic to their needs has enabled me to tailor my management style to each employee. When we actively listen, actually share and understand each other’s emotions, it is much easier to help people be their best selves and make the most of their talent. 

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

My advice for all managers is to learn and practice active listening. It is the key to creating trusting, productive teams and helping each of your team members live up to their true potential. 

 

Tara Feener
Senior Director of Engineering

Vimeo’s social video platform lets aspiring filmmakers upload their content for the world. To ensure Vimeo’s 150 million members don’t run into bugs, Senior Director of Engineering Tara Feener is constantly giving feedback at every stage of development. Based on feedback, her team is able to set goals for constant improvement. 

I’m incredibly open with everyone, and in return they’re open with me.”

 

What’s one really important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager?

The importance of giving feedback, early and often. Without it, we can’t expect people to grow, yet it can be a challenging thing to deliver effectively. I keep running lists of feedback, kudos and accomplishments for each person on my teams and make sure to set time aside in one-on-ones to share it. Goals are then set based on their feedback so that we have something to check in on during the next one-on-one. Setting goals that tie to the objective feedback helps keep us accountable and builds trust.

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Embody your values. I value transparency, autonomy and humility. I’m incredibly open with everyone, and in return they’re open with me. That transparency enables me to receive and act on frequent honest feedback, which ultimately makes an impact.

 

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