Women in Leadership is a blog series dedicated to highlighting influential women behind The Dude. In it, we'll explore topics like how they came to the tech space, what they're working on and where they see the industry going.
This month, meet Jodi McDermott, Chief Product Officer.
Q: What was your experience like leading up to Dude Solutions? Had you worked in a tech environment before?
My career over the past 20 years has always been in technology. When you tell people outside of the industry that you are in tech, I think they automatically assume you “code." For me that couldn't be further from the truth. I have been passionate about software, technology and systems since I was young, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I would get involved.
The various companies that I have worked for during my career have always touched some element of building software. In each opportunity, the technology was the base, but learning the business was where I got my experience that furthered my career. In the last few companies prior to joining The Dude, I got the opportunity to work with a global team, build products for different markets, and drive several acquisitions and divestures. It is those experiences that move your career forward and teach you leadership skills that span products, functions and borders.
Q: What is your official title at Dude Solutions? What are the responsibilities of your role? Have you had any other titles or responsibilities at Dude Solutions?
I serve as the Chief Product Officer for the company. In my role I lead the product organization and our energy business unit, which are both responsible for building and maintaining solutions that meet the business needs of our clients. We work together as a team to identify market needs, research them extensively to ensure we really understand the problem we are trying to solve, and then partner with our colleagues and clients to build software solutions that meet or exceed their expectations.
As part of Dude Solutions' Executive Leadership Team, I am also responsible for working cross-functionally with my peers and our CEO. We as a team are responsible for the overall strategy, growth and health of the organization. In addition to serving our employees and their personal and professional goals, this also means ensuring that Product, Engineering, Marketing and Sales work together like a supply chain. Product and Engineering build products that are marketed to our clients and prospects and our sales force relies on us to deliver quality products in a timely manner to support the growth plan for our company.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about being a woman in the tech field, or advice for other women carving out a space?
Be resilient! There have been so many times when I’ve been the only woman in the room. Whether it be at my first start-up as a Product Owner or as an executive in a board room or with investors. When you ARE THE DIVERSITY, don’t shy away from it. Show up, be professional and do your job – and most importantly, learn the business. Learn the metrics of the business. Learn the functions and understand the levers that will drive growth and profitability.
I would also advise to always be building your network – whether that be men or women in tech or other leadership roles. The ad hoc mentors and more seasoned leaders in my network have been an ongoing source of advice, support and guidance. Whether that be pushing me to try new things, encouraging me to take the next leap in my career or helping me frame a solution to a business problem that they’ve seen a hundred times, but I haven’t. The network you build by meeting people, trading contact information and following up will serve you well. The most important point here – follow up!
Q: How do you feel your leadership is helping drive the industry in a positive direction?
Positive leadership can have an influence in so many ways – up and beyond the current industry that I work in. One of the areas that I am most passionate about is cultivating a stronger female presence in Product Management. There are not a lot of female leaders in Product, but that is changing.
A few weeks ago, I went to a conference and had the pleasure of seeing TWO THOUSAND female Product managers and leaders in one room. Wow, that was pretty amazing to see (and not something you would have seen even five years ago)! Women in technology is critical for many reasons:
- Diversity – of any kind – brings different perspectives to not only a team, but thinking about how to build a product.
- Women represent half of the population and in many cases represent the exact same amount of the users who login and use our products every day. To build the best products, you need to put yourself into the shoes of the user. The female perspective helps us do that.
- Team balance – having a homogenous team of any kind isn’t great for idea generation, debate or even the social dynamics for how people interact with each other.
My goal is to build diverse teams. It isn’t always easy, as the candidate pool may not reflect the same goals, but when I see the opportunity to bring diversity in, I highly encourage and support it.
Q: Who has been a leader you’ve learned from?
There have been many leaders who have made an impact on me over my career. Leadership started for me with my choir director in high school. We were expected to be in class, in our seats and ready to start warming up by the time the bell rang at school. Expectations were high and our choir was high achieving because of his leadership – always encouraging us to do better, pushing us to our limits, but also knowing that the sound that we made came from the collective voices of the choir, not from the leader.
There are leaders all around us. The people that you draw leadership skills from may not be in your industry and you may never meet them in person. I am constantly scanning for leadership tips and learnings from the things I read, speakers I hear and other leaders that I’ve watched across the years.
Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader?
An executive coach once told me that “people are messy." That is certainly a true statement. The one thing that I’ve learned is that I’m not always right – and there are times that I screw up and need to go apologize to the team, the team member or another colleague. Self-reflection is the only way to get through those times. As a leader people depend on you to be resilient and pick yourself back up (as fast as you can) and keep going.
Q: What do you think makes for a good leader?
“Kind, firm and fair like a palm tree” is a mantra that I say a lot to my team – whether they are individual contributors or people managers. Leadership is about service to your team and to your organization. People are always looking for leadership to help them through how to solve a problem, working through times of change and for laying out the bigger picture or vision for where we are going.
- Leadership is about being kind and demanding kindness in the work environment. It doesn’t mean you can’t be honest, but you should always be kind.
- Leadership is about being fair and consistent to build trust.
- Leadership is leading. When people aren’t sure what to do, they look to the leader to help them pave a path forward.
- Leadership is about communication – over and over again.
- Leadership is about serving others before you serve yourself.
A good leader is someone who incorporates all of these traits into how they show up each day and bounces back resiliently to try again when they don’t always do it successfully.