CAREER CHOICES

The technology industry selected me! I had no intention of entering the technology field but luckily fell into it while I was managing telecom projects in another company division. I used several systems, all outdated and poorly managed. I went on a mission to find a more dependable solution that could be customized to suit the company needs without unnecessary custom coding, as well as streamline workflow and processes. My hope was to make my own work more reliable, but also to help the team find better work-life balance by reducing our hours. One weekend I found Salesforce. Over the following week I discovered my employer had an existing team that built out Salesforce platforms for our internal groups. I tracked down the manager and asked for a basic license so I could take some training and build out a pitch to my leadership team. I did this and was turned down, however, this manager remembered me when a position under her opened up. I started working for her the following year. My journey to the IT world has been the most exciting and rewarding journey of my career! I continue to be impressed with all the exciting possibilities technology has to offer.

PROFESSIONAL INTEREST & DRIVE

My passion in technology is to first make lives easier for those it touches, both individuals and companies. The more intuitive technology is, the more powerful it becomes. When used well, this can increase productivity and free up time for employees to focus on their professional and personal growth.

Second, technology can teeter on the edge of connecting people and enabling a barrier between them. We live in an ever-increasing world of posting and not mailing, texting and not calling, and video conferencing instead of visiting. With the right innovators in place within the industry, I believe we can begin to steer technology to align more with our human need for community.

MENTORS & INFLUENCERS

My most influential mentor is a man by the name of Suleiman Bello. He and my father have worked together since 2004, myself alongside them now. He took me under his wing as a child and continues to help me grow any way he can. From helping me through personal obstacles to helping me realize my professional potential, Suleiman has mentored me in continuing my curiosity, never accepting being marginalized, and working to prioritize work-life balance. He’s shown me that by always striving to be be the best person I can be, I can be the best professional I can be and inspire others to do the same. This is what makes meaningful, lasting change. His mentorship and advocacy has provided me with support and strength to reach for things I otherwise never would have dared. We discuss everything between big ideas for distant changes to small details around implementation, challenging ourselves to think about things in new ways and innovate where we can, particularly through technology.

MENTORSHIP VALUE

Mentorship is imperative to advancing the careers of all women, especially in technology. Like many industries, technology is a male-dominant field. We need mentors of all genders to advocate and support women in technology so we not only have innovators to steer the helm of our future, but the right innovators through access to the inspiration, better understanding, and drive of all people. I make a point to stay in contact with several female mentors of all demographics. I have found these women to not only be inspirational, but also develop me as a professional in ways others have not, empowering me to aspirational.

ADMIRED LEADERS & TRAILBLAZERS

The woman leader in technology I admire most is Hedy Lamarr. She was known as one of the most beautiful actresses of her time but she was also an inventor of technology. To aid in the US war efforts in World War II, Lamar invented what she called “frequency hopping”, which is the base component of wireless communication systems including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Although she is most widely known for her beauty, she was quoted once saying “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid”. She used her looks to make a living but did not allow it to define her self worth. In memoirs, fellow inventors and professionals have recalled speaking with her and feeling as though they were not talking to an actress, but a fellow innovator. I admire this woman for using her appearance to build a career, her leadership skills to inspire women and girls around the world for a century, and for her astonishing contribution to trailblazing technology as we know and use it today.

LEADING THE NEXT GENERATION

My advice to girls and women pursuing a career in technology is to keep pulling for not only where you want to be in your career, but also where you want the company you work for to be in the wake of your progress. By valuing the company’s successes as much as your own, your career and sense of worth will thrive. Within the first six months of working in the technology industry I had already been told I needed to calm and slow down, that I was excessively ambitious. When this happens to other women entering the field, which inevitably it will, my advice is to take the criticism as compliment and use it as wind in your sails for further success, both for yourself and the company.

ADVANCING GENDER PARITY

I believe the greatest challenge that needs to be overcome in the technology industry for gender equality in leadership is overcoming the impression that people are a company’s greatest asset. I agree with Jim Collins when he said, “The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are”. Too often we see companies either cling to nepotism or rely on prejudices or old methods and metrics to determine organizational leadership. The proverbial “strong handshake” test does not work, nor does looking solely at numbers without background. By strategically placing the right people in the right places of both formal and informal leadership roles and expecting their direct reports to show equal support, I believe companies will gradually flush out the “good ‘ol boys’ club” culture. I believe companies that do this will quickly realize many of their strongest leaders are women. Consistency in this prioritization will lead to gender equality in organizational leadership.

About Laura Leatherwood

Laura Leatherwood is a technology professional, mother, and wife from the Midwest who takes pride in her career and helping those around her develop themselves. She has worked for Valmont Industries, Inc. for six years in three roles, across five divisions. Laura is also the co-host, engineer, and producer of Count Time Podcast, in which she and her counterpart shine a light on the United States penal system and our communities. Laura also volunteers for organizations that work to end recidivism and alleviate the negative effects on those who have been impacted by the penal system.

Achievements & Recognition

  • Business Start-Up Certification from MCC
  • Entrepreneurship Generalist Certification from MCC
  • Valmont Leadership Essentials Certification
  • Valmont Agile 100 Certification
  • Valmont Agile 200 Certification

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