Women in Tech: “Assume everything is possible and dive in”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Lauren Vaccarello, CMO of Talend.
A 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?
Three 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
Today’s Woman in Tech: Lauren Vaccarello, CMO of Talend
Lauren Vaccarello is the CMO of Talend. She has a lengthy track record of accelerating revenue growth at some of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing SaaS companies through modern digital marketing, branding, and demand generation programs. Previously, she served as Vice President of Marketing at Box and has also held executive roles at AdRoll and Salesforce.
When did you become interested in technology?
I’ve always been interested in technology. I was the kid who begged her parents for a computer before kids had computers. I liked to tinker and was interested in understanding how technologies work together.
Early in my career, I worked for an online trading company where I noticed that some leads performed better than others. I was running their paid search program at the time and had the crazy idea to integrate Salesforce with Google Adwords. I did some research and found this cool product that could do just that. I had no idea that years later I would work at Salesforce and my boss would be the founder of that cool product I used to tie together those apps. There were always little things along the way that I found I could solve with technology, and I really enjoy that about my career.
How did you end up in your career path?
I wish I could say how I got to where I am is based on a series of carefully calculated decisions, but it’s not. It really is the combination of hard work, smarts, and blind luck.
I grew up in the Bronx in a very working-class neighborhood. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the corporate world and my local high school and middle school had metal detectors, which was far less common back then. Thankfully, NYC has these great specialized public high schools that you can test into. What I love about this system is it doesn’t matter what your grades are or where you come from. If you live in NYC and reach a certain score on a test, you have the option to go to one of the best high schools in the country. I tested into one of those high schools, and I truly credit Bronx Science for changing the trajectory of my life and opening up a world of possibilities – such as college – for me.
After I finished undergrad I traveled and landed a job at an online dating company doing paid search marketing. For context, this was in the early 2000s when online marketing was not a socially acceptable profession. My next role was with a trading company on Wall Street. At the time, I was in my 20s and was running paid marketing for the eighth largest online advertiser. I had no idea I wasn’t qualified for the position, but I worked incredibly hard and learned fast. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which allowed me to do great work. Years later, I ended up working at Salesforce. I knew the product and thought it was great. The rest is history.
Being a woman in leadership, I’ve had to learn to walk the line between assertive and pushy. All of your words, non-verbal cues, and actions say something. I’ve been left off the guest lists for after-work outings, meetings, and important emails by the “boys clubs” at former companies. I was also underpaid for a lot of my career. I had to find ways to break in, like having real interactions beyond just “here’s the report you asked for” and really establishing a relationship. Activities outside of work are essential to building and humanizing relationships with coworkers, and relationships are essential in furthering your career.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
I’ve had the privilege of working with incredible leaders like Linda Crawford and Hilarie Koplow-McAdams during my time at Salesforce. They showed me what it looked like to lead, how to command a room, and the importance of showing up.
There is that old adage, “It’s lonely at the top.” This is absolutely true, but I will say that the more senior you become in your career, the more important it is to have a network of trusted peers and mentors. We are constantly taking on new challenges, and it’s okay not to have all the answers. I have an incredible group of friends who are CMOs, and we communicate frequently on problems we are experiencing and help support each other through them. Back when you could meet in person, we would have regular “lady CMO lunches” as part of this. Now, it’s more Zoom happy hours. You can’t know everything, and having women you can rely on to guide you and that you can trust is incredibly important.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
I once asked about a promotion I hadn’t received and was told that it was because I don’t show up like other leaders. In not so many words, I was told I don’t have the same presence as some of my peers.
You can’t know everything, and having women you can rely on to guide you and that you can trust is incredibly important.
To that, I responded: “Is it because I don’t bang my fists on the table in meetings and raise my voice? No, I don’t dominate the room, but have I ever not delivered?” The person I was speaking with said, “No you always deliver. You don’t miss.” And I told this person, “That’s right. I’m not going to get angry and demand that everyone listens to me. I’ll watch the room and understand what’s going on and everyone’s point of view. Then I’ll work with each individual to get to the same conclusion. I do this in a way where everyone feels good and wins a little. Then I get the results we need. This is how I lead. And if the other way is the only way you think leaders show up, then you should think about the kind of company you are building.”
I ended up getting the promotion the next round, and as a company, we thought a lot more about diversity in leadership styles. There is no one right way to lead. For me, it is about being authentic to who you are.
A day in Lauren’s life
I have been the CMO of Talend, a data integration and data integrity company, since July 2019. Since SIP began, my day is a little different from what it used to be. As an executive, most of what I do is focused on keeping the team aligned, engaged, and excited. I work with my leaders to set the vision and strategy for the department. I’m a fairly hard driver, so we have weekly pipeline forecast calls and aggressive deadlines.
With that said, I deeply value the people and want to make sure they are supported. We also take some time to have a good time. We have weekly department yoga classes, twice a week office hours, weekly Zoom happy hours, and monthly all hands. I also meet with all my direct reports at least once a week and make time for skip levels throughout the organization.
On a personal level, I make sure to get in at least a 30-minute workout every day and to walk about 4 miles. I need to move to keep my sanity.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am so proud to see the growth of the people that I have hired and mentored over the course of my career. Some are CMOs and VPs, others are small business owners, and so much more. Watching them grow and also seeing how they lead – which starts with empathy and ends with results – makes me believe I’ve left a positive impact on this world.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I think it’s a leadership and a community problem. There’s a disparity in opportunities for men and women in tech, and when women do get into tech positions they’re often met with resistance. Tech companies are overwhelmingly led by men. If we can make changes at the top, then we can force change in the organizations to elevate more women into leadership roles.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
Women in the industry have to spend a lot more time on perception than their male counterparts. Every aspect of our communication is scrutinized. If we are too nice, we’re pushovers. If we are too strong, we’re aggressive and rude.
As a woman in an executive position, you often find yourself alone – left out of group dinners, few other female peers to collaborate with.
It’s the little things that happen outside of work that are those indescribable moments that can accelerate a career. So often it’s the conversation over drinks or at a ball game where leaders get to know their team more and see the potential in their employees. Unfortunately, and often not consciously, women are left out of these outings. In my own career, I haven’t been invited to drinks or dinner or an outing – not out of malice, but because people know each other and didn’t think to include me. What can happen in those situations are side conversations that lead to new projects which lead to career growth. If we don’t create an inclusive environment, we directly or indirectly slow down women from advancing.
Careers are long, and you’ll find that 10 or 15 years down the line, you’ll know a lot of people. Then you can do your part in helping the next generation.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
I think it would be. Female leaders tend to lead with a greater sense of empathy. You can even see this from world leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. If more women worked in STEM, I have to believe that there would be a more user-centric approach to creation and development. I can also see different sets of challenges being solved.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
It is gaining momentum for sure. I’ve seen first-hand that some of the young women who have recently graduated from University are demanding so much more in terms of diversity and inclusion than my generation even realized we should be asking for. It’s truly incredible.
It is up to us as leaders to keep encouraging them to forge this path and to make it easier for them than many of us had it. We also need to work on bridging the opportunity gap at an education level. I don’t think it will be “fixed” in the next few years, but my hope is that when my 5-year-old goddaughter is grown, she will have no idea that there ever was a struggle.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Go for it and don’t hold yourself back. The beauty of doing something new is that you don’t know what is and what isn’t possible. Assume everything is possible and dive in. The tech world is notoriously small so find ways to network. Once you get your first job in tech, make friends and connections. Careers are long, and you’ll find that 10 or 15 years down the line, you’ll know a lot of people. Then you can do your part in helping the next generation.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Be humble and never stop learning”
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”
- Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”