Ultimate Software's Blog

Women in Leadership: #BalanceforBetter

Ultimate Software was founded in 1990 with four people: two men, two women. And throughout our 29-year history in the male-dominated tech industry, that ratio has held strong. Women comprise about half of Ultimate’s total workforce and hold nearly 50% of front-line manager positions. We are passionate about achieving gender equality in the workplace and hope to inspire others to do the same.

Last year, we held a live panel discussion with four incredible women with long-term experience and influence in the HR industry. We learned about their unique journeys to positions of leadership, struggles along the way, and suggestions for organizations looking to match their vision of leadership with their reality.

The result? The event’s hashtag, #UltiWomenLeaders, trended on Twitter. The speakers received dozens of thoughtful, poignant questions, too many to address during the one-hour event. This is a conversation that matters, a conversation people want to have.

Fortunately, two of our prominent panelists – Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations, LLC, and Sarah Morgan, Sr. Director of Human Resources, SafeStreets USA, graciously took time after the event to answer the audience questions we didn’t have time to address.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re delighted to share their insights with you. And, due to this event’s incredible popularity, we’ve reimagined it for 2019 with another powerhouse panel of four new female leaders from across the business world. Don’t miss out: Register now 

Q: If you could choose one recommendation for HR leaders to help promote women in the workplace, what would it be?

J: Holding an internal one-day summit could be an opportunity to reaffirm your company’s commitment to the advancement of women within the company. You can have 2-3 mini session covering talks on anything from current women’s issues to highlighting some of the work being done by women in the company. It should be rounded off by leaving every woman in the room feeling like they have a direct line of communication into leadership.

S: Regularly highlight the accomplishments of women leaders in the company both internally and publicly. The more the organization applauds women’s achievements, the more women in the organization will believe they are supported and have legitimate opportunity to advance — because it will be shown as true through the organization’s actions. I also recommend supporting continuing development of women in the workplace and ensuring they are included on the path to promotion.

How do you prove in a predominantly male- dominated company that you have leadership skills to move your career forward? 

J: Visibility in any company is important. You create visibility by being able to observe the landscape and see what initiatives are most important to leadership. Once you know that, ask for a place on a committee or ask to attend a meeting with one of your favorite leaders to observe what goes on in the boardroom. These actions show that you are taking the initiative to learn what is important to the business. If you think there is something that makes them more successful or could improve a process, politely suggest it. The worst they can say is “thank you for your suggestion, but we will stick with our plan as-is.” That aside, you will be remembered as someone committed to solutions the next time they need ideas.

S: It important for women in male-dominated work environments to assert themselves. We assert ourselves by inserting ourselves into visible spaces where we demonstrate how we add value. Committees, project teams, etc. offer great opportunities for this. The key is to ask for what you want and give a clear explanation as to why that both aligns with the goals of the business and demonstrates consciousness of cost and deadlines. If you’re doing those things effectively, the environment should welcome you into the space. If this doesn’t happen after a reasonable amount of time and effective effort, it is likely the company isn’t gender inclusive and you should consider moving on.

I recently read that CA is looking at passing a law to require all Board of Directors be at least 40% women (with some parameters). Do you think this is something states and/or the nation can/should legislate?

S: Mandating diversity of any kind is always risky. Throughout history, we’ve seen it result in backlash against the disenfranchised. However, if organizations won’t do it on their own, I’m not totally opposed to legal incentives to urge and reward them for doing so. Power doesn’t usually concede on its own; sometimes it has to be forced to do it for its own and the greater good. History has proven this time and time again when it comes to marginalized people in the US and all over the world. These efforts will be no different. We will look back on this and understand that they were good, necessary and ultimately beneficial to business. The women who broke through these barriers will be trailblazing heroes. This is exciting.

Panel, what are some of the characteristics of a good leader?

S: Candor, courage, vulnerability, vision, problem-solving, organization, time management skills.

J: What companies look for in a leader vary widely. This is why it is best to develop you own ethos for what it means to be a leader. A good leader is empathetic, results-oriented, a continuous learner, adaptive, can admit when they are wrong, and will take the heat on behalf of their team instead of pointing fingers and passing the buck. A good leader establishes healthy boundaries with their teams and finds productive and fair ways of dealing with deficits in their team rather than to gossip or put their employees down. A good leader has a value system that sees the potential in all people, not just the ones that make them look good or does what they want. A good leader should welcome being respectfully-challenged by their employees, because they understand they don’t know it all.

I’m a first-gen American on my Mother’s side. I stumbled into business & HR and somehow got through college and an MBA on my own. Did any of you stumble in your career, or did you have guidance from your parent(s)? Do you think it makes us stronger to do it on our own or just more of a headache?

S: I stumbled into HR. I went into college wanting to be an attorney. I changed my mind and my major. When I graduated, I didn’t have a job. I did temp work and ultimately landed a job as a coordinator at a staffing company. The rest is history. No matter how you got started, as long as you’re happy and thriving, you made the right choice.

J: I’m first-gen American on both sides. I had some guidance, as my parents were both in the workforce. My mom later went back to college, but way after me. Most of my guidance came from one of my aunts who had gotten her bachelor’s and then a master’s in the late eighties (a first for our family on my mom’s side). My parents did the best with what they knew, but it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the workforce and economic realities of the early 2000’s. Guidance certainly helps you to intentionally think through your career decisions. It also widens your view on what is possible. I made intentional decisions about what I pursued because I excelled academically and got exposure to new avenues that allowed me to think differently. The deficits in coaching definitely made me stronger. I know how to go for what I want. I had no choice but to figure it out. On another hand, it is a headache, because having access to information that is readily available to others allows for less time wandering and more time exploring the options in a real way.

Is there a particular leader you look up to?

S: All time, my favorite women leader is Harriet Tubman. As a Black woman with a neurological disability, what she was able to do to lead enslaved people to freedom is unimaginably amazing. Her writings about those experiences are a masterclass in leadership that everyone can learn from. I am also tremendously inspired by the women leaders I know and interact with every day, like my fellow panelists (Janine Truitt, Cecile Alper-Leroux, Mary Faulkner) and my friends Keirsten Greggs, Tiffany Kuehl, Cy Wakeman, Minda Harts, Margaret Spence, Kandia Johnson, Kourtney Whitehead, Phidelia Johnson, Katrina Jones, Elena Valentine, and Erin Miller.

J: My answer may surprise you. I am a huge fan of the women I have been so honored to have as friends. Each of my friends are leaders. They possess a unique flavor of leadership. All are dedicated to leaving this Earth better than they found it. They aren’t celebrities. I just have never put a lot of stock in celebrities. My mom is someone I look up to. My grandmothers are leaders I model myself after. If I have to throw some names out there of women I admire, the squad is: Elle Lorenzetti, Kimberly Codrington, Celinda Appleby, Cashel Campbell, Melissa Velez, Sarah Morgan, Keirsten Greggs, Tiffany Kuehl, Anne T. Griffin, Chastain Lorde, Andrena Sawyer, Christie Lindor, Jazmine Wilkes, Tricia Burgess, Krishna Davenport, Dr. Janice Presser, Cecile Alper-Leroux, Kate Bischoff, Mary Faulkner, Dr. Hilary Berger, Brandi Baldwin-Rana, Valeisha, Jedidah Isler, PhD, Miki Agrawal and so many more. In essence, I value real people with real stories that don’t need the spotlight, but are doing great things every day.

I recently retired from a 40-year career, including 30 years as an HR Executive. Issues for women in the workplace have slowly improved over the years, but there’s still a long way to go. Have you considered asking experienced female leaders to act as mentors for upcoming female executives?

J:I know that Ultimate Software has an awesome Women in Leadership initiative that has mentorship as a core component of the program. I’m sure they aren’t the only ones, but I believe that is something that has to come from the top. More often than not (and this is true of women or any underrepresented group), when you reach some semblance of success, some women leaders feel like sharing that will take something off their plates. The scarcity of access to equal opportunity in underrepresented groups often connotes that there is but so much to go around for everyone which creates a hoarding of success mentality.

To your point, I think every company should utilize seasoned leaders in this way to provide mentorship. I also think the reverse is true and those more seasoned leaders can use mentorship from a younger leader too.

S: I absolutely believe it is important for women to be willing to provide mentorship, support and advice to other women. Ultimate Software does a fantastic job with this and that’s a big reason why they continue to be ranked as one of the best places for women to work.

I also believe it is important for MEN to be willing to provide mentorship, support and advice to women. If men do not become more aware of their power and privilege, and become more willing to call out gender inequities and create equal opportunity for women to excel, we are not going to be able to make progress as quickly as we want or deserve. We need men to do their part, too. Active, willing participation from men in mentor and reverse-mentor programs for women executives and high-potential women is needed.

Do you find that many organizations believe you are not as capable without an HR certification?

J: I don’t have any concrete evidence to suggest that this is the case. I will say that the HR certification is something that should be considered intentionally. HR certification, like any other education, should be sought because you want it and it is something that will expand your current knowledge base. There is a ridiculous and pervasive notion in the HR community and beyond that getting a certified HR professional is garnering you a better HR professional. That is simply not true. I don’t agree with the emphasis being put on certifications that require professionals to take a standardized test to prove their worthiness as an HR professional. It may be an indicator or professional knowledge, but it has little bearing on your ability to apply the proper principles when in the trenches.

S: I have not found any organization who believed I was incapable due to having/not having my HR certification. If you’re going to make the choice to get certified, do it as an investment in yourself and not for career advancement or money. You will end up disappointed.

I recently obtained the responsibilities of my direct co-worker, which is considered a full-Time” job. I’m still managing the responsibilities of my original full-time job. When I asked my manager if my compensation would be reevaluated, she said that performance reviews and compensation are only reviewed at the end of the year. How do I address the issue that I am not comfortable doing both jobs without any raise, bonus or recognition?

J: I would outline what you are currently doing, including the tasks that have been added to your plate since taking over this other FT position. Whether leaders want to recognize or not, 1 FTE plus another FTE position is 200% work. In I/O terms, that job is over-capacity for one individual. At this point, it isn’t about compensation. It is about why they think it is okay to have you working over-capacity. That said, outline your tasks for a week, if there is evidence of what someone makes doing both of those roles print a copy and have it handy, request a meeting with your boss and explain that you understand there is a deficit in labor and you don’t mind pitching in…but not to the tune of two FT jobs. Ask for a compromise and also see if she can provide some guidance on when they may be hiring someone else. The presentation of a new role is off-cycle so they should be able to entertain an off-cycle compensation conversation. If all else fails, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.

S: You have every right to feel how you are feeling about taking on this additional work without additional compensation. You are going to have to revisit this with your manager. Write down an outline of the work that you’re doing and the additional work you’ve taken on. Do some research about what roles handling that level of responsibility get paid in the organization and in the regional marketplace. Also list out the time that these tasks will take as I’m sure it is more than a normal work week can handle. Remind your manager of how off-cycle pay adjustments have been handled with others, if you are aware. Ask your manager to reconsider an off-cycle adjustment based on all this data. If your manager is still unwilling to do this, have suggestions of work that can be delegated to someone else or eliminated for the time-being to bring your workload down to an acceptable level for you until either someone else is hired or your compensation can be adjusted. Do the best you can with the work — but focus your efforts on seeking employment somewhere else that won’t overburden you with work while not compensating your fairly. You deserve that and, if this job won’t give that to you, find a place that will.

What advice do you have for speaking truth to power?

S: Speaking truth to power feels terrifying when you haven’t done it before. However, living in lies, falsehoods and words left unspoken feels worse. Speaking truth is always freeing, even when the consequences are not ideal. I encourage women who want to speak truth to power in the workplace to prepare for those conversations and be ready with solutions and alternatives to the status quo. Also, be prepared for people to reject and dismiss you because power often doesn’t want to hear the truth. This can be difficult, hurtful and lonely. It is also necessary at times to change and grow.

J: I imagine you mean speaking truth to those in power. My simple answer is: we all recognize the difference between what is true and what is categorically false. For some reason, when we enter the world and more specifically the world of work, we start to bend those truths in favor of acceptance and a paycheck. There is strength in numbers; if you can galvanize others, that is the ideal situation. More importantly, what is true for you should always guide you in every interaction. Speak your piece and be willing to be seen unfavorably. There is a 50/50 chance that anything you say in any given moment will be accepted with praise or derided with disdain. That’s part of being a leader. The ability to stand out on your truth without any support but your own convictions is what being a leader is all about.

Do you have any suggestions for how to change a company’s culture of underpaying? Where do we start?

J: I like to preface any conversation on compensation with company heads by saying, you have the ability to lag the market, lead the market or fall somewhere in the middle. I then illustrate the challenges along that continuum and show them where the company stands. You can then spell out how the company is losing a competitive advantage due to underpaying employees. Provide leadership with a graduated plan to fixing the deficits, as anything else can feel aversive. This usually works, and if it doesn’t, it means it isn’t a priority for them—which will spell difficulty for you. You have to decide whether you want that problem.

S: Get clear on the company’s philosophy and approach to compensation. Some organizations are OK with lagging the market in pay. If your organization is OK with that, you won’t be able to convince them to change. If they are not, start researching the range of pay for the jobs you hire for in your area. Present this to decision-makers with a plan for how to get the organization caught up. Be sensitive to cost by having a reasonable timeline to roll out the plan. Once you get approval, start executing immediately. And be honest with your employees about what you are doing and why. Transparency is key in successful culture shifts of any kind.

I am a black woman in leadership and I often hear I am too articulate, too direct, and too confident! I find that so offensive to hear. Why do people make these kinds of statements?

S: Those kinds of phrases are racial and gender micro-aggressions. The company needs to improve education, awareness and training surrounding inclusion and civility. If you have influence in this area, put together a plan for this. If not, do some research that you can provide to those with the authority to make it happen. In the meanwhile,  I suggest pulling the people who say these things to you aside and explaining that it is offensive, so they will stop. If they don’t stop, begin calling them out immediately and publicly for the behavior. If they’re going to call you too direct and too confident, you might as well give them a reason! Ha! I would also suggest connecting with other professional Black women as many of us experience this and can give you support, advice and reality checks when you feel like you need them. Community is essential for Women and People of Color in professional spaces due to our experiences with marginalization and micro-aggression.

J: First of all, you are not alone. I have been through this and most black women I know have been told something similar. There is a docile, submissive, “speak when you are spoken to” pedigree that some companies seem to like in the black women they choose as leaders. Those of us who are on the more forthright end of the spectrum can find ourselves wandering the career landscape, because the issue is often the same. Find me, find other women of color that resonate with you, and have more discussions about these situations. It is psychological warfare to carry it all by yourself.

How does a female leader work WITH upper VPs/CEO’s to promote an equal employment opportunity organization in the (historically) male-dominated construction industry? Current AAP is slow to implement as it is completely new with the company. It needs to be received well, but in small steps…

S: It is possible the company doesn’t understand the importance of timely implementation of the AAP and the potential financial impact to the organization if those contracts are lost. You should point that out to the VPs/C-Suite and ask for direct answers about what is causing the delays with implementation. If you already have some idea of what their answers will be, prepare your responses and lay out your recommendations when you speak with them. If you don’t know, let them give you the answers then tell them when you’ll want to have another meeting to discuss your recommendations.

J: My simple discussion when I worked in those sectors was to illustrate the importance of the government contracts we had and to tie the loss of the contracts back to their inability to promote equal opportunity. Explain to them that this is not about quotas; it is about hiring the right person and diversifying the slates of candidates you are considering. You can tell them how you will assist and offer up group and even individual coaching on how this gets executed so everyone wins.

Is 50 too late to start advancement?

S: Not at all. It is never too late. Most people work into their 60s or some into their early-mid 70s. You have more than a decade to continue to grow and develop your career!  Do not let naysayers or age discrimination stop or deter you if you feel you have more to learn and give.

J: No, it isn’t. It is never too late. Do not be blind to the potential for ageism or age discrimination. However, that should not be your focus. Find the people who you can learn from and who will advocate for you and go for it. Every day is a new day to do something that scares or to be audacious with pursuing our goals. 50 is far from it being over for you.