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Advice to women in tech from Algolia’s female leaders: Part I

While commemorating the recent Women’s Equality Day, we thought we’d hit the pause button to take a glimpse at female leadership at Algolia. We asked our women leaders about their career paths, challenges they faced, advice they’d share with other women in tech, and what makes Algolia a great place to work. 

Bernadette Nixon, CEO  

Bernadette joined Algolia in May 2020.

Bernadette’s path to CEO. I’m definitely a CEO who came up through the GTM side of the business, predominantly in sales and sales leadership. But I also took rotational assignments to round out my experience, from running a big chunk of marketing to an IT leadership role. This enabled me to walk in my marketing colleagues’ shoes (invaluable for any sales leader) and in some of my customers’ shoes in IT. I guess you could say I’ve always looked for cross-over opportunities, e.g., understanding first hand both the sales & marketing side of things, or providing the European perspective in the US and vice versa, given my 3 nationalities of English, Irish and American.

Sales has been and still is a very male-dominated field. For many years, I was the only woman and the youngest on teams. That never deterred me.

On passion leading to success. Understand yourself.  Too often we get swept up in the momentum of the moment, and our careers can evolve on their own.  I was lucky enough when I was living in Switzerland working for the UN (one of those rotational positions I talked about) to be able to take the time, sit back, and analyze when I was the happiest in my job. This may sound obvious, but when you think deeply about the times you’re happiest in your work, and the characteristics of the environment, the mission and the work itself, you discover very important nuances. This enabled me to define very clearly what made me passionate about my work. I didn’t do it on my own, I used the book What Color is your Parachute to guide me. This led me to change the country, industry and role in which I worked, and it’s what brought me to the US.

So solve your career for your passion and for what you love, and get specific and practical about what that is. Sure, I’d love to be a gemologist, but you know what, that wouldn’t have paid the bills for me, and in reality there was so much I loved about selling, helping people, and consequently building a business. 

When being a problem solver isn’t enough. I’ve had many great mentors and managers, male and female, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m afraid to say though, I had one experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I didn’t even realize what it was until much later, but I guess you’d call it sexism. I say it that way, because I’m always astounded when people’s differences divide, as opposed to bring us together through a lens of exploration & learning. Anyway, being a problem solver, when I was in the middle of this situation I applied my problem solving skills. What I failed to realize was that it takes two to tango. When I was finally fed up with being miserable, I woke up in a sense, and decided to move on. It was invigorating to take my power back. It was a rare situation when I did the right thing by cutting my losses and moving on, and I only wish I had done it earlier. 

Bernadette’s career advice for women: You can blaze your own trail. Take risks, take the difficult assignments. I’ve learned the most and gained the most that way. 

On leading Algolia. I love how three of our core values — humility, candor and care — come together to form trust, which I see as foundational. I’ve worked in environments that were candid but confrontational, and I know that a better path to long term success is building trust and great relationships. I am so excited about what we are building here at Algolia, both product- and culture-wise. 

Adanech Getachew, General Counsel 

Adanech has been with Algolia for 3.5 years, and was the first woman on the Algolia exec team. 

On getting to where she is today: The legal profession, at least when I started, was not very diverse. It was common for me to be the only woman in a team — but that was “normal” then and I didn’t think too much of it at the time. My approach is, and has always been, to be open and a consummate learner. Being curious, listening, understanding the business objectives, and being solutions-oriented have been the bedrock of my practice. Algolia is the right place for my approach to leadership. 

On making legal and compliance an integral part of the business. Often, the perception of the legal function is that it is there to slow things down and complicate things; my challenge was to change this perception by providing timely, innovative and scalable solutions, and, as a result, leading the legal team to be an integral part of the business. Having other functions count on us, look to us, and partner with us to come up with workable solutions to complex problems is one way I measure our success and the value we bring to our organization. 

Her advice for women coming up in the ranks: Have confidence in what you have learned, your experience, your expertise and, in sum, yourself. You earned being where you are. 

Be conscious of, and actively advocate for yourself, particularly around highlighting your accomplishments.  A lot of us, whether as a result of upbringing or culture, work hard to over-deliver but don’t highlight our successes.  We hope and expect that our leaders notice what we brought to the table. It has taken me many years to understand that this is not a good approach. Your work product may be a part of the foundation for everything else, but this may not be easily seen by your leaders. Find a way to get comfortable with advocating for yourself.  

Last but not least, take an active role in your career development.  Don’t wait for others to define your role.  Figure out what you want, do your research and set a plan to help you achieve your goals.  When you have specific goals, it is easy to see when you are veering away from them, and when to make adjustments.

That mistake she doesn’t want other women to repeat. There were occasions in past jobs where I wish I had spoken up sooner. If anything goes against your integrity, the integrity of your organization and values, speak up — for yourself, your team, and for those coming up behind you. Speaking up is different from “being difficult”, which many of us associate together, and choose to remain silent. You can be very respectful and still say: “ this behavior does not fit into our culture” and ask for change. Doing so is also a part of learning to be a leader. 

On mentorship: Find mentors amongst people you look up to in your chosen field. Mentorship doesn’t have to be formal; reach out to the person who is further along in your job, or in the job you are looking to move into next. It could be as simple as someone in your company. Ask them for advice, the things they would have loved to know early on, and what would have made their path easier.  Make connections with others in your job (whether it is your supervisor, other senior folks or peers) or even outside of your company, that lead to others investing in you and taking you under their wing.  When I look back at all the opportunities that have shaped my career, most were mentorship and guidance from senior partners, execs or leaders as a result of the reputation I built working hard for them or someone else in the company, which motivated their respective interest and investment in me.

Kristie Rodenbush, Chief People Officer  

Kristie joined us in June 2019.

On her career path. I built my career on a somewhat uncommon personality trait: I love change. I started in HR consulting, where I recognized I had a passion for change management. HR, at its essence, is about transforming businesses and helping people and teams grow, which is why I truly love my job – and why I was able to excel at it and get to where I am today. Fundamentally, I do what I do because I believe people can change and I want to build the environment that helps that happen.

On personal and career growth I owe most of what truly moved me forward to my mentors — in fact, to those whose feedback was a bit more candid than what I was comfortable with at that moment. Feedback is a gift: if I were to advise one thing, it’d be for all of us to learn how to embrace feedback and also learn how to give it in a way that reveals blind spots to the recipient . The fine line of care and candor is hard to perfect, but it’s the only way forward.

The secret to her (exec) success. I encourage my colleagues to embrace a growth mindset everyday. I am outspoken, very bold at times, for things that matter to me. We are making huge progress looking for diverse candidates in the leadership ranks, and are doubling down on our D&I initiatives and our recruiting efforts. Needless to say — and I don’t think this is unique to me — HR needs to be data driven. Employees, even more so than your CEO, get that talk is cheap. They want results that are measurable.

On her next challenge Efficiency and moving fast is in my DNA, so much so that I am lately shifting focus to one of my many development areas. I am strengthening my situational leadership skills — better customizing my style to the context and person, being more patient and present, and letting my empathetic side be revealed more often.

Why you should come work for Algolia  Because there is a ton of room to create great things, to identify problems and fix them — which is effectively one of the best ways to grow your career. As women, we see things differently, and this is an environment that embraces people who think differently, and we embrace respectful truth tellers. Last but not least, the category and product have immense potential. We have only scratched the surface in world-class sales execution, product, marketing, and capitalizing on all the market adjacencies that can drive market expansion. 


Read Part II where we talk to our leaders in engineering, revenue and recruiting.

About the author
Ivana Ivanovic

Senior Content Strategist


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