women leaders

How Smart Women Leaders at Top Tech Companies Benefit From Breakthrough Innovation

Make no mistake, women have come a long way in the tech world. While threads of self doubt still weave at every level of leadership, at their core, smart women leaders benefit from these breakthrough ideas.

Editor’s note: The following has been edited for clarity and brevity

Nobody gets to be a leader by themselves

“It’s collaboration… with mentors, managers, sponsors…nobody gets to be a leader by themselves. From above, below and around, the collaboration from co-workers and colleagues, their passion is infectious. Their smarts, their drive… that’s what gets me up every morning.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard, VP of Partnerships at Lytics, one of the fastest growing startups in Portland, OR, and Principle at networkingatwork.com

“Support is the key word. When a manager offers herself as a resource, it’s immense for co-workers. Anything I do, it takes a village. No leader can do it on their own. The level of support from my circles, all the way up and all the way down, is what makes all the difference.”

– Tami Wood, Community Lead at Jaguar Land Rover Innovation Labs and 2019 Winner of Portland Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award

Cultivate a culture that allows the team to freely collaborate

“A big struggle in the process of innovation is when teams don’t feel safe to bring their ideas. We need to push each other to do our best and bring ideas (to the table). Innovation is a team sport.​”

– Stephana Johnson, CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of Powerhouse Leaders



Thrive on being pushed forward

“​Women tend to be over prepared, because they’ve usually had to work harder as young girls. My parents pushed me hard. I pushed myself to be the best, to get all As. But you don’t get As at work. That’s not what you do it for. Now, you don’t work hard to get the grade, ​you work hard to build something lasting​. You have to be passionate about what you are doing. Find people who inspire you to be your best self at work.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard

Be present for the chaos

“So what if you haven’t done that job before? I’m like a Swiss Army Knife, every day I show up and it may feel uncomfortable, but that’s the difference of being present for the chaos of innovation. It’s not about making perfect decisions. It’s about making the right decision, right now, with the information we have at the time.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard

The power is in staying curious, not in being right

“It’s a big challenge to stay relevant in today’s world. Who are you relevant for? Why do we care? Why do we operate the way we do? That ​curiosity factor​ changes every outcome for the better.”

– ​Cindy Tortorici, CEO and Owner, The Link, LLC

The more we risk, the more we learn

“It’s about taking risks… healthy risks, but the more you take, the more you learn. That’s what innovation is all about.”

– ​Cindy Tortorici

Be loud enough to be listened to

“There are always going to be obstacles and challenges. It’s common for women to strive to work harder, to get our voices heard in any industry, but definitely in tech. I’m more aware of having to prove myself (and) sometimes that’s harder than actually having to do the work.

You have to be loud to have your voice heard, but being loud, too often, women are told they are coming across hard and angry or complaining too much and that’s when ears shut down. You’ve got to figure out the balance: how to be heard, but more importantly, listened to.”

– Tami Wood

Call out what you bring to the table

“Too often, women miss their own magic because it comes easy to them. They don’t often celebrate or pay attention to it, maybe they’ve never even named it.

You’ve got to name it. Call it out. Call out what you bring to the table, not only for yourself but for your team and your company.”

– Cindy Tortorici

Constant personal development

“As leaders, we have to continue to grow. Not only does it set an example, but if we plateau, it’s harder to lead.

Knowing there is always room for improvement for yourself, you look at others with more empathy. What I’ve been through gives me insight to sense about what people have been through in their own lives.

Don’t overlook what stops others with their confidence. As a leader, you greatly impact decisions and behavior. Lead from a problem-solving view. This fosters real innovation.”

– HsuanHua Chang, Executive Coach and Seattle Network Director for Women In Technology International

Never give up

“Set a goal and pursue it with clarity of purpose. Have the confidence to see beyond the challenges. Every situation has at least two sides, so learn to change perspectives. This can expand your vision. Just don’t give up.” ​

– HsuanHua Chang

See beyond the challenge

“We all have personal challenges. I came to this country in 1982 and I still face discrimination as an immigrant. You have to ​continue to show up and be who you are and your presence will overcome any bias​.”

– ​HsuanHua Chang

Your magic is who you are at your core

“Women tend to take themselves out of the game when they lose touch with their core values. The imposter syndrome creeps in… you tend to want to become invisible, but that’s when you’ve got to get back in the game and realign with what makes you unique.” ​

– Cindy Tortorici

Align your workplace value with your core values

“Always be looking for alignment between what you value and what your company values. When you get that, you’ve got the best definition of success. You won’t ever be happy in a place that is misaligned to your values.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard

Find a sponsor

“Mentors are great but sponsors are more impactful. Sponsors have the power to help identify the next level of leaders, while mentors helps you grow… two different things. Get the people in power to believe in you, get them to help.

Networks, friends and family are incredibly important, but you need somebody who doesn’t just give you advice, they actually put you forward. They believe in you so much they actively move you forward in your career. That’s very different than a mentor.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard

We are all imperfect

“There is always something we are working on.

I feel like I’m a powerful woman and leader…well respected and results driven… and still that doubt of ‘Am I good enough? Can I do this job?’ …that’s there.

I still work on this every day. It’s why being around people who are going to support you is so important. We are all going to have these moments.”

We are all building something that hasn’t been built before. After all, that’s the definition of innovation. The fear that you are going to fail….that’s real and inevitably you do fail. ​Be ok with failing​, pick yourself up and try again. Ultimately fail fast.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard


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Believe in the power of the work you do

“Making sure I am valuable to the people around me and doing what I can to make things better for other people…that’s what works for me. Knowing what I’m good at and using that to benefit other people, that gets me through the best of times and the worst of times.”

– ​Tami Wood

Your career success is ultimately up to you

“You must figure out what you want. Then go ask for it…negotiate for it…make room for it and be pushy about it.

There is a legitimate pay gap between men and women, but it tends to come from not putting yourself forward. My best advice is to figure out what you want for yourself, for your career and then figure out how to go about getting it.

Seek out the resources…find out what you need in order to be successful. Your boss doesn’t know, only you know until you make it known. So you have to get that out on the table, don’t hide from it.” ​

– Elizabeth Robillard

Lift each other up

“There is always going to be somebody smarter, better, faster…we will only prevail if we lift each other up. We are grown ups here, I’m not saying unconditionally, but we have to find ways to help each other… to see their gifts and spotlight them.

This is only going to benefit the whole. I’ve had wonderful women as managers, as mentors, teachers and friends, my mom… Without those women lifting me up and supporting me I couldn’t find those creative moments and couldn’t always see that value in myself.” ​

– Tami Wood

Grateful acknowledgement goes out to the powerhouse women entrepreneurs and leaders who shared their insights for this article. In honor of International Women’s Day and to all the women entrepreneurs of this world, you are smart enough, you are strong enough and you can do this!

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