When Jaime DeLanghe, a senior principal in product management at Slack, and Kelly Collins, the global head of internal communications at Snyk, envision the workforce of the future, they see it being more equitable and inclusive.
In the third blog post of our series honoring Women’s History Month, DeLanghe and Collins shared their perspectives on what success looks like for their unique digital HQ—the workplace of the future. These leaders from Slack and our customer Snyk, a global leader in developer security, discuss how they’re blazing their own trails while championing the accomplishments and contributions of women and underrepresented employees.
The following interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
How advocating for herself helped Jaime DeLanghe shape her career path in product management
When Jaime DeLanghe graduated from college in 2008—the height of the Great Recession—she didn’t have a clear career plan. As a student, she thought she would become an English professor or an essayist, but the recession’s faltering job market left her uncertain of her future. Spending her first years out of college working in coffee shops while researching and applying for graduate programs, she never imagined she would find herself flourishing in the tech industry.
“I’ve never been afraid to take on a job that was too big for my pay grade. I’m always looking for the next hardest thing.”
DeLanghe’s friend told her about opportunities at Etsy, the e-commerce marketplace for homemade and unique goods. So she applied and got a job working in customer support. During this time, she learned how the website worked, how to code and, most importantly, how the different departments of a company work together, from billing to legal. She soon found her calling as a product manager.
“I had to advocate for myself. I had to work with my manager and the product managers to help create a role that didn’t exist before and convince them to take a bet on me,” DeLanghe says. “I’ve never been afraid to take on a job that was too big for my pay grade. I’m always looking for the next hardest thing.”
We’re often told that “you are your own best advocate.” What are some tactical ways that you have advocated for yourself, especially when it comes to promotions and review cycles?
My most successful outcome from a review and promotion cycle came from a manager telling me I was doing a good job but that I wasn’t quite at the next level, and he needed me to be patient. I remember telling him, “The job you’re having me do is a level above the job that I’m being paid to do.” I actually quit because I thought he should find someone else who was fit for the role, but he gave me a counter offer.
He told me to come back with a list of exactly what I needed in order to be successful at the job, which I think was a good move as a manager. He asked me to participate in building a better path forward, and we were able to come up with that list together. We also had a very clear plan for what a promotion timeline would look like, and we stuck to that.
That’s an example of setting a boundary and saying, “I can’t continue to work like this.” This boundary helped me move from a place where I felt like I was constantly taking on more work to a place where I felt in control of my career.
What are some things we can do to advocate for other women and underrepresented workers? How can we advocate for them in our roles?
I try to take some of the influence I’ve accumulated and use it to open doors for other people. Instead of taking on a project myself, I might nominate someone who I think can really handle it to take the lead. Behind the scenes, I’ll make sure they’re prepared and ready for any meeting we’re going into.
From a leadership point of view, I know it can be easy to just pull the same people into a project because you know they’re going to get it done. And sometimes you see that happening, and all of the people who get called on look the same. I think calling attention to that fact can help people rethink the situation. Or asking, “Why can’t this person do that? Why wouldn’t this woman or this person of color be capable of taking this on?”
Are there any strategies you would share with your early-career self?
I would have just told myself to calm down. I think early on, when you’re trying to build your career, everything feels so fragile. I think I missed a lot of the enjoyment in the things I was doing because every decision felt like it was life or death. Like, this one decision is going to be the thing that makes or breaks my whole career. And I think I’m a lot more resilient than that.
How Kelly Collins makes her mark in communications by thinking big-picture
Throughout her career, Kelly Collins has consistently led with kindness and empathy. If she witnesses someone at work feeling uncertain, she’s the first to remind them of their value. “I’m not talking about winning the Nobel Prize or creating the iPhone,” she says. “I’m talking about small gestures or being the connector for two people to do meaningful work together. Those are the small day-to-day achievements that can add up to significant milestones. I like to remind women in all stages of their careers that there is worth in even the smallest task.”
Collins’s role requires her to be a consummate diplomat. And empowering others, who go on to create a better outcome for the company overall, has been her priority and passion since she first entered the workforce.
“It’s great to climb the ladder, and if that’s your focus, you should do that,” she says. “But making an impact goes beyond titles. I think it’s more important to add value with every action and show the people you’re working with that you’re truly on their side.”
Which strategies and tactics have you used to find your footing along your career path?
It’s important to understand what you’re good at. For me, that means putting aside ego and realizing that I don’t have to be an expert in everything. I surround myself with people who can help me fill in those gaps. I love working at companies where I’m able to observe what people are doing, realize I know somebody else who is working on something similar or complementary, and connect those people. Nothing should happen in a vacuum.
As I’ve navigated my career, I’ve focused on the big picture. As someone who works in communications, I spend a lot of time thinking about vision, and I try to find ways to connect everything each employee is working on back to that vision. If you become the person who can help others do that, I think that’s a good skill to hone. In fact, at Snyk, one of our core values is “Think bigger,” validating this focus!
It’s so easy to get bogged down by urgent, but ultimately non-strategic, tasks and you look up and realize you haven’t pushed the ball forward at all that particular day. When you do find yourself stuck in those weeds, it’s important to ask yourself, “How can I elevate this? What am I missing? Who can I talk to to help me get unstuck?” I think that’s always a good tactic to use, in addition to staying focused on the impact you want to make.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about vision, and I try to find ways to connect everything each employee is working on back to that vision.”
I don’t necessarily think your career should define everything about you. It’s a piece of you, but it’s not everything. So it’s OK if your passion is outside of work; it’s OK if what you really love doing is outside of work. But I always go back to impact and finding meaning in whatever you do. However you can show up, knowing you’re making a difference goes a long way.
What has been the trade-off, if any, of stepping into a leadership role? Have you had to sacrifice anything in your personal life or compromise what you love doing in exchange for other responsibilities?
I think I would have answered this question differently before the pandemic. As the boundaries between work and personal life have blurred so much, I have become a lot more strict with my boundaries at work. Before the pandemic, when you left the office, that was it; that was the end of the day. But I think we’ve gotten into some bad habits, where we say, “Oh, I have nothing else to do. I’m just going to check Slack or email.” I’ve actually had to remind myself about the importance of my own personal time. One of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with, Pamela Maynard, the CEO of Avanade, would always emphasize the importance of finding time for personal reflection. That’s something I still hold sacred.
I don’t have my Slack or email on the first tile of my phone’s home screen. I have to swipe to get to it, and I disable notifications. Obviously, because of the nature of what I do, I need to have my ear to the ground, but I don’t have constant notifications reminding me about email. That’s just not conducive to my mental health.
Last but not least, since you use Slack as your digital HQ, we have to ask: How has Slack connected you to your people, tools, customers and partners?
Slack has been one of the key ways we’ve built our global community of Snyk employees. From my perspective, it’s motivating to see how eager people are to connect with one another using Slack. We have channels devoted to lots of fun stuff too, and we’ve also leveraged it as a mechanism for many of our female and underrepresented employees especially to rally around the causes most important to them.
In a lot of ways, Slack is a democratization tool, because it’s a no-barrier way for people to connect directly with leaders. Slack makes it easier to engage with people who would be less accessible in the hierarchies of more traditional communications channels. And in the age of the pandemic, Slack has been an effective way to knock down physical barriers as well.
Like what you read? Check out the full series.