“The PagerDuty values that resonate most with me are Champion the Customer and Run Together. The first because I work with customers every day, and...by Evelyn Chea
July 19, 2019
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked one of our female leaders to share her story with us. Read on to learn about the journey that brought SDR Manager Jordan Whitmer to where she is today.
Being the only female in sales leadership isn’t easy.
I’ve been in tech sales for four years, and the only female in sales leadership at PagerDuty for the past two years. While it’s been tough, I am proud to work for an organization that celebrates women and their accomplishments—promotions, awards, and recognition are all part of PagerDuty’s inherent culture.
It takes a village to be successful in this role, and my reliance on education from strong females like my mother and on objectivity from my peers and colleagues proves that. But all the hard work paid off: I am the first woman at PagerDuty to be awarded a spot at President’s Club (a team vacation given to the top sales performers in the past fiscal year), which made the most challenging year of my professional life also the most rewarding.
Growing up in a single-mother household taught me strength, resilience, and, most importantly, persistence. I lost my dad when I was 11 years old, and was fortunate that my mother had the grit to fulfill both parental roles: The full-time mother who dedicated nights to homework and weekends to soccer tournaments, and the full-time breadwinner as an enterprise retail saleswoman for 20 years.
Her firsthand familiarity with my position in sales afforded her the ability to give me relevant guidance: fight for visibility, fight for equal pay, fight for more opportunities. Amazingly enough, she never had to fight the patriarchy, so to speak: Her world of retail sales in the ‘80s and ‘90s was—eyeroll—of course predominantly female-driven, as women generally were not invited to pursue other options. Fighting for women, their rights, and their voices in the workplace didn’t have to be her battle.
But it is my battle, and it is the battle of my peers. I am thankfully not alone in navigating this landscape; rather, I have found that my challenges and insecurities are shared by many of my peers. We all ask ourselves questions such as: Am I being an effective leader for my team? Do they trust me? Do my colleagues take me seriously? Undoubtedly, as a minority in my organization, my uncertainty is magnified—and arguably even more so as a woman barely five feet tall on my best day. Often plagued by self-doubt, it is a struggle to find my voice in a sales environment that’s dominated by men. Few circumstances are more intimidating than being in a room full of men, each of whom are two full heads taller than you (even if this discomfort is only self-induced).
Then I remember… fight, fight, fight.
Earlier in my sales career and prior to joining PagerDuty, a manager denied me a meager salary increase to match my male cohorts. Then he crudely suggested that I should continue to “smile at [him] like I used to.” Yes… smile. I had never felt discrimination before this; I had never felt less than a person, never felt as belittled, never felt as reduced or small as I did in that moment.
My mother’s experiences taught me to move forward, be decisive, and take action. That night, determined to find a new position within two weeks, I reached out to friends, colleagues, and family in my network, posted my resume on public forums, and applied to 15 jobs.
After successfully finding a new job, I took some time to process my emotions and resentment. Female friends offered insight into similar moments, and I found out that I, unfortunately, was not alone in my experience. However, I personally felt that I was ill-equipped to handle my newly found feminism—I lacked the language to describe my feelings and refused to base those feelings in anger.
I lived in podcasts and literature, trying to find enlightenment wherever I could and found that my path toward understanding feminism is not a one-size-fits-all journey. The female experience is unique, shaped by family life, education, and socioeconomic status. The more I learned from my peers, the more I understood how individual, and sometimes isolated, feminism can be.
In speaking to my network, I found that my female peers felt uncomfortable in common scenarios (negotiating salary, retaining power in male-dominated meetings, navigating the pitfalls of being perceived as bossy vs. steadfast). For me, the more difficult situations to face head-on are nuanced and veiled, like being called “babe” or “sweetie” in a seemingly platonically (albeit uncomfortable) manner or when drawing a balance between being a friend and colleague. Inherently, my personal desire to befriend and act as a trusted sounding board can leave me trying to balance being a friend with being a mentor and boss. The colleague lines can be blurred so easily.
So how do I ensure that I am staying true to myself and education in feminism (while still acknowledging that perfectionism is a distant goal)? Once again, I follow my mother. She taught me to never believe that I am the smartest person in any room. She taught me that my life will be more fulfilling if I am always curious, inquisitive, and challenged by my coworkers, peers, and, most importantly, my employees.
I urge everyone to do the same: Ask the hard and thoughtful and intentional questions of your colleagues because human connection is the most imperative initiative. Rather than taking a front seat in every conversation, I ask more questions, ensuring that my actions are thoughtful and intentional, and routed in deliberate personal education for my team. When I act deliberately for the personal education of my team, we all succeed.
In February 2017, I watched the sales President’s Club winners take the stage at Sales Kick Off at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay—and seeing only men up on the stage was a hard pill to swallow. But again, I refused to root my feminism in anger. I decided instead to follow my mother’s grit and guidance in education: I cannot succeed if my employees fail to succeed, fail to hit quota, and fail to get recognized. I also cannot help my people advance in their careers if I do not have the emotional and inquisitive conversations when needed, even ones that may be uncomfortable.
I chose to spend 2017 as a year of inquisitive work, investigating what made each of my employees tick (moving forward in their career, providing for their family, becoming independent, etc.). I chose to understand their family lives, their roommate lives, their dating lives, and—more predominantly and prolifically—their goals and aspirations at PagerDuty. Uncovering these details allowed me to be a more effective leader and a more educated feminist. After all, every one of my employees had their own motive in finding success at PagerDuty. Who was I to let them down? I found myself more inclined to fight for my team because of their individual circumstances.
My approach was successful and, proudly, in January of this year, I was the first female announced to attend PagerDuty’s President’s Club. Another point of pride was when I heard the name of another female colleague being announced—she used to be one of my direct reports and has since been promoted. Not only that, I was thrilled when I heard a third female colleague from the Sales Operations team would be joining us well. Maui, here we come!
The past year was one of the most profound growing experiences. I am still finding my voice while understanding a new language and empowering my peers and employees. I found that, first and foremost, being an inquisitive human being and genuinely caring about my employees gave me the most empowerment.
From my mother, I learned that listening is key and education is power. My form of feminism is far from perfect, but honestly, there is no room or time for perfectionism when my employees and my personal growth are at stake.