‘Lean Into Uncomfortableness’: 2 Female Tech Leaders Share How They’re Owning Their Career Paths

Sponsored by Toyota North America

Beth Davis, Innovation Consultant at Toyota Motor North America

Photo courtesy of Toyota North America

April 19, 2024 at 7:40PM UTC

Given the pace at which technology evolves, forging a career path in tech today hardly comes with a blueprint for success. Add to that the gender disparity persisting in many companies’ executive ranks, and this dearth of female tech leaders has added implications for women who may be plotting out career paths without the help of a role model.

At Toyota, not only do these role models exist, but they’re also a prime example of what it looks like to create your own success blueprint, from the ground up. Two of these role models — Kathie Holt, Domain Information Officer at Toyota Financial Services, and Beth Davis, Innovation Consultant at Toyota Motor North America — spoke with Fairygodboss about the opportunities they’ve had to define their own career paths at the company.

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“I joined Toyota almost two years ago to lead the enterprise Data & Integration services area,” Holt shared. “It was a terrific opportunity to learn the landscape of the various systems that are used by the organization. I have since transitioned to the role responsible for the Banking and Commercial Lending solutions, leveraging Toyota’s culture of openness in enabling team members to move around. That culture means you’re able to grow and contribute in new ways across your career here.” 

Kathie Holt, Domain Information Officer at Toyota Financial Services
Kathie Holt, Domain Information Officer at Toyota Financial Services

Meanwhile, Davis, who calls her work as an innovation consultant “the coolest job,” has been responsible for creating her last two positions. 

“Toyota has trusted and empowered me with a crazy amount of responsibility and gives me the opportunity to grow, making mistakes along the way,” Davis said. “I’ve learned to operate outside of my comfort zone and jump in and do the work – even if I didn’t have all the skills for the job at the time. Skills can be acquired and the ability to learn is the most important quality to have.”

Beth Davis, Innovation Consultant at Toyota Motor North America
Beth Davis, Innovation Consultant at Toyota Motor North America

Recently, both women shared how they’re manifesting this permission to learn and make mistakes in their day-to-day work, what Toyota is doing to empower women in tech, and the career advice that’s impacted their leadership styles the most.”

Tell me a bit about your current role. Which projects or initiatives have you led that excite you the most?  

Kathie Holt: “The TFS Information and Digital Systems (IDS) team is on a journey right now to transform our existing business and grow new business. With this, we’re leveraging agile methodology to rewrite the way we work, our technology and our business. With my team, we are in the process of modernizing our banking solutions so that they have digital capabilities (mobile app, payment transactions, remote deposit) and can be extended to a broader set of customers.”

Beth Davis: “It’s the coolest job! As an innovation consultant, I get to help people bring their passion projects and innovative ideas to life by helping innovators find funding, get approval to move forward and find the right partners. Every year, my team also leads the Innovation Fair – which is two days of bringing together employees from across Toyota to celebrate new, unique ideas that showcase their talents, creativity and innovative spirit. Our team shares my passion for innovation and growth, and we work together to cultivate a culture that encourages everyone to bring their ideas to the table.”  

What initially drew you to Toyota? And what’s one of the most amazing things about it that you didn’t learn until working here?  

Holt: “I was initially drawn to Toyota by a few connections I had who shared with me an intriguing set of capabilities the company was interested in enabling and that I had the experience to contribute to. An amazing thing I discovered once joining was the level of community involvement available. There are so many opportunities to volunteer and donate to a wide range of worthy causes. Part of our Toyota Way foundation is respect for people, and you feel that here in the community efforts and in the way we grow and develop our team members at TFS Digital.”

Davis: “Toyota is known for continuous improvement, but what surprised me was how much they care for people both inside and outside the company. Toyota has trusted and empowered me with a crazy amount of responsibility and gives me the opportunity to grow, making mistakes along the way. At the same time, Toyota is working to improve the community at large with new mobility solutions, community volunteerism and environmental sustainability efforts. I’m proud to work for a company that’s putting its resources and efforts towards those things we preach, driving real change in our industry and our communities.” 

What is Toyota doing to address the challenges that women in the tech industry are known to face?  

Davis: “One of the most important things I can do is to support and develop my team and make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Developing talent is essential to my role as a leader at Toyota and taking part in mentorship and sponsorship opportunities at Toyota has been instrumental to my own growth, too. Through Toyota’s Women in Leadership program, I’ve built a network and gained access to leaders I had never worked with before. I’ve been able to find advocates and build a network of honest mentors and sponsors who care about my work and development. They taught me how to be the kind of person who empowers others to succeed as well — how to make people feel supported enough that they're willing to take risks, which is such an important quality to have in the tech space.”

How has Toyota’s passion for Continuous Improvement inspired you to improve something, either in your personal or professional life?   

Holt: “I am continuously working on patience. The patience to listen to and thoughtfully absorb what others are saying and to take the time to explore options that accommodate as many considerations as possible.”  

What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of? 

Holt: “I was asked to develop a new organization that would provide technology support for 300+ business applications. I led the selection of the team, developed standardized processes, transitioned the work and identified key metrics to measure for success. It was unlike anything I had done before, as my prior roles had been leading the delivery of new business solutions. It was a great learning experience — challenging, exhausting, and rewarding all at the same time.” 

Davis: “I created my last two jobs. I was a right brainer working in a left brained world, and I noticed there were opportunities to communicate better and provoke our team members to be more innovative. I thought someone should jump on these new opportunities – why couldn’t that be me? There are plenty of cool jobs, products, and services out there – someone needs to invent them first. Why can’t that be you?

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?  

Holt: “Do your job and trust others to do theirs. This advice was given to the entire leadership team at a prior company, and once we adopted this practice, we were extremely effective. We stopped trying to second-guess each other and did our very best work to deserve each other’s trust.”

Davis: “Stop telling yourself no. This applies to so many things: speaking up about a problem, pursuing a gutsy career move, stifling joy and enthusiasm. There were so many times I killed my own good ideas because I was afraid to make mistakes. I don’t do that anymore. We’re wired to feel safe in our comfort zones, and it’s natural to be risk-averse and stop saying yes to new opportunities, especially if you’ve made some big mistakes in the past. It’s still wildly uncomfortable to be the first one to try something, but if I’m waiting for someone to go first, I’m no longer innovating and not doing my job. I’m a major advocate of leaning into the uncomfortableness.”

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are pursuing careers in tech, or in other industries that tend to be dominated by men?  

Holt: “Have confidence in yourself and take calculated risks. Build your skills and then translate and leverage them for new growth opportunities that interest you.”

Davis: “Embrace being weird. You’re going to find yourself thinking, looking, and experiencing the world differently from your counterparts – especially if you work in a male-dominated field.   You’re going to feel out of place at times but keep showing up as yourself. Stay the course, enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to be kind. I promise it’s worth it.”


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