In the most recent episode of Taking The Lead, Debra Senra, the Head of Sales and Client Experience at ThreeFlow, joins our host Christina Brady to talk about her professional journey and what it is like to work in the male-dominated tech space.

A few of the quick highlights in this article:

  • Women must work twice as hard as men in the male-dominated tech space to earn credibility. Even if they are successful, whether they’ll be offered a particular role often depends on gender-related factors rather than their accomplishments and capabilities.
  • Titles don’t matter; experience does. However, when you are a woman, it’s not enough to be an expert in a specific field; you need a title. Otherwise, no one will take you seriously.
  • There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you deserve. And it’s not about money; it is also about earning respect and credibility. Employees who don’t feel valued often become frustrated and question their capabilities. That’s when the impostor syndrome attacks; don’t let it win.

In the highly competitive tech space, businesses put a lot of effort into creating a company culture that helps them attract and retain the most talented individuals. But, it is not enough to promote diversity and inclusion; you need to also incorporate it within your culture if you want your organization to thrive.

Equal opportunities for all is what we must fight for. Therefore, the professional abilities and value we can bring to the company should be the prerequisite for getting a seat at the table, and not factors like gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

In this episode of Taking the Lead, we get to hear from Debra Senra, the Head of Sales and CS at ThreeFlow, who has worked hard to show that women have a lot to offer in the tech space.

Her professional path could be an inspiration to all of us, so keep reading or tune in to the latest episode of our podcast.

From Wanting to Become a Paleoethnobotanist to Falling in Love With Sales

Growing up, Debra thought she’d become a paleoethnobotanist. She learned about this occupation when she first saw Jurassic Park. However, as time went by, Debra became interested in law and dreamed about becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

In her junior year of college, she studied abroad. Once she got back, her plan was to finish college, move to D.C., find a job, and eventually, look for a lobbying firm to gain the experience needed for what she wanted to dedicate her career to.

However, she got an offer from a company called the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), and from that moment, her perception regarding her career path changed.

”I just fell in love with sales and account management. And at some point, I developed a really strong distaste for lobbying and politics, and I fell more in love with the business. And so, the plan was always to go back to law school. And recently, I woke up and realized that that was no longer the plan. I don’t want to do that. I’m really happy. And so, it just kind of melted away.”

Working in a Meritocratic System

As Debra explains, CEB was a pure meritocracy, which means regardless of how long you were at the company or what your position was, if you were successful and delivered extraordinary results, they’d promote you. Their key to success was: have the right people in the right roles at the right time.

Such an approach was pretty convenient for Debra because she admits to being an incredibly competitive person. ”And so, I immediately took it [the job], got it in my head that I was going to become an account manager, and I was going to become one very quickly. So, I did that. I went from a BDR to an account manager. And then, because I was in this pure meritocracy world, it was always about what’s next.”

Although she was pretty successful, Debra soon realized it was an ego-driven career play. She was only 23 and handling so many responsibilities she wasn’t prepared for emotionally.

”I was managing something like seven people and a couple of million dollars, and sure, I was successful. It stoked my ego, but I was not emotionally ready for that.”

The Goal: Earning Credibility

When people first start looking for employment, their goal is to find a job that will give them financial stability. Still, money is not the only factor that drives us to advance in our careers. So much of our ambition revolves around being appreciated and acknowledged as experts in our field.

”I wanted more money. I wanted status. I wanted power. I wanted credibility. […] I wanted all these things without actually understanding what they entailed. But the credibility piece, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention on the Taking the Lead podcast that has women in revenue: it is hard to get credibility, even when you’ve earned it.”

The Power Your Role Carries Is More Fragile than You Think

Debra found herself in situations where her performance and accomplishments were insufficient for her superiors to move her to a higher position.

She realized it’s only a matter of time when the power you have could vanish. Also, as experience has shown, these things usually happen to women and members of particular minority groups.

”Something I’ve found in my career is that you have all this power, and then you have this moment where a boss tells you that you’re not getting a promotion because you don’t smile enough. It’s suddenly hard to see all the power you had because with that one interaction you realize just how fragile your power is.”

People Say It’s All about Experience, but It’s about Titles, Too

We often hear titles don’t matter; the knowledge and experience you gain during your term at some organization matters. However, if you are a woman, the title matters a lot because people don’t take you seriously if you don’t have it.

”[If] you’re out there where [a title] truly doesn’t matter, and you are given the credibility you deserve by the work that you do and the responsibility that you have, that would be great. That is not my experience, and that’s not the experience of a lot of people.”

Debra also shares an example, once again proving that the role and the title behind it define, and sometimes, limit us.

”So one example is that of getting invited to speaking events. When I was with a previous company, I had a team of over a hundred people reporting to me. I oversaw everything related to revenue and six departments. VPs were reporting to me, but I didn’t have a C-level title. I had to fight my way onto panels and speaking engagements.

And everybody else on those panels had a chief sales officer, chief commercial officer title, yet their worlds were a fraction of mine, and they were invited. They were proactively reached out to, and that stinks, and that felt bad. I was fighting to get the credibility I had earned because my title didn’t reflect that.”

You Need to Ask for What You Deserve

Debra and Christina agree that it is of the utmost importance for everyone looking to get hired or promoted to negotiate and ask for what they deserve. But, unfortunately, many of us settle for what we are offered because we believe it is the best we can get.

No one wants to fail, and that’s understandable, but being in a place where you are not appreciated can eventually make you feel frustrated and take you to the edge of burnout.

There’s a right way to ask for better conditions, a raise, or a promotion. ”You don’t need to be a jerk about it,” Debra says. But if you can act according to a situation and show respect, the least your managers can do is reciprocate the same. Unfortunately, Debra had to deal with some pretty offensive comments during her career.

”I was getting a performance review, and I was told that my performance was stellar, and in fact, they wanted to give me more responsibility and more people. But, they didn’t want to give me a title because my stubbornness, aggression, lack of positivity — words like that — weren’t serving me well, and that it was probably the reason I didn’t have a boyfriend.

And my response was, ‘I think we should keep this conversation to the professional realm.’ The response to that was, ‘That’s exactly what I’m talking about, that right there.’

Honestly, thank God that was the response because otherwise, I know myself, I would have gone home, and I would have been like, ‘What am I doing? I’m a failure. I need to take this feedback seriously.’ […] It was like a gift given to me because I could say, ‘All right, this is a ‘you’ problem, not a ‘me’ problem.”’

This article is based on an episode of Sales Assembly’s podcast, Taking The Lead, which features top female B2B Tech Revenue Leaders, VCs, Advisors, and Icons. Bi-weekly episodes dive into a tactical topic to help listeners (regardless of gender or seniority level) learn how to be better, faster, and smarter as they navigate the craziness of the Revenue world within B2B Tech.