Early on in her career, Liz Carter, ServiceMax SVP of Marketing, encountered first-hand experience of two of the biggest obstacles for women in technology - the gender pay gap and the 'tech bro' culture.
Carter had been working at her first company, Internet Security Systems (ISS), for about five years when her boss retired. She recalls sitting down with the CFO, who was explaining that they were going to promote her to take over rather than hiring someone external for the role, because she had put herself forward.
“I was going to take on that role, but he wanted me to know that I was going to have employees that were making more than I was, and they weren't going to be able to uplift my salary to necessarily meet that in one go. I remember thinking that was interesting and weird, but I thought that was normal. I didn't know to push back on things like that.
Learning about the pay discrepancy was the catalyst for Carter to start looking at other opportunities. She landed a role as event marketing manager at HCM specialist SuccessFactors, after referring a friend from ISS there a year before. SuccessFactors was a startup at the time, with a 'work hard/play hard' culture that wasn’t necessarily conducive to raising a young family. Carter got married and had a baby during her tenure at SuccesFactors, and left shortly after her first daughter was born:
What I didn't have at SuccessFactors, and I knew this at that point, was balance. We celebrated our successes there a lot, it was a fun environment. I don't think I realized how exhausting it was until I was outside of it.
Once I was outside of SuccessFactors, when I was making a decision to go to the next company, it was about career growth, but it was also about working with people that I believed in and respected and wanted to work for. I wanted an environment that had a good culture fit for me.
Carter found this fit at ServiceMax, where there were already quite a few people from SuccessFactors who she knew and trusted, and were culturally the same as her:
They wanted work/life balance for their employees, but they wanted to grow a business.
Carter has been at ServiceMax for over 10 years now, growing her career from running field marketing to SVP of Marketing, including managing all corporate marketing, PR and comms. However, she never had any grand plans to build a long-term career in technology or marketing.
After graduating as an English major, Carter moved to Atlanta with some girlfriends, one of whom was working in HR at ISS. The firm needed a contractor in its events team, which piqued her interest. She came under the wing of the marketing events leader, who helped Carter land the job full time.
Unusually for someone in a junior position, Carter had a lot of access to senior leadership early on, and found herself regularly working with ISS’ CEO, founder and CFO:
One of the things I didn't know I needed, but that worked well for me, was that I was comfortable in any situation, if I was meeting with the CEO as much as making best friends with the guy in the mail room. I was making relationships across the company, and I don't think I realized early on how important that was and how significant that would be in my career growth.
Carter was also fortunate to find a mentor early on in her career, who has been a support ever since. At SuccessFactors, she had the opportunity to fine-tune her event marketing skills under the tutelage of Stacy Epstein, now CMO at Freshworks. Carter worked with Epstein first at SuccessFactors, and later at ServiceMax:
From that point in my career, she has been a huge mentor and inspiration for me. She was instrumental in my knowledge of really understanding what I'd been through at ISS, putting those concepts into this is what we're doing and this is what we're building.
Looking back, Carter says she wishes she had known to take more risks or opportunities trying something different when she was younger. She stayed in events for the first 10 years of her career, as that was the area she knew and felt very comfortable in. But early on in a career, especially in the tech and startup world, there is a lot of opportunity and need for younger people to push themselves, she argues:
If you want a well-rounded career, it’s getting started earlier, learning some of these other areas. I wish somebody had said, you should try this or you should take this opportunity maybe for the next six months and do this project that's in a different function or area.
Carter now focuses on this with her team, finding opportunities for them to grow outside of the particular function that they have at any given time.
The tech workplace has moved on from when Carter joined 20-plus years ago, and there have been improvements around the pay disparity she encountered in her early days:
There's more visibility. There are so many more processes and inspections in place, at least at ServiceMax. As a leader, I've learned more ways to push for what I think is needed or to have conversations with the right people and really ensure that we're doing right by all employees. What I strive for on my team is to make sure we have an equitable range.
However, Carter is under no illusions that the gender pay gap has disappeared completely, noting that it’s difficult to change something so ingrained in a sector where start-ups grow so fast:
If they don't pay attention to their pay equity from day one, it becomes out of whack very quickly. It’s got to be ingrained in these small venture-backed companies that it’s going to be something they focus on from the beginning. Because as you build a company out and it grows quickly, that's when you find yourself in a situation of these different pay grades happening.
Carter has also seen welcome changes to the culture of the tech sector, which make it more attractive to women, whatever their family situation or lifestyle:
There's been somewhat of a flip of women coming into their roles in tech and already having a sense that this is a place where they can be successful and where they want to grow a career. The more awareness they have, the more successful they're going to be because they know what they're working towards.
It also helps that the recruitment market today is 'buyer's choice', with marketing one of the many hot areas with more vacancies than talent available and job seekers getting multiple offers. Carter notes:
It is a hot market to be a marketer today, certainly in tech and in the Bay area. You don't even have to be in the Bay Area anymore. There's a lot of opportunity out there.
If women want to grow a career, there are so many people now in tech that want to help them get there. Certainly in our company, we have a women's network, we have more women leaders than we've ever had before, at other companies it's feeling the same. That's the biggest shift than when I was coming into technology.