Jennifer Tejada says she “sucked” at schmoozing. Yvonne Wassenaar says she thought she didn’t have time for informal meetings over drinks and going out. Yet both women say they owe part of their professional success to networking. Indeed, Tejada, president and CEO of technology platform PagerDuty, recommended Wassenaar for her role as CEO of Puppet, which helps companies manage and automate their IT infrastructure. The two women have presided over the growth of their businesses: Tejada took PagerDuty public in 2019, and revenues have increased 80% since its IPO. Puppet under Wassenaar is on track to generate annual revenue of $ 100 million.

Tejada, who was previously CEO and President of Keynote Systems, and Wassenaar, who served as CEO of Airware and CIO at New Relic, met at a technology conference and forged a professional bond which, say they show how crucial networks can be. be for women and people of color. They spoke with Fast Company about their path to power and the role of mentors, sponsors and good industry connections. Edited excerpts follow.

Fast company: Jennifer, how did you have your first CEO gig at Keynote Systems?

Jennifer Tejada: My career is unconventional [among] people who run deep tech companies. I started at Procter & Gamble in the areas of branding, sales and marketing. Eventually I learned a lot about supply chain and ended up in a supply chain automation company in the late 90s. I entered tech as a marketer, as opposed to a tech specialist. Around 2010, 2011, I was working for a CEO named Greg Clark, who became the CEO of Blue Coat and Symantec. And Greg sat me down one day and said, ‘You know, you basically run the company as # 2, but I basically got the credit. And it looks like you should be CEO. “

I had a list of reasons why I wasn’t ready or didn’t want to be the CEO at the time. I had a young baby. I had a husband who was also a leader and traveled a lot. And I really wanted to be able to delegate some things and not be where the responsibility ended was a good solution for me. [Clark] has convinced me that running the business allows you to set the clock and build the business and culture around the way you work best. He started to put my name in the ring for CEO jobs.

But that didn’t happen right away.

JT: The first CEO gig is hard to get because nobody likes to bet on a newbie unless they are highly referenced. We dismiss people who have never held a role before, even if they have more than enough qualifications, and as women we often dismiss our own qualifications. When you think about the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, a sponsor is someone who is connected, who has visibility on powerful networks where opportunities exist, and who will make you visible as a candidate and who will advocate for you. .

Yvonne, how did you get the CEO job at Puppet?

Yvonne Wassenaar: My path was not too different. My first CEO job was at a startup where I became COO and two weeks later they came to me and said, ‘No, you should be CEO.’ And I had the long list of all the reasons it was a bad idea. I have Three kids. John chambers [the former CEO of] Cisco happened to be on the board, and he sat me down and he said, “You’re more ready than you think, and I’m going to be your winger.” You need someone who is going to sponsor you, but you need that self-confidence. And part of what holds us back is that there aren’t enough of those two things.

My first role as CEO was a great learning experience. I was trying to figure out if I just wanted to do board work or take on some other operational role. And then Jenn sent me a very innocent text. He just said, “Hey, there’s a really interesting company out there looking for a CEO. And I’m a huge fan of the people who do the research. Do you want to talk to them? She didn’t tell me which company it was. She didn’t tell me she was on the board. She just said, “I would love to introduce you to these people if you were considering talking to them.” I naturally said yes, and that is because I deeply respect Jenn. I believe her.

Jennifer, what prompted you to contact Yvonne about the Puppet CEO role?

JT: I remember where I was when I sent this text. I was standing on the patio in my back yard. When you’re on the board responsible for a leadership transition, you feel the weight of making sure the company you are responsible for overseeing goes from good hands to better hands. I wanted someone for Puppet who was technical, but with a heart, who could broaden the vision and who could build on the culture and grow the business. It’s hard to find in one person, but I had seen Yvonne really flex the muscles, coming from a big company, being a CIO at New Relic, then going into this kind of high growth startup. But I wasn’t sure if she would take another CEO gig.

In recommending Yvonne, was that part of your motivation to make sure there was a strong female candidate on the slate?

JT: I have an almost relentless outlook on the final rosters because I don’t think a diverse candidate is enough. I think half of the final roster needs to be diverse and under-represented for a diverse or under-represented person to even have a shot at being selected.

Yvonne, are you frustrated or baffled that we still have these conversations on various slates and people like you and Jennifer still need to talk about it?

YW: Frustrated? Yes. Confused? No. People have good intentions, but we don’t move the needle. There are two areas of challenge that jump out at me, especially when we’re talking about high-level roles. The first is that you have to be tied to the quote, to the right networks, to the non-quote. Most C-suites and tables are run by white men, and so when they go and think about who should be on the slate, they think [of] people they know. Unless you have diversity in this room, you are very unlikely to get diversity on this slate. And even if you do, there are unconscious biases throughout the process. Take someone like me. I have 13 year old twins and a 15 year old daughter. There is an immediate guess on how much I’m going to want to travel. I programmed in assembler, Pascal, and I started my career as a software engineer. Yet people would come to me [when I was at New Relic] and say, “Wow, CIO, this is really technical work. How did you get that? ”There’s just layer after layer after layer of unconscious bias.

JT: When I insist on a balanced list, it means the recruiting process will take longer. And I’m the same boring leader who also says we have to hire fast, that we have to grow. I expect my leaders to simply deal with this paradox. It’s just part of the concert. When we decided to open another location in North America a few years ago, one of our top three criteria for a new office was to create access to careers in the tech industry for people. under-represented. We ended up opening an office in Atlanta, which was a huge commercial success. Atlanta produces more under-represented underrepresented engineers than anywhere else in North America. You can [diversify your workforce] and drive further and faster at the same time.

YW: I wanted to diversify my board when it comes to people of color, especially black leaders. I looked at my own network and didn’t have a lot of black leaders, but I did have a few. I went to them and they introduced me to some people, who introduced me to other people, and all of a sudden this whole valley of unicorns appeared. They invited me because I really wanted to make a difference.

Sometimes you have to test limiting beliefs. “My God, can someone who has never been a CEO be a CEO?” Well, someone must have done it the first time. In my board, of the four members I added, three had never served on a board before.

JT: I think representation on the board is very important. I know the black community within PagerDuty was very convinced that they wanted to be inspired by seeing a black person on our board, having someone to lead by example and looking for that community as part of his mandate as director.

Yvonne, how did you meet Jennifer?

It was in San Francisco, at a Girls in Tech conference, and Jenn was the speaker before me. One of the great things about being on the conference circuit is that you meet these other amazing leaders. I could text Jenn and say, “Hey Jenn, I’m fundraising. Do you know so and so? He was someone who always answered me. And she could reach out to me and say, “I’m channeling this person – do you know them?” This true kind of mutual support is essential.

You’ve talked a lot about the power of networking, which women and people of color can find difficult. What advice do you have for professionals from under-represented groups or people who really hate doing it?

YW: But the best advice I got from one of my male colleagues was: networking is part of your daily job. There’s this belief that networking has to happen after hours and on weekends, and as a single mom with three kids it’s pretty tough. And my coworker looked at me and he said, “Yvonne, you eat your lunch at your desk. At your level, part of your job is to network. It helps you get information, build relationships with future talent. I think it’s really important that we give ourselves permission, especially early in our careers, to know that networking isn’t extracurricular, it’s part of your day-to-day job. And the older you get, the more you should be doing.

JT: I’ve been bad at networking for most of my career. I actually dismissed the importance of it for a long time. [I didn’t appreciate it] until I had lived in Australia for 12 years and returned to the United States and no one had ever heard of me in Silicon Valley. If you see your network as a currency, you approach it very differently than if you see it as a necessary evil or something you must do to move forward. The other thing is that like any other form of currency you have to invest in it to get [something] apart from that. So a lot of my networking time is spent helping others.

YW: Jenn and I are not personal friends; we don’t hang out or get together with our families. But we are great professional friends. I can always call her for anything, she will help me and so will I. Most people assume that, you know, women network personally and that we have to do our hair together. We don’t. Jenn and I network professionally – I would do anything for her and she would do the same for me.