‘Good Managers Should Be Good Listeners’: How These Women Leaders Made Their Way Into Management

Four women in tech share their tips for breaking the glass ceiling.

Written by Dana Cassell
Published on Nov. 16, 2023
‘Good Managers Should Be Good Listeners’: How These Women Leaders Made Their Way Into Management
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Women and tech have a complicated relationship. It’s not that women aren’t interested or gifted or passionate about work in the tech industry; it’s the systemic issues that have historically made it difficult for women to break through the glass ceiling. 

And unfortunately, the issues persist. Women have always made up a small fraction of tech workers and an even smaller number of tech industry managers, but DDI’s most recent Global Leadership Forecast predicts these numbers will trend downward, even from the current statistic of 28 percent.

Studies have shown that modeling and mentoring can be powerful tools for minorities to find entry points into unfriendly industries and contexts. Built In Chicago sat down with four women leaders in tech to get their best advice for other women hoping to break into management.

The advice they shared ranged from finding good mentors to cultivating emotional intelligence, from taking initiative to seeking out continuing education specifically for managers. 

Felicia Wittmer, PMO lead at Belvedere Trading advocated leading with emotional intelligence. “Good managers should be good listeners,” she said. Similarly, Christina Cernauske, revenue operations manager at Pricefx said that a good (shall I say great?) manager can identify their team's different working and communication styles and needs.” 

In addition to emotional intelligence and people skills, women working toward management should be able to advocate for themselves. “Own your strengths, but also be self-aware and recognize your weaknesses,” said Natalie Teruy, tax law analyst at CSC Corptax.

These women are sharing great advice, which is one way to add a few more cracks into that glass ceiling.

 

Felicia Wittmer
PMO Lead • Belvedere Trading

Belvedere Trading is a financial services company specializing in equity index and commodity derivative services.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for roles in management?

Pay attention to the culture and the needs of your organization. For example, if you are seeing people talk more and more about data, think about how you can acquire additional skills necessary to align yourself with these upcoming shifts. 

Or, if you see a need to quickly finish several tasks and projects, take the initiative to work with your manager to better understand what on your list might be less urgent so you can focus on completing high-priority projects faster. 

Take a step back to really hone in on the priorities of your team and the business. This helps you pay attention to what is needed in order to position yourself to be helpful and add value in those areas.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

The beginning of the pandemic was a time of huge change. Our organization had to pivot quickly to remote work. I was tasked with organizing our shift to home which included ordering equipment, distributing it, and handling regulatory needs, bandwidth additions, etc. 

After getting acclimated to working from home, we had an additional need for decentralized management of projects everyone was working on. I felt the urgency of the situation and sidelined some personal plans to make it happen, and stepped outside my role to ensure we had what we needed for the project tracking. 

I think seizing the opportunity and taking the initiative presented an opportunity to show my commitment to our team and my skills at the organization.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Good managers should be good listeners. Listen to the people on your team to really understand where you can help them, or at the very least, acknowledge challenges they may be facing if nothing can be done to help with those. 

 

Good managers should be good listeners.”

 

When it comes to working with people higher up, listen to what's needed so you can help clearly communicate the needs of your organization with your team and give them opportunities to succeed in those areas. Additionally, keep detailed notes and project plans. Tracking projects and outcomes can impact future work powerfully.

 

 

Natalie Teruya
Tax Law Analyst: E-File Manager • CSC Corptax

CSC Corptax is the leading provider of business process and automation solutions for corporate tax.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for roles in management?

Advocate for yourself and seek projects that test or stretch your management skills. Look for learning opportunities in your work or from outside organizations. Become a sponge for new ideas by reading books and magazines and listening to podcasts that introduce you to strategies and role models in the management and leadership sphere. 

Find a good mentor, inside or outside your organization, who can inspire and support you on your journey. Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.” And lastly, it’s perfectly fine to fail. Be ready to do a lot of growing and learning along the way.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

Seizing the opportunity when a manager position was created in my group may seem like an obvious achievement to talk about. But that wasn’t the moment that truly gave my career some momentum. 

That moment came when my senior leader introduced me to a book on communication called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It was a timeless study and made me thirsty for more information. Since then, I’ve realized there’s an entire field of study in management and leadership that I hadn’t given much thought to before. 

The field is diverse in thought, and women are represented well. I’ve discovered books by female engineers and listened to podcasts from women leaders in tech as they opine on how to manage a family and career. The learning experience challenged the limits of what I thought I wanted out of my career and changed my perspective — my new position was not the culmination of my career but the beginning of my next chapter.

Another book, by a woman in tech going from an IC to manager, is Engineering Management for the Rest of Us by Sarah Drasner. The podcasts include “Coaching for Leaders,” “HBR on Leadership,” “Wisdom from the Top,” “Work Life,” and “Conversations with Leaders.”

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

This is a hard question because there are so many great qualities that I admire in the managers around me. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we all need a little bit of courage. I’ve often found myself in a room where no one looked like me, or they weren’t worrying about school pickup schedules and what to make for dinner. 

Have the courage and confidence to put yourself out there and figure out how to relate to people who are different from you. Own your strengths, but also be self-aware and recognize your weaknesses.

 

Own your strengths, but also be self-aware and recognize your weaknesses.”

 

It takes bravery to be vulnerable and admit that you may not know everything. It takes guts to learn new skills, question those above you, and place your trust in others. But most importantly, look for other women who have the same tenacity and drive. Have the courage to reach out, be an advocate and encourage them in their careers as well.

 

 

Christina Cernauske
Revenue Operations Manager • Pricefx

Pricefx provides full suite price management solutions that are fast to implement, easy to use, and flexibly adapt to business needs.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for roles in management?

There are many ways an individual contributor can prepare for roles in management. The very first action I would suggest is finding a mentor, close colleague or current or past manager whom you trust that has management experience. 

Then, I would suggest having a conversation with them expressing your desire to get into management. I would also ask them about their experience thus far, their journey to becoming a manager and advice on what to do immediately to start on the path toward leadership.

Outside of that conversation, I suggest taking a basic course online for new managers. The tips and tricks provided there can be used in everyday work as an individual contributor and will help one be prepared for when they move into management.

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

A moment that has accelerated my career was when I sat down with a mentor who was close to the hiring manager for a new management role and had a conversation with them. I clearly and confidently communicated that I felt I was right for the open manager role and that I would like to be considered. My mentor welcomed and affirmed my statement, and that conversation became a factor in my promotion to that management role.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

Being able to adapt. A good (shall I say great?) manager can identify their team's different working and communication styles and needs.

 

A good (shall I say great?) manager can identify their team's different working and communication styles and needs.”

 

Using that information, a good manager can adjust their approach when engaging team members so that their management style adapts to each individual. This leads to the team being successfully engaged and motivated to happily complete tasks at the highest level.

 

 

Gina Sorrels
Vice President of Talent Acquisition • Bounteous

Bounteous is a leading global digital experience consultancy that elevates brand experiences and drives superior client outcomes with services in Strategy & Insights, Experience Design, Technology, Analytics, and Marketing.

 

How can individual contributors prepare for roles in management?

You do not have to wait for the job title to start building managerial skills. Early in my career, I raised my hand and sought out any opportunity I could to gain additional experience and perspective beyond my day-to-day responsibilities. 

The more exposure you have to the broader business, the better equipped you are to support those seeking your guidance in the future. Embracing new experiences could also inspire a new direction for your career. Make your goals known. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable. Say “yes.”

 

Make your goals known. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable. Say ‘yes.’”

 

Share a moment or achievement that accelerated your career.

There isn't necessarily one specific moment, but much of my professional growth has taken place at Bounteous. When I came aboard, we were a small boutique agency without a dedicated recruiting function. I was empowered to build a high-performing team and establish scalable processes to support our continued global growth. 

As Bounteous continues to expand organically and through acquisitions, I am presented with new challenges and opportunities every day. Find a company you can grow with. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

 

What is one trait or skill all good managers have?

All good managers are open to feedback and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer to every question. We are all human, and it’s especially important to remember that as a manager. A healthy, trusting working relationship requires an open dialogue. The best managers not only deliver feedback effectively but are receptive to it themselves.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.