Sasha: Sasha here with Niels Jensen, our SVP of Americas Sales, talking Women in Tech Leadership. Niels might surprise you as our next interviewee but he’s a fierce advocate for women in technology, a well-respected leader and I’m thrilled to be talking to him today.
Let’s jump right in. Niels, what’s your approach to driving a more diverse workforce?
Niels: First of all, I love being in an organization with kick-ass women like yourself and others at ForeScout. Secondly, to drive diversity on your team, you need to understand that you have likely made some mistakes that have hindered your ability to attract certain individuals to join your team. I’ve learned a lot from some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
One of the things I did when I wanted to increase the ratio of female representation on my team was enlist the help of a friend of mine. She’s a strong representative for women in technology, she advises women on roles in tech, what it takes to combine a professional career while being a mom, etc.
We spent a lot of time talking about the dynamics of working women. In particular, we talked a lot about the idea that, as old fashioned as it might sound, there are still specific gender roles and responsibilities that we place on men and women – we do this in the Jensen household and we consider ourselves to be fairly progressive. Because of this, working women often have to contemplate implications on the home front – managing schedules, logistics, etc. – when they consider taking a new job or changing their current role.
So, one thing I learned in chatting with my friend is that I wasn’t recognizing this challenge when speaking with women candidates. Acknowledging that it can be really daunting, and a logistical burden, to consider switching up your routine by literally driving a different route to work and/or balancing all the other responsibilities outside of work. It’s important to express that they can take their time to prepare for, and settle in, a new role. And due to this, we will be patient during the on-ramp process and while you adjust your personal duties.
It’s key to have that conversation up front. Realize that when you’re speaking with a working woman, there are usually a number of things they are juggling on the homefront that need to be considered when switching companies or roles.
Sasha: That’s great. And we sometimes we have a stigma around “gender roles,” and feel like we’re not being progressive when the woman does the “female” roles and the man does the “male” roles, but sometimes it’s ok. We all have our natural gifts that sometimes lend themselves to specific roles. Striving for balance is key.
Niels: Listen, if you only want to eat eggs and omelets all day long, I’d be happy to cook all of our family meals! But after a while, it would probably become a little annoying.
Sasha: Yeah, the kids might start to complain.
What advice do you have for other men who are looking to increase the representation of women on their team?
Niels: As I mentioned, the biggest thing is to be honest and vulnerable and recognize that if you have underrepresented minorities or women or any diversity, you likely have a blind spot. The next step is to seek guidance with other teams, peers of yours at other organizations, and talk to women about what it is you can do differently to attract a more diverse workforce. Additionally, double down on the strong women you do have on your team and ask them what you’re doing well that keeps them around? What are the things that we should be doing more of to attract other kick-ass women? That will give you a good idea of what you’ve done well and how you can apply that to set yourself up for the future.
Sasha: Great advice. You and our incredible CIO, Julie Cullivan, have kicked off the ForeScout Women’s Network. How did you get involved in that?
Niels: Well, I love riding the coattails of other people with great ideas. In all honesty, I was asked to participate because I’m very passionate about the topic. I was excited and humbled to be able to be a part of this new group within ForeScout and I’ve learned a lot from it.
I will say, I’ve seen the highest performing teams – both at ForeScout and elsewhere – include a combination of people who are different ages, genders and come from different places and backgrounds. It’s critical to have a diverse workforce as we all have so many different things to contribute. That is what’s really in it for me. I’m very selfish and want to be better at what I do, and having women involved with contributing and running teams has been an incredibly important ingredient to the success of any organization.
Lastly, one of the biggest unrealized opportunities in increasing the representation of women on any team is that you’re able to tap into 50 percent of the talent pool. There is a massive talent shortage, especially in cybersecurity. Many organizations are missing out on half of the incredible talent pool because we aren’t successful in attracting women to join our teams.
Sasha: It says a lot about your humility to be open to learning new things. Not everyone – men or women – have that, so it’s a big testament to your leadership style.
Niels: People have different skill sets. One of my skills is that I know my own limitations. It makes me want to surround myself with people who have skills that round out my own blind spots.
Sasha: What advice would you give to women in tech?
Niels: I would say, don’t assume things will happen on their own. You really have to enlist people to be your champions and your advocates. You have to know what you want and once you set your mind on something, take leaps to get there. Have faith that you have the behavioral skills required and will be able to figure out the rest. You don’t need to know everything about a role to take it.
To give you an example that’s close to the ForeScout front; I have a killer teammate, Ellen Sundra, and when she first considered transitioning from being an individual contributor (an engineer working with her sales rep) to a manager it was a struggle getting her to take on the new challenge. Whenever there’s a new opportunity that I think she would be great for, her initial answer is always ‘no’ because she’s not sure she’s the right person for the job. She never focuses on the 90 percent of the things she knows that would enable her to kick ass. She always focuses on the 10 percent of things that she’s unfamiliar with. It’s become an ongoing joke between me and Ellen. Every single time we talk about what the next step is for her, she always focuses on the unknown and her first reaction is “I’m not really sure that’s for me.” I wait, she spends time thinking about it, she always comes around and always – of course – kicks ass at her new role.
On the flip side, when it comes to men it’s the other way around. All we need to know is that we can kick ass at about 10 percent of the job and we’ll come up with some sort of solution for the remaining 90 percent!
So, I would just say to women, be more comfortable being uncomfortable. And, have faith in yourself and you will figure it out. That would really be my advice.
Sasha: I love that. Well, we are really lucky to have you and your leadership style here at ForeScout and with the ForeScout Women’s Network. Thank you for sharing your insights with us today, I appreciate your time.