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As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the incredible women working at BetterUp and hear their experiences, in their own words.
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I sat down, virtually, with BetterUp’s Director of Solutions Consulting, founder of our women’s ERG group, and Ph.D. Ashley Yousafzai to talk about her experience working in tech at BetterUp.
Ashley and I both joined BetterUp around two years ago. We have shared the privilege of developing some of our largest partnerships together — traveling to customer sites (ah, the good old days), celebrating personal triumphs, and consoling each other during the challenges. We often found ourselves grateful for the support and resources given at BetterUp that allowed us, and our colleagues, to achieve our potential and break through gender and other barriers together.
Since BetterUp was founded in 2013, over 50% of the employees identify as women. How does this compare to other organizations you have worked for?
Ashley: Coming from health care, I was surprised and excited to see so much gender representation at BetterUp. More importantly, women have a presence at all levels across BetterUp — 45% of our leadership (Director+) is female, and the company has set a goal to reach 50%. Often organizations striving for gender inclusivity employ women in lower levels in the organization — that’s not yet real inclusivity. Many have far fewer women in leadership positions and even fewer holding executive titles or board positions. For a workplace to truly feel inclusive of women, representation is needed at the highest levels of leadership. It's also well-documented that when organizations have more representation at higher levels, organizations report higher profit margins, have an easier time attracting and retaining talent, and also see upticks in innovation, brand reputation, and customer-centricity.
BetterUp offers benefits such as paid time off to cultivate Inner Work™ and volunteer, as well as paid leave and infertility benefits. When organizations offer these types of perks, what does it tell you about the company?
Ashley: BetterUp has great benefits! They recognize that we are not just employees — we are multi-faceted individuals. When I see benefits like this at an organization, it makes me think that they understand, and value, the roles that women play in their families, in their communities, and at work.
Our family leave policy caught my attention early in my job search. The infertility benefits are also incredibly valuable, particularly for women like me who spent their 20s focused on education and career planning and might be pursuing parenthood in their 30s and 40s. I feel supported in living a well-rounded life where financial pressures are not forcing me to choose between doing the work that I love and being a great parent. BetterUp also places a lot of emphasis on recognizing and rewarding high-quality work. For example, two BetterUppers recently won Teslas as part of a performance challenge this year — they were both women!
What’s frustrating is that these benefits are not the norm. A recent report from Mercer indicates that about 40% of organizations in the US offer paid parental leave, but those employers only account for 16% of all US workers employed in the private sector. While the Family Medical Leave Act protects your job and allows for time away from work, it is unpaid. Going without income puts a lot of strain on working parents as they navigate the early months and have to choose between bonding and caring for a child or paying bills.
Even better is when there are paid leave policies for men, recognizing the crucial role men play in child-rearing. Men also have the need and desire to bond with their child, and paternity leave policies signal that the burden should not always be on the woman to provide all of the care for their family. Encouraging men to take paternity leave is another step toward real inclusivity, and I have appreciated seeing some of my male BetterUp colleagues taking paternity leave.
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According to the most recent census data, men hold nearly 60% of the doctoral degrees in the United States. As a Ph.D., what unique challenges do women face when pursuing higher education?
Ashley: The same challenges that women face with representation in the workplace are also experienced within higher education. Women hold 44% of tenure track faculty positions and 36% of full professors. That leaves fewer women who can serve as mentors to younger women or provide career guidance that considers the complex role challenges that women must balance while pursuing higher education and laying the foundation for their careers. The other challenge that women face is that many of the peak education and employment opportunities coincide with prime childbearing years. This leaves women having to make trade-offs about education and career with family goals; a challenge most men do not have to face.
How do you see your work with partners, as a Director of Solution Consulting, helping to address gender inequalities?
Ashley: I am frequently in conversations with prospective and current partners who want to offer BetterUp to address gender inequities within their organizations. Our data show that women come to coaching with a greater desire for growth and more specific goals for coaching than their male counterparts. Women are also less likely to have previous experience with coaching, largely because coaching was historically limited to higher levels of leadership. Once in coaching, women place more focus on topics such as career planning, effective communication, and collaboration, developing influence and assertiveness, and managing stress and well-being. As women, we are well aware of the challenges we face. Coaching provides that safe space to process some of these experiences and develop skills in negotiating, influencing, or resilience to take on these challenges.
What I particularly enjoy is partnering with organizations that are truly committed to, not just developing the women in their organization but also addressing the environment around them and recognizing that each person’s journey is unique. Diversity and inclusion programs can fall short when they home in on the under-represented group and do not broaden their focus to the environments that shape their experience and success. This is really important because so many people have multiple identities that influence the challenges they face. When a company focuses on belonging for all but recognizing that the experience of belonging is unique to each individual, they are starting to recognize and support intersectionality — that a woman might also be of color or be LGBTQ, and these different aspects of identity change both the experience and the need for support.
It’s encouraging that several of our partners are expanding coaching to include the managers of the women being developed. Or they are offering group coaching to managers and peers with a focus on inclusive leadership, building allyship, or fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace. These approaches will be more successful in advancing a D&I strategy because they create an inclusive experience for all — it isn’t just about supporting “women in tech” or “women in leadership.”
I am so grateful to Ashley for sharing her journey and insights. Also, a huge shout-out to BetterUp for welcoming this conversation with open arms and continuing to be a driving force behind every person achieving the best version of themselves, living our values with us as humans first, and employees second.
BetterUp is a truly unique place for women to grow their careers. Especially as a woman in tech sales, a typically male-dominated field, it matters to me that I have a team that values the unique strengths I bring to the table and a company that intentionally invests in my success.
Read on to see how BetterUp is celebrating and rewarding the high-quality work of women in the workforce from more of our incredible female leaders.
We are hiring! Discover your next great opportunity at BetterUp.
We asked a few of our amazing women leaders: What advice or recommendations would you give to young women entering the workforce?
Katie Coupe, Vice President Human Resources
BetterUpper Since October 2017
I feel exceptionally grateful for my community. This includes mentors, bosses, role models, peers, etc., developing close relationships and maintaining them has been such a gift personally and professionally. Choosing to invest time and effort in growing my network has been invaluable. I have a passion for volunteering and mentoring young professionals because it was such a valuable experience for me, and I wouldn't have gotten where I am today without others supporting me.
Preeya Voss, Regional Vice President, Sales
BetterUpper since November 2019
Believe in the positive feedback or praise that you get. Too often, we glide past recognition but we let negative feedback circle around in our minds that lead to doubt about what we are capable of doing. Absolutely take time to work on and process feedback, but also give yourself the permission to celebrate positive recognition. I keep an email folder of the shout-outs and praise I've received, and when I start hearing that negative self-talk, I'll go back to that folder to remind myself of all my successes and all that I am capable of achieving.
Victoria Roebuck, Enterprise Account Manager at BetterUp
BetterUpper Since January 2020
Spend time learning about yourself ... your strengths, values, passions, what makes you unique. Don't be afraid to lean into your authenticity and bring your whole self to work. While sometimes you may feel vulnerable in doing so, I've found it to be one of the most rewarding and empowering things that have helped me in my career.
Karen Lai, VP of Communications and Content Marketing
BetterUpper Since October 2017
Think of success with a mindset of abundance. Another woman's success doesn't take away from your own chances. Too often, I see women view each other as competitors, as if there are limited spots for women to advance. Collaborate, support each other, and pull each other up. See another woman's success as a sign of progress that creates benefits for all.
Mary Jo Medina, Product Manager
BetterUpper Since July 2015
Try a lot of things and take advantage of any new opportunity that comes your way. During my time at BetterUp, I’ve been privileged to work across a variety of teams and roles, and that diversity of experience helped me figure out what type of work I most enjoyed and wanted to pursue.
Shevaun Lee, VP Global Accounts
BetterUpper since March 2016
When you find other women (and men!) who are "making it all work" in a way that you think could work for you - soak in their wisdom. Role models are so powerful in building the careers and lives we want for ourselves (you can also take pieces of what you see to be successful around you and put them together in a way that fits you!)
Gaelle Louisgene, DEIB Program Lead
BetterUpper Since May 2019
It’s kind of cheesy but the most valuable lesson my career has taught me is to not be my own limitation. The world may and will throw roadblocks, curveballs, and swerves. Some of those events are part of the human experience, others are the result of assumptions others may have about what you’re capable of. Let others tell you “no” and let them say “no” a couple of times and a couple of times more. Never be the person to say no to yourself. Believing that you’re capable, that your passion matters, and that you’re worth the yes is the first step to getting that yes.