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Profile: Jen Sprague, Revenue Workflow Specialist at Scratchpad

Women in Tech: “A big obstacle is the ‘imposter syndrome'”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Jen Sprague, Revenue Workflow Specialist at Scratchpad.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Jen Sprague, Revenue Workflow Specialist at Scratchpad.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Jen Sprague, Revenue Workflow Specialist at Scratchpad

Chicago native Jen Sprague is a personable Revenue Workflow Specialist at Scratchpad, a bottom-up SaaS company that makes a unified revenue team workspace that allows salespeople to consolidate and streamline the different aspects of their sales workflows.

Sprague is a 2014 graduate of Indiana University Kelley School of Business and has been in sales and marketing for more than seven years. She also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects millions of people in the United States (about 3 million are diagnosed with this neurodivergent syndrome each year).

But Sprague isn’t letting this stop her from succeeding in her chosen field. In fact, she is getting ahead of it all by working on spreading public awareness of ADHD, so that businesspeople can understand the benefits that neurodivergent professionals bring to their jobs. In the following Q&A, she explains the barriers women face in landing and advancing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs here in 2021, not to mention the hurdles she herself has had to clear due to her neurodiverse condition.

What first got you interested in tech?

Because I’m a millennial, I feel like technology was always in the background. I played video games as a kid. And I do think that led to me being interested in learning and progress. I became a little bit more confident in using tech in general; I was encouraged by my parents to use computers.

As far as my career goes, I kind of fell into it. I went to school for marketing, and then in my career, I started in sales, but I ended up falling into tech as a way of teaching coaching, problem-solving, using the skills that I had, like my business background. I then just incorporated technology into that.

How did you end up on your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I started in the automotive industry in sales. I originally went in with a business marketing background, and it was a very male-dominated industry – it still is. So from the get-go, there was definitely pressure of having to prove myself. I would say that the biggest obstacle was not only just being a woman, but a very young woman in that career. I also didn’t have an automotive background. But I worked for seven years using technology that helped body shops place paint orders, track inventory, and track their business analytics. I taught collision centers, teaching organizations, and large corporations how to better track their costs using this software we’d built within my company. So yes, and within that career path, I became pretty efficient at teaching about technology, working with users, and taking processes and turning them into something easier for users.

Then I switched over to Scratchpad. So after seven years in the automotive industry, I’m now essentially doing the same thing but in a very different industry, which has been fantastic. It’s been great so far.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my friends and family. They were major role models. Before I knew what I wanted to do, I had a teacher, Mrs. Perry, who encouraged me to start a DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) chapter in our high school with her. And that’s what led me down the road of going into business. That, of course, led me into my career where I am now, and she was such a major part of that. She was a very strong, smart woman who was trying to encourage young women to pursue different paths that weren’t necessarily traditional for girls. The other role model is my aunt, who works in tech. She helped me in so many ways – getting into school and in my career and just giving me advice. So two strong women in my life that really did drive me where I am today.

Before I knew what I wanted to do, I had a teacher, Mrs. Perry, who encouraged me to start a DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) chapter in our high school with her.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Very much so. I do think that going into that male-dominated industry, I definitely felt the pressure of having to prove myself and also felt that imposter syndrome of “I don’t belong here.” I didn’t know what these people knew. I didn’t have their background. Did I really belong in this particular industry?

Of course, having ADHD and trying to fit my thought process and the way my mind works into essentially any job can be an adjustment. I do think that was such an obstacle to work past and learn how I can use my strengths in the way that my brain works, but also fit them into the box that’s expected of me. So I think there were a couple of things that really led to me having to work hard to be where I am and fit into the role that I have now, but it was all a fantastic learning opportunity.

My mind can run a million miles an hour, and to me sometimes it feels like my mind is working faster than my brain. So it helped me in my career because that’s exactly how it feels – sometimes you’re thinking a million steps ahead. Sometimes it’s hard to slow down, but also that leads to having that power of problem-solving and being able to work on pieces, so there are definitely strengths to it. Some (attributes of ADHD) are definitely helpful to have, and other things about it are difficult to deal with. Certain things that you need to do come off as particularly difficult because they don’t work in the way that your brain works.

A day in Jen’s life

I am a revenue workflow specialist with Scratchpad. My role is a bit of a hybrid role, a little customer success, a little solutions engineer. I work with Scratchpad users and help them optimize their workflows in Salesforce. So I speak face to face with our users every day. We talk through what their day looks like, what some of the gaps in their sales workflow look like, and we work on finding a solution that makes sense for them. It makes their life a little bit easier. So my job is 100% customer-facing, and it’s exactly what I love to do. My typical day is getting to find out a little bit about their day and teaching them how to use Scratchpad in a way that helps our users improve their day-to-day sales workflows.

What are you most proud of in your career?

The thing I’m most proud of is that I love being able to contribute and help build something. In my previous role, I worked really hard to build out our program, our software, and some of our coaching and teaching programs within that job. At Scratchpad it’s very similar; we’re every day working on building this company and building out workflows. That’s what I’m most proud of – being able to contribute in a significant way.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

You have to confront reality when you’re talking about this question, which is that there are a lot of gender roles in place that classify (a job) as masculine, or something as feminine. Unfortunately in STEM, those traditional roles are considered more masculine, and I think that, from the very beginning, discourages women and girls from feeling like they can succeed in this field. A lot of these fields are very male-dominated. Of course, we have to confront the fact that there is sexism and there is a very difficult door to get through to get into this opportunity to work in STEM. I think there are just not enough avenues to allow girls and women to explore and learn and see if they want to get into STEM fields.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

First of all, a big obstacle is the “imposter syndrome” and feeling like you don’t necessarily know as much as somebody else knows in this field. Funny enough, going into this interview, that was one of the feelings I had to recognize. I was thinking: “Do I have a right to speak on these things myself, or to speak on being a woman in tech,” which is absolutely ridiculous. But that’s “imposter syndrome” that everybody feels, and it’s very difficult. I think lack of mentors is another major part of it, not having them even from a young age. Mentors, female mentors, are a major part of it – not having access to other women in this field, to get that kind of perspective (is an obstacle).

Like I said before, it is feeling like you have to prove yourself that is a major part of it – feeling like you have to work harder than your male counterparts. Of course, there’s the “glass ceiling,” and that’s a real thing, working toward that and contributing to the STEM field. This is going to, at some point, push that glass ceiling, if not break through it. But that is a major gap that a lot of women see in this field.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

There’s gender diversity and cultural diversity. But what it all boils down to is that diversity drives better solutions, inclusivity, and creation. I mean, there is so much value to be had and knocking down barriers that women – and a lot of other people of different groups face – being able to do and be whatever they want to be. I think that drives a more equal society and culture. STEM has some of the highest-paying jobs. So having inclusivity for women in these fields is going to help close the gender pay gap, and culturally and societally, it’s breaking down gender norms. Those have been historically set in place. The more we work toward having more women in these male-dominated industries – and not just women, but anybody who is diverse in any way – it’s going to give more opportunity for society as a whole moving forward.

This is something we have to constantly strive for, because right now, there’s still a gap, and we need to see that gap close. The more we talk about it, the more we encourage people to talk about why women feel like they can’t get into STEM. This is so incredibly important to just break down historically what has kept a lot of groups of people back, including women.

The more we work toward having more women in these male-dominated industries – and not just women, but anybody who is diverse in any way – it’s going to give more opportunity for society as a whole moving forward.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

I think that it all depends on how we can keep the momentum moving forward, meaning exponentially. I think that’s the most important thing. I think a lot of it is just pushing this discussion and the more we push it, I think the faster we’ll see results. So that’s why I want to speak out and provide my own story and hopefully encourage more women to speak out on their stories as well. And I think the more that we gain that momentum, the faster we’ll see those results.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

My first advice is “just do it.” Pursue the degree, learn, find allies. Find mentors along the way, reach out for help, and just pursue it 100%. That is the first step in all of this; if you want it, pursue it and find anybody who is willing to lend a hand in helping you succeed. There are a lot of people who can and will help you in doing that. Finding those allies, finding the mentors – that’s so important, and everything else will fall along the way.

What they should know about the industry is that they belong here. They deserve to be here, they’re not imposters, and they have as much of a right as anybody else to be in this industry. So that’s the only advice I can give; everything else they’ll learn along the way. They’re more than capable. I can definitely tell them that they belong here and they can do it.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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