#WomenInTech: Making the Switch from Corporate to Startup
This week’s interview is with Jessica Weisz, Chief Client Officer at SoapBox. We discussed the corporate vs. the startup world, changing the conversation around women in business, and what it’s like to be headquartered in Toronto.
Menaka: How did you end up in the startup space?
Jessica: I really love the process of building and creating. I’d been a consultant and then I was at a bank for five years, but I didn’t have as much freedom in a large organization. The pace of change is just slower in the corporate world, and I wanted something that moved faster.
So eventually I decided it was time to try something different. And now that I’m here, I can’t imagine ever going back.
Menaka: Was it difficult to make the transition from corporate to startup?
Jessica: When I left the corporate world for a startup, people were surprised: I had a career, had a lot of support, I was on my way to achieve that traditional definition of success. I was there and doing it. And then, suddenly, I was in the unknown. It was riskier, I wasn’t at a name brand company, and so a lot of people wondered why I was doing it.
But being at SoapBox made that transition easy. We’re a company that gives a voice to employees and makes organizations work better, and the fact that software could create that impact really excited me.
So it depends on what success looks like to you. I feel more authentic as an individual being here in the startup world. It just happens to speak to my personality.
Menaka: Having experienced two very different types of business culture, did you notice a difference between the two environments for women?
Jessica: In all the environments I’ve been in, I’ve never felt I was treated differently because I’m female. What’s different, I think, is the level of formal policy and effort around promoting and advocating for females and their careers.
Before SoapBox I was in consulting and then banking, and both companies I was at had policies and programs specifically designed for women. In fact, practically my whole team was female at the bank, because the company had been very thoughtful about promoting female leaders.
Things are more informal in the startup world, but by no means does that translate into feeling less supported or any less heard. This space is very positive and everyone is an equal member of the team.
I really think we’ve progressed to a place where it’s not about gender anymore – it’s about how well you do your job. Things are based on what you’re like as an individual.
Menaka: These days we’re having lots of conversations about women in business. By putting so much focus on it, are we making it into more of an issue?
Jessica: The conversation has to expand beyond telling women to speak up. It has to be about companies making sure all people can thrive, about change in the overall social structure. What is society doing around daycare? What are men doing at home? What are corporations doing around expected work hours? We need to focus on shifting the way of thinking.
This starts with small things: when you’re out for a work dinner, for example, you’d naturally ask a woman with children who’s taking care of the kids, but most people wouldn’t automatically ask a man. So how do we make it so that it’s equally on both genders?
One thing that I really struggle with is the idea of the typical women’s event – we get all of these brilliant women together in a room, and then we ask each other questions about how to manage family schedules. We need events that instead talk about big data, or tech stacks, or inbound marketing. The focus of women’s events should be more about professional development rather than rehashing the topic of women in the workplace.
Menaka: Toronto has a rapidly growing startup community – what’s it like to be headquartered here?
Jessica: Toronto’s amazing. The network in the city is really tight and really helpful. It’s cheaper to be here than in the States, so there’s a bonus right now from an operating cost, too.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to being in a bigger pool: for example, while I was in San Francisco earlier this month, there were other Chief Client Officers, and it’s always helpful when you can talk to people and learn from their experience. There are a lot fewer CCOs in Toronto, so just less people to learn from. But it’s really just a question of how you tap into that network, and work to build those connections.
There’s always pros and cons. But is it awesome to be a Canadian company and headquartered here? For sure.
Check out the previous #WomenInTech post: Creating a Naturally Diverse Workforce with Top Talent featuring Julie Persofsky.