Mentorship, Elevating Women, Risk-Taking and More: From One of the ‘50 Most Powerful Women in Tech’

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Vanessa Smith

Photo courtesy of ServiceNow.

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What does power mean? And how can you wield it to improve the lives of others? These are a few of the questions that came to Vanessa Smith’s mind after being named as one of the ‘50 Most Powerful Women in Tech’ by the National Diversity Council

Smith, the Senior Vice President of Strategic Go-To-Market at ServiceNow, notes that while she’s honored to be recognized, she’s “not the type of person who thinks about power as a goal or outcome. There’s a moment of questioning: Am I really one of the 50 most powerful women in tech, and what does that mean?”

Due to these questions, Smith “started thinking about it in terms of influence vs. power,” she explains. “I thought about ensuring I’m using my voice to influence for good: mentoring, sharing my learning, advocating for my clients and my team, etc. From that regard, I’m super proud.”

And Smith has every reason to be proud. In her 20 years in tech, she has built a reputation as a mentor, sponsor, and ally for other women and for especially speaking out about the unique duality of Women in color, in tech.

In this article, Smith talks about mentorship, risk-taking, collaborative leadership and asking for a seat at the table. So if you’re looking for expert advice, keep reading!

Tell us about your current role. 

I oversee ServiceNow's Strategic Go-To-Market team, with a focus on maximizing success and accelerating time-to-value for ServiceNow’s customers. My team’s mission is to be the strategic, trusted advisor for customers and our internal teams through industry-relevant, value-focused engagements, solutions and insights that tie the capabilities of the ServiceNow platform to address the most pressing needs and opportunities of our clients.

My priorities include elevating ServiceNow to the C-suite by deeply engaging customers through speaking the language of industry and value, accelerating ServiceNow’s impact in industry solutions, enabling the field to drive bigger deal size and multiyear demand roadmaps with customers as well as building and nurturing a team of incredible talent. 

How do you prioritize your to-do list each day?

As an organization, we’ve identified a consistent set of focus areas and priorities for the team for the year. I try to use that as a barometer to prioritize. However, ServiceNow is a rocketship, and it’s not uncommon for new topics, priorities and programs to arise, so I try to leave time to accommodate the inevitable fire drill or new priority. Having some agility is key.

As a general rule, however, I always prioritize customer time first. While I get great satisfaction from working with my colleagues, there’s nothing like spending time with customers. It keeps me energized and sane!

I have a weekly review with my EA and chief of staff on my calendar for the upcoming week. We confirm that the meetings have a clear agenda and outcomes if I’m leading the meeting, and, if I’m an invitee to the meeting, we ensure that the meeting host has a clear agenda and objectives.

How would you describe your leadership style?  

At its core, my style is collaborative. I consult multiple stakeholders and get diverse points of view. However, when it’s time to be decisive, I lock-in. 

As I’ve taken on increasing levels of responsibility, servant leadership has also become an important element of my leadership style. At some point, you accept that you are not the smartest person in the room. I want to give a platform to my amazing team members.

Finally, different circumstances require different styles of leadership. For me, it’s an ongoing journey balancing top-down direction with bottom-up empowerment.  

How have you used your role to help bring up other women alongside you at ServiceNow?

I’ve worked with, worked for and led so many amazing women in my career, and it’s important for me to “pay it forward.” I also have a daughter who’s graduating from college and entering the tech industry, so it’s personal. 

Since joining ServiceNow, I’ve had the pleasure of building out my leadership team, and 60% are women. My goal for all of my team, but especially for women who haven’t always had the opportunity to have a leadership voice in the tech space, is to create opportunities and a platform to showcase the incredible impact that they’re having on the business, whether that’s having them lead a critical initiative with cross-functional visibility or present during a C-suite meeting. 

But it’s also about coaching and supporting them to be successful in those environments. If we bend the curve in terms of women leadership in tech, it’s not just about getting women in the door — it’s about supporting them when they get there!

Why is being an advocate for women and specifically, for Women of Color important to you?

Representation matters. If you look around at all the leaders in your company or community, and not a single one looks like you, it’s discouraging. I grew up in an environment where I was “the only,” and I can tell you it doesn’t do a lot for your confidence!  

That's why it's so important for Women of Color who’ve attained some level of leadership and influence to spend time with the next generation of Women of Color. We have to pave an easier path for them, or we’ll never move the needle on the numbers: throw out stereotypes, get outside our normal “networks” and make it our passion. 

A few things I do are:

  • Mentorship, with at least one meeting per week with mentees.

  • Starting early talent programs that are focused on bringing diverse talent into the team.

  • Speaking engagements with communities of color, where I share my experience and my career journey.

  • Being a visible senior leader, so Women of Color can see women who look like them at the top.

What is something you’re especially proud of?

My two oldest children are graduating next year, one from college and one from high school. They both have set such a high-performance bar and are high-achieving, good people who give back to this society. I’m so excited about their accomplishments and can’t wait to see what lies ahead as they enter the next chapter.

I was also recently appointed to the board of Fastly. This marks a personal milestone for me. Additionally, for the past two years, I’ve done board work for Teach of America — Philadelphia. And, I was recently selected to chair the nomination/governance committee.

What is something you’re trying to improve on? 

I’m trying to loosen up a bit! Starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic with a company growing 30%+ per year and with incredible ambitions comes with some pressure. I’m trying to maintain a healthy perspective and celebrate moving in the right direction while not taking myself too seriously — and giving myself grace.

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for other women leaders in tech?

Take some risks: speak up, speak out and ask for a seat at the table. 

And, when you take your seat at said table, have a point of view! Let your work speak for itself — it’s your brand. Believe in your greatness. Seek advice. And choose a life partner who supports you in all facets of you: work, family and your passions.

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