Daring Women Q&A: Jill Domanico, Chief People Officer at Skytap

"There’s so much to be learned from the people around us; you just have to take the time to listen and be attentive."

This week’s Daring Woman is Jill Domanico, chief people officer at Skytap, a Seattle-based company providing cloud services.

Read about the challenges she’s faced in her industry, her mentors and her advice to women starting out in their careers in the latest installment of our Daring Women Q&A series.

1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

By far, the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my career, so far, was leading the HR M&A team for Microsoft and successfully integrating Skype into the company. I put my leadership to the test running a small team through challenges and adversity. I don’t think I’ll ever come across a work environment quite like it — we were in the trenches together, facing challenges head on and striving for excellence. But the most memorable part of that experience was the team. Major acquisitions are high stakes and stressful, so you need a great group of people around you to stay strong. Even on my worst days, and there were definitely tears, I had mentors and peers I could turn to who built me up and helped make me the professional I am today.

2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

As women, we must train ourselves to speak out. I’m often the only woman in the boardroom, surrounded by men, which makes me think: “If I don’t speak up and claim my moments to be heard, how can I expect my daughter to do the same?” You have to understand that there’s a reason you’ve been brought to the table and by sharing your voice and perspective, you will undoubtedly inspire other women around you to do the same.

I thank my parents for raising me to think I could do anything, and that being a woman didn’t limit me, or my goals. In fact, most of my female family members are in math and science fields — which I knew wasn’t for me. I’ve always gravitated toward connecting people, from my women’s studies program in college to my initial brush as a social worker, and I knew I wanted a career that would effect change and improve lives.

3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

I’m constantly inspired by folks throughout Seattle with whom I come into contact, both personally and professionally. I find I take pieces of inspiration from conversations. I was fortunate to be raised around a group of strong women, which has been a constant thread throughout my life. Several years ago, during the Microsoft acquisition of Visio, I had the good fortune to meet someone (a Microsoft HR leader at the time) who has been a rock, friend and mentor for me over the past 20 years. She is that go-to person for me when I know I really need support, but, more important, “honest” feedback — not just what she thinks I want to hear. She pushes me and helps me dig deep on items I might be struggling with. And, what I love most, is she reminds me of my strengths and my potential. I leave my time with her feeling inspired and energized, knowing I can and will do more. My 13-year-old daughter is also pretty dang amazing and inspires me daily. I’m pretty sure I didn’t exude the strength, confidence and kindness she did at that age! I also love that she loves math and science — and no one has told her she shouldn’t!

4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

Be bold! And don’t waste much time questioning yourself or wondering if you should speak up and say what’s on your mind. There’s a reason you were hired. Now chart the path forward for future women to follow. Always do the thing that scares you the most!

5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

Women must also speak out and stand up for one another. Always. As for men, allyship is often talked about but rarely followed through on, and either way only begins to scratch the surface of how men can help advocate for women. Unfortunately, I feel we are still at a place in time where a man standing up for a woman in front of other men seems to hold more weight than when it comes from another woman. Allyship comes in many forms and though it’s often tough to implement in the moment, that’s when it’s most necessary. Men should support and elevate women’s voices whenever possible. Sometimes that includes listening to women (and letting them finish) before injecting your own perspective. If you’re in a conference room and a woman isn’t speaking up, make sure you’re doing what you can to foster inclusion. It is proven over and over: Diverse perspectives drive better results!

6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

Well, I read a lot of articles, small pieces of inspiration and often I get energized by that latest thing! For example, I was just introduced to Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets and it is a good reminder to not confuse good results with good business acumen! Often, you don’t have all the facts before a decision needs to be made and this book helps you navigate the unknowns. I also find Pearl Jam to be a particularly inspiring reminder of Seattle’s rockin’ roots and holding onto what makes us quirky and unique as we continue to grow.

7. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

People brave enough to share their struggles are particularly inspiring! I’m lucky enough in my role to always be inundated with a slew of fresh faces. I try to take small bits and pieces from everyone I meet — because everyone has a story and a past and insights and aspirations. There’s so much to be learned from the people around us; you just have to take the time to listen and be attentive. The biggest advice I provide to college grads and those newer in their careers is network, network, network. If someone makes an introduction, take it. Every role I have had in my career has been because I met someone and I took the initiative to follow through.

8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

Vulnerability is extremely important, especially in leaders, and I wish I saw more of it. You can exude confidence while also admitting when something is challenging; your employees likely already know internal troubles; hearing it addressed candidly by a leader can quell some of their concerns. Right now, trust is an invaluable asset to any organization; always being right is overrated.

9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over?

I’d take every opportunity to be bolder! I’ve noticed a pattern in my past where I stepped away from opportunities out of fear or because I didn’t think I was qualified. Truth is, you have a seat at the table for a reason and your voice and perspective can help propel yourself and your team forward.

Flipping this question, I also want to share one thing I’m grateful to have learned early in my career. A decade ago, I faced a challenging life situation — one of those situations where you are humming along, then you’re blindsided, rocked to your core. While this time was difficult, it taught me something I’m not sure I would have learned without this crisis: Don’t judge. This concept changed me as a professional and a person. You truly don’t know what is going on in someone’s life or why they are making the decisions they are. Guess what. It’s not your life or your business. So don’t judge. Live your own life and support others in living theirs.

It’s hard to explain how freeing this was for me personally. I believe it has also made me a better leader! There isn’t much that shocks me anymore, and I feel I’ve developed a very strong sense of empathy, which I likely wouldn’t have if it weren’t for that crisis a decade ago. Just the other day, I heard a quote during a leadership session that builds on this perspective and is now my new mantra: “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and don’t waste a crisis.”

10. What would be the title of your autobiography?

F*ck Fear: A Woman’s Guide to Catapulting the C-suite

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our 2nd annual Daring Women event in May 2019, date TBD.

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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