International Women's Day: HashiCorp Leaders Share Their Stories

In honor of International Women’s Day, three HashiCorp leaders talk about their inspirations, their challenges, and their hopes for the future.

Today, March 8, 2022, is International Women's Day (IWD), “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.” More than a century old, IWD marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality across countries, groups, and organizations.

This year’s IWD theme is break the bias (#BreakTheBias), “imagining a gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.” With that in mind, we’re presenting stories from three women leaders at HashiCorp focusing on their inspirations and how they’ve overcome bias in their careers.

Preeti Somal, Kat Williamson, Lucia Salazar

»Preeti Somal: Executive Vice President of Platform, IT and Security

What women have inspired you?

I grew up in India and moved to the United States for graduate school. My early life included several women that inspired me. Among Indian historical sheros, the one that always stood out for me was Lakshmi Bai, India’s warrior queen who fought the British and became a leader in the Indian Rebellion. Another influence was India’s female prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Have you overcome obstacles and barriers throughout your career?

I’ve definitely overcome obstacles. I’ve felt torn between career and children. I’ve hit the “glass ceiling,” and encountered the “old boys club.”

For example, in a previous role, leaders made assumptions about what I'd be interested in without a direct conversation with me, which resulted in a missed growth opportunity. My manager decided to move on and a peer of mine was selected to replace him — and this was all communicated to me at once. I was very disappointed that I hadn't been included in the conversation. I probably would have supported the peer's selection but I felt that I should have been asked whether I was interested in the position. Needless to say, I moved on from that role.

What are your thoughts on progress and change for women?

I definitely feel that we’ve made progress on a long journey. There’s more work to be done but we have role models, we have an open conversation, and we have come together to support each other. Personally, over the years, my perspective has changed to caring about how I feel about my decisions and not about the optics.

Any final “nuggets of wisdom” you would like to share?

Do not get disheartened by obstacles. We are strong together and we can make a difference.

»Kat Williamson: Vice President of Talent Development

What women have inspired you?

Melinda Gates is an obvious one. The thing I love about Melinda is that she's unapologetic. I think it's really important to show up and be who you are — you don't have to apologize for being at the table.

Jacinda Ardern is the Prime Minister of New Zealand and she's phenomenal. She's an incredible leader, and she recently had her first baby while she was in office. She doesn't claim to be perfect but she tries to do the right thing, and she doesn't shy away from painful and difficult topics. That's leadership, I think.

These two women, in particular, project deep strengths and self-awareness: they know who they are and what they're there to do. And they still bring compassion and warmth to their leadership without diluting their steely determination.

What are your thoughts on progress and change for women?

I think we definitely need more women in political and policy-making positions, especially in the US. Similarly, there’s still work to be done to normalize women in tech leadership roles, but we need to start early: I have a niece who's four and I'm still looking for books where women are the main characters. We also need to do more in schools. If somebody had come to me in high school and explained the earning potential in a STEM career, that would have made a big difference.

Of course, the boys need to be an equal part in this. It would be a missed opportunity to pull the girls aside and say, “Okay girls, this is how you get to be a leader” and leave the boys out of the conversation. Boys need to learn early that women are leaders, too.

Any “nuggets of wisdom” you would like to share?

Help other women. If you're a woman and you have any kind of hierarchical power, use it to lift other women up.

Be unapologetic. Not everyone's going to like you, but who cares? Show up, sit at the decision-making table and contribute your opinion. Your opinions are just as valid as your male peers.

Finally, lean into deep empathy, and match it with determination and strength. The two don't have to be in opposition, and the combination can be really powerful.

»Lucia Salazar: Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis

What women have inspired you?

There are so many. Those few that have paved the way for me, and who were generous with their coaching, time, and guidance. And all those women raising kids while working. I see how hard it is for them and I try to give my team the flexibility they need. I often think of my grandmother, a widow raising seven kids, a dentist, a poet, a teacher — a compassionate role model of a woman.

Have you overcome obstacles and barriers throughout your career?

I don't believe that personal success is possible without experiencing and learning from challenges, doubt, and failures. Those experiences make us stronger. I belong to four minorities, I am a woman, Latin, immigrant, and left-handed. My mother passed away when I was 12 years old and I didn't have a warm upbringing.

I obtained my green card through work, which meant I initially didn't have much flexibility to pursue the roles and opportunities that interested me. I was offered roles that US citizens turned down, often challenging and critical projects that weren't high profile. For a long time I thought this put me at a big disadvantage. Over time, however, that experience proved to be a huge competitive advantage in learning how to successfully lead complex projects. Once I obtained my green card, I was more than comfortable raising my hand to lead challenging strategic projects.

Finally, another reason I believe I was able to reach upper management in the US as a minority is because I chose to be financially independent and support my family in Ecuador over starting my own family, so I didn’t have to struggle between work commitments and raising a family. There are very few Latin women in upper management roles because culturally Latin women are usually expected to be the primary caregivers. But I'm encouraged by changes in society today that are making it easier for women to not have to choose between their career and having kids, if that is their preference. We’re still not all the way there, though.

What are your thoughts on progress and change for women?

Be the change that you want to see and support each other. It is time to move away from focusing on being "minorities" or "victims of circumstance" to concentrate on hope and possibility. There has never been a better time in history to be a woman than right now.

Any “nuggets of wisdom” you would like to share?

I learned the hard way that we create our own limits — don't let people or circumstances limit or define you. When something doesn't go as planned, often it is because we don't yet have the best approach or we have not captured the learning correctly. My personal experience has been that what seems like a bad thing at the moment often turns out to be the best possible outcome.

The views expressed on this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of HashiCorp.

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