Daring Women Q&A: Kristina Bergman, Cofounder and CEO of Integris Software

"Too often, I find that gender equity programs focus purely on what women can do differently. I disagree, as I think women are fine just as they are."

Kristina Bergman, CEO and cofounder of Integris Software, is one of many women leading the charge for change in the tech sector. As a member of Seattle’s Female Founders Alliance, a company founded by Daring Woman Leslie Feinzaig, Bergman mentors and supports other businesswomen in the community.

Read about her proudest moments, challenges she’s faced in her industry and her advice to women starting out in their careers in this week's installment of our Daring Women Q&A series.

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

The high point in my career was branching out on my own and raising an initial $3 million in funding just based on an idea in my head and a PowerPoint deck. Because of the vision I shared with my investors of going after a market that nobody yet knew was going to be hot (data privacy), we were able to get in early and have a product ready by the time the rest of the market realized the need.

I love that every challenge is a new challenge and that I need to be constantly reinventing, adapting and evolving to a variety of challenges that get thrown my way on a daily basis. My work requires dynamism and mental agility: I have to be able to learn different subject matter areas quickly, whether it’s technology, investor relations, analyst relations, marketing/sales, etc.

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

The primary challenge has been seeing and experiencing the unconscious, implicit bias that exists as a woman in my industry. A lot of these biases are not born out of maliciousness, but rather, out of conditioning. Having come from the investment side, I would hear phrases such as a CEO being described as “a CEO out of central casting.” When I was working at a venture capital firm before Integris, I was told to pattern match, meaning match against what’s been successful in the past. However, pattern matching can breed implicit bias. I’ve learned that good people are biased in their decision making, and I have to be able to work around that and be aware of that when positioning my company.

I also decided to address the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the tech industry head on. When I started Integris, I took the unusual step of adding a voting agreement to the company's legal documents that forces investors to replace a director on the board if there is “reasonable probability” that sexual harassment occurred.

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

I am currently very inspired by Amy Sterner Nelson, the founder and CEO of The Riveter. She is inspiring to me in that she is not afraid of the power of her own voice. She’s publicly gone toe to toe with Elon Musk, and she is not afraid of being forceful and making her voice heard and known. I find it incredibly encouraging that she is simultaneously leading a startup right out of Seattle, mothering three girls under the age of 4, and standing up for female founders and women in tech everywhere.

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

Be stubborn and determined. Be stubborn enough to reject what society says you should be. It took me until my 30s to realize that what society was telling me I should be was wrong. We see women being portrayed as hot accessories on TV and in entertainment, we watch what’s going on in Congress with women’s health care decisions being politicized, and we play video games where girls are portrayed as prizes. If you’re a young woman trying to figure out your value in society, it can be a tough edge to walk. It took stubbornness and 30 years for me to figure out that what I had been told my entire life was wrong. It’s not about how I look, but about how I think and what I do. Persistence is key.

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

Too often, I find that gender equity programs focus purely on what women can do differently. I disagree, as I think women are fine just as they are. What men can do is recognize that people have different communication and work styles. If a man sees a female colleague remaining quiet, he should ask her what she thinks and elicit her input. Not everybody interacts with other people like an alpha, and just because you’re the loudest one doesn’t mean you’re the right one. Open yourself up to different styles of work to draw out the best in the employees you have, because otherwise, you miss out on top talent by not promoting diversity and inclusivity.

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

I loved the TV shows Designing Women and Murphy Brown because they portrayed strong, academic and determined women who approached life with compassion, humor and joy.

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

I get my support from many of my female friends — some are CEOs and some are execs at large firms. Even though our schedules are insane, we find ways to connect and laugh over a glass of wine. It’s important to have stress relief with trusted women friends.

I’m engaged with Seattle’s own Female Founders Alliance, I help mentor some other companies, and I continuously meet amazing women through work (both customers and partners). There is an unbelievable number of fantastic women out there who are open and receptive to supporting one another and building a strong community.

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

A good leader is empathetic and a good listener. It’s important for leaders to strive to create an environment where people can be their best.

I think that when it comes to leadership, aggressiveness is overrated. You don’t have to be aggressive to be a good leader, but you do have to be dynamic and recognize that different people need different things from you.

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

I would tell my younger self to spend more time actively managing her career. Early on, I sometimes opportunistically jumped from one opportunity to another, but I also stayed longer than I should have in some roles. I eventually figured out that I need to be the one at the steering wheel, and I can’t just wait around for people to reward me. I am responsible for creating my own opportunities and success.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

Nevertheless, She Persisted

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.

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

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