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Women at Zip: Leading with perspective and procuring the future in tech

Women at Zip: Leading with perspective and procuring the future in tech

At Zip, we're not just about innovating in procurement, we're about the people who drive that innovation forward—especially the remarkable women leaders who are paving new paths in a traditionally male-dominated tech industry. 

As we look around our company, we are supremely fortunate to see diversity not just in backgrounds, but in the stories of resilience, ambition, and leadership that each of our women leaders embody. As change-makers, these stories form the fabric of our culture, which shapes how we approach challenges, leads us to make decisions, and ultimately informs the product we build together called Zip.

To celebrate Women's History Month, we're proud to spotlight their journeys, leadership philosophies, and visions for the future, offering a glimpse into the dynamic force of women at Zip.

Journeys to leadership

Every leader's journey is unique, but they all share moments of transformation and decision that set them on their path. For some, it's a pivotal moment in which feelings of unpreparedness are challenged by necessity bolstered by opportunity. For others, it's the wisdom of a mentor that helps guide you on your way. But the leadership journey always requires taking risks, in order to gather the rewards.

Sarah Newman, Head of Talent at Zip, shared a moment where she was pushed entirely out of her comfort zone, but was allowed to shine because of it.

"When I went to India to help open Facebook India's office as part of a landing team, it was the first time in a professional setting that I was put unnaturally in a leadership position that I was definitely not qualified for," she said. "All of us on this landing team were pushed completely outside of our comfort zone, but we all had to step up and just do it. It gave me the confidence for myself and to see others around me 'just do it'—and together we built something really special."

For Sahana Carlsen, Zip Engineering Manager, it was the challenge of building her own solo-company, overcoming a multitude of odds—and responsibilities—with resilience and determination. 

"Bootstrapping a startup as a solo founder wasn't easy. I had to do everything from sales, to engineering, to customer success. But doing so helped me prove to myself that I could take on any role. It also helped me realize that I wanted to explore leadership roles where I could unlock the potential of entire teams."

Mentorship can often be the forcing function that allows ambition to manifest into action. Shaye Martin, Head of People at Zip, shared some advice from a few of her incredible mentors:

"One of my favorite pieces of advice I received from a mentor was 'Go for the Gold!' I was pulling together my first strategic plan in a new role, and my mentor told me to just go for it. That nudge reminded me that even at the beginning of a job, going big early is a great way to showcase your capabilities and make an impact. 

But even with the best laid plans, sometimes we can get in our own way. Another close mentor reminded me, ‘Don't say no to yourself before someone else does.’ This is great advice to live by. We have to coach ourselves to go for it in the same way we coach others, especially in moments of challenge or uncertainty, which are often the moments that nurture us into leaders the most.” 

For Summer Li, Customer Success Lead at Zip, she realized that she herself wanted to help others in their journey, while simultaneously building up her entire function.

"A realization I had early on in my career was how much I wanted to help others grow. I quickly became an unofficial mentor for newer employees, and decided that this is the path I was interested in."

"Stepping stones—I knew I wanted to work for Zip so I didn't mind going back to an IC role just so I could work for the company. As a founding CSM, I helped with building the foundations of our practices and owned different areas of the function. This positioned me to be the next line leader."

Leading philosophies

At Zip, we encourage our teams to 'Win As One'; to understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and through deep empathy and understanding of the unique values offered by our workforce, we can drive thoughtful collaboration that delivers results not possible through individual effort alone.

"We've found that the best way to propel change is through coordinated motivation and collaborative execution," shared Kendall Ashe, Product Manager. "At Zip, this starts at the top with our amazing exec team who crafted a clear and inspiring vision for the company."

Kendall offered some of her leadership philosophy and strategies she takes to ensure her teams are working at peak performance—while feeling invested and excited about their work.

"On the product team, we collaborate with our engineering and design counterparts to craft team based vision and mission statements that align with the company's overall vision and mission. We strive to plan all of our projects around this team vision to communicate the importance of our work. There has to be a compelling 'why' behind our work to feel fulfilled and motivated to continue to execute and continue to solve the next problem."

Kennedie Akinwande, BDR Manager at Zip, had some fantastic best practices for how to lead with empathy and foster growth of the people she manages, even through the break-neck speeds of a high-growth startup.

"There are three keys here:

  1. Know your people. It's hard to motivate the people on your team and lead through change if you don't know the 'Why' behind each person—my kids; my spouse/partner; my desire to travel the world, etc.—taking time to learn about them without business being mentioned allows you to never forget we're all human.
  2. Seek to understand, and encourage honesty. There's a balance between constructive frustration and complaining, and creating the space for the first is tricky; it can become negative if you're not cautious. Allowing people the space to express their own lack of confidence, or where they feel stuck, allows you to help them work through it rather than simply telling them what you think their issues are. Don't assume negative intent when a mistake is made, a goal is missed, or something doesn't go to plan—especially if you know that person cares!
  3. Talk about development outside of just the next title. It's not just about getting a promotion, as promos are a byproduct of the work you do. Truly develop people and their skill sets, how they act interpersonally, their brands, and all the factors that allow someone to naturally progress into whatever is next for them."

Sarah Newman agrees that understanding the needs and motivations of your team is essential to creating space for growth. She shared one absolutely vital tip:

"It's simple: I ask.”

"I really want people to be the best version of themselves, and strive to create an environment where people can really make Zip a place to launch their careers. To understand that, I first have to ask, and seek to understand that."

‘People-first’ really is a philosophy that guides the team of women leaders here at Zip.

"We've all had our share of bad managers," Sahana Carlsen said. "But, from my experience, a manager that makes their employees feel seen, supported, and championed, can unlock incredible potential and energy in their direct reports. In that vein, my style of leadership is largely people-first. I do a lot of listening, ask for lots of feedback and suggestions, and bias toward action."

No startup is an island, and we're so fortunate at Zip to have the incredible support of a team of leaders who work tirelessly to understand and unite folks who make Zip zip.

A vision for the future

As of the end of 2023, women held just 35% of the employees in tech jobs in the US. Women are 1.6 times more likely to face layoffs than men, often due to less representation in senior roles. 

However, a recent McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were likely to gain a 15% average improvement in terms of performance.

Representative diversity is an undeniably winning strategy, and Summer Li is hopeful for the future.

"We see more and more representation each day in tech, including roles that are historically dominated by men. I am energized by the female leaders and the examples they have set. We are changing the stereotypes of the 'tech bro' culture and fostering collaboration, empowerment, and ingenuity. The biggest lesson I have learned is that everyone is just figuring things out—forget about imposter syndrome, you have a place in this!"

Kennedie Akinwande also noticed some trends in the tech space, and shared some advice for those starting out in their own careers.

"We don't have to fit one mold! I've seen so many different versions of powerful women in tech who are just truly leaning into who they are as people—their skills, their experience, intelligence... all of it! It gives me the confidence that it's not always about trying to play the part, but knowing that if I am truly killer at what I do, it shows that the future has no limit. My work should and will speak for itself."

“Also important to note: there are more of us! When I can look around a company and see amazing women in leadership who are unapologetically themselves—and they own it, and they are crushing it—I'm all the more motivated to keep challenging and pushing the mark!”

“My advice for any woman is don’t dim your light to win. Find strong women to learn from, and not just from a skill level, find women who also have other qualities you admire non-work related even."

Xiaowan Chu, Strategic Finance Manager at Zip, offered some advice for the up-and-coming superstars who are leading the charge for change in the future of work.

"Make your voice heard, especially when you're the minority in the room. I come from a traditional finance background of investment banking/investing and recently transitioned to tech, so throughout my career I've often found myself the only woman in meetings. While it can sometimes feel uncomfortable to speak up, I remind myself to take advantage of the situation instead of being held back by it.” 

"I've learned that, when you're the unique voice in a group, your words are even more impactful and memorable. Also importantly—find work environments that support you! I am grateful to have been part of organizations like Zip that empower me to strengthen my voice."

Driving innovation in a traditional industry at Zip

Innovation and pioneering technology were coded in Zip's cultural DNA from the start, disrupting the traditional with fresh ideas and solutions from an outsider's perspective, informed by an insider's wisdom. Our women leaders thrive in this environment, leveraging their unique insights and experiences to challenge the old guard and pave new paths forward.

Kendall Ashe shared her take on how we take our unique position as disruptors and apply our talents to creating change in the industry.

"Zip operates with an underdog mindset and I really believe that everyone here strives to make things better than how they found them. This mantra applies to the industry as a whole—our founders saw an opportunity to help the procurement industry operate at a higher level, and decided to embark on this disruptive journey! With every feature we ship or decision we make, there is likely a competitor looking over their shoulders. That's a rare feeling and personally, I find it exhilarating!"

Sarah Newman added: "Zip is a place that values people for who they really are at their core. We're unique in our ability to bring together such an incredible group of smart, kind, and hard working people—all coming together to build both a legacy product and company. It's very exciting to be part of that!"

Summer Li perfectly captured the essence of what's possible with the right vision and mindset.

"If there is an easier and more intuitive way of doing things, people will follow. We signed up Fortune 500 companies when we were 6-months old—truly the sky is the limit."

This Women's History Month, we're proud of what all of our women leaders have accomplished, both here at Zip and as representatives in the tech industry at large. We are inspired every day by what we're seeing from the team, and are thrilled by what’s yet to come.

If you're a woman in tech and would like to work with more inspiring women leading the charge to procure the future, check out our open roles at Zip!

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