The future is bright. Glass ceilings are cracking, in some places even shattering, across the workforce and women are shining through. However, many industries remain male-dominated. Less than 1% of professional services firm co-founders and CEOs are women, and the tech industry is not much different. This urges the importance of celebrating female leaders and sharing advice with a new generation of women breaking into these roles.

At BigTime, we’re lucky to have Jami Klotz on our executive board as Senior Vice President of Product. In honor of International Women’s Day, I asked Jami if she’d share her perspective about what it takes to be a strong woman in the workforce and get what you want out of life.  

How did you get into tech? What drove you to work in product? 

I started as a financial analyst and during that time I learned the company I worked for was going to sell a segment of their business. I questioned why we couldn’t make this work for us, and the CEO, who turned out to be a great mentor of mine, took a chance on me and allowed me to figure it out. He said I had 90 days to prove why we should keep it - and being young and looking for adventure, I took on the challenge. I studied everything I could and proposed we turn that segment of the business into a SaaS business. At the risk of dating myself, we originally called it “marketing intelligence”, which today we would call BI (Business Intelligence). 

The company agreed with my proposal, and this was a real pivot point in my career. At the beginning of my career, it was a challenge for me to find a female mentor who didn’t promote the idea that you needed to conform or be more masculine to succeed. I was told to wear pantsuits and cut my hair short to “be part of the club”. But, I didn’t feel good in a pantsuit, I love my heels and dresses and wanted to be myself. Even though the CEO at this job was a male, he was one of the first mentors who didn’t view me differently and encouraged me to stop questioning myself. 

When you began your career, did you envision yourself sitting on an executive team one day?

To be honest, I didn’t know it was possible. I wanted to see how far I could while still being myself and defined that as winning for me. When I got to the position I am in now, it made me think that women do have the power to break the glass ceiling, we just have to work extra hard to get there. Men tend to be more confident in knowing what they want, and that’s one attitude I think is important for women to adopt. Think about where you want to be and if being in an executive position is something you want or don’t want. If you want that seat at the table, get the seat. But if you don’t, that’s okay too. Once I reached a position of leadership I knew how important it is for me to help other women get to where they want to be and change their perspective so they see it as their choice.

What is your advice for a woman entering a male-dominated field? How do you stay authentic to yourself while “fitting in”?

Be you. You’re always going to do better when you’re being yourself. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to like you, so you can’t focus on pleasing. Being authentic makes you more comfortable with yourself and inherently stronger. I find that this is the only way to give yourself true confidence and be able to be comfortable in a male-dominated space. I wear a dress every time I go into a board meeting or interview because I want it to be obvious that I’m a confident woman, and that’s what works for me. I’ve gained a lot of respect for myself knowing that throughout my career I’ve prioritized staying true to myself. 

How do you stay proactive in managing your career?

When it comes time for your review or one-on-one with your manager, be an advocate for yourself and say what you want out of your career. Now that I’ve been in a leadership position, I can tell you firsthand that men will always tell me their goals and what they want to earn. Women rarely do, I think because they’re waiting for feedback or aren’t confident with their voice being heard. 

Take your time to think through what you’re going to say and choose your words wisely. It can be uncomfortable but the more practice you have, the easier it will become.  You have to own your career path and tell people where you want to be. If you set the goals and put them out there, you’re more likely to receive the support or opportunities you need to get there from your manager. Don’t feel like you weren’t heard if there is no immediate action, your hard work will pay off as long as you do the work and keep putting yourself out there.

What does work-life balance look like for you? How do you manage it? 

Early on in my career, I was managing a team based in India and traveling there for a week every other month. At the same time, I also was a mother to small children and worried about how to be a good mom, wife, and employee. While most decisions in life come with a sacrifice, it’s important to have control of your own decisions, so your work-life balance is a choice. For me, that meant sometimes I’d miss work to be with my children, and other times I’d miss a soccer game for work. Balance is a choice and about doing what’s best for you - which won’t look the same for everyone and that’s okay. As a female professional, this means leading by example and giving people the space to be good at their job and personal life. I’ll never forget going to pick up my daughter from school and she had told the class, “my mom is my hero because she travels the world for work”. 

The morning after I spoke with Jami for this blog post, I woke up to this Slack message from her which I think perfectly sums up our chat and the value of reaching out to the women around you. 

So was doing my morning reflection and thought of one thing that is important for women to remember - IGNORE the highlight reel. What you see is only a highlight of people's lives. Yes it looks awesome to be the CEO but you didn't see all the choices that person made to get there, so focus on your goals, be true to what matters to you and encourage that from others as well.  You are key to your success - be bold - be open to opportunities around you - be you - and I promise you will wind exactly where you are supposed to be.