Don't like your company's culture? Create your own!
That was the mindset that led Jennifer Kyriakakis, founder and vice president of marketing at Matrixx Software Inc. , to venture out on her own and found the digital services platform provider in 2008. She was part of Portal Software, a midsized company that was acquired by software giant Oracle, which didn't have the same culture or values around innovation, she said.
At the same time, Kyriakakis was able to parlay her technical background into sales roles and later marketing, a career which enabled her to carve out the company's messaging. As vice president of marketing for Matrixx, she now does both -- internally craft a company culture around innovation (and inclusion!) and externally communicate that culture and the company's messaging. It's a perfect role for her and one that represents the culmination of a career spent taking risks, following her passion and heeding advice of some key mentors along the way. (See Matrixx Software Founder: Digital Transformation Lends Itself to Diversification .)
WiC caught up with Kyriakakis, the keynote presenter at Women in Comms' upcoming luncheon on where diversity meets digital transformation in Austin on May 14, ahead of the event to offer insights into mentoring, creating a rewarding career path and more. (See WiC Leading Lights Finalists 2017: Hedy Lamarr Award for Female Tech Pioneer of the Year.)
Women in Comms: Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Jennifer Kyriakakis: I've always known that I wanted to work in technology, but it wasn't until I finished my degree in Information Technology that I saw the opportunity in Communications. The year I graduated was also the year the deregulation act came into effect, and it was the beginning of the Internet bubble -- the opportunity to work in telecommunications, and comms as a whole, was vast.
My career started off on more of a technical route that moved to sales and then eventually to marketing. That was the lightbulb moment. Having worked for many companies I was used to learning and accepting cultures, company positions and value propositions, but that changed when it was down to me to carve out messaging that would drive a company's success and culture. It was this passion that paved the way for my career in marketing.
Today I am one of the founders of Matirxx Software. What led me to the startup world was the experience of going through an acquisition. After working for a medium-sized company that got swallowed by a very large one, I suddenly found myself a part of a massive company that didn't have the same culture or values around innovation. It was this point that motivated me to take a risk and do something disruptive. Two years later Matrixx was launched.
WiC: Have you had a mentor in your career, and what impact has she/he had on your professional life?
JK: I have been fortunate enough to find a mentor within every company I've worked -- both men and women. These were casual mentoring relationships, and sometimes that person didn't always realize they were mentoring me. That said, the two people that stand out for me both played different roles in my professional life.
The first I worked with during my project and account management days. He was both an advocate and a mentor who directed me on how to manage complex client situations and how to build engaging and valuable external relationships. While he always encouraged me, he also taught me how to think strategically about setting myself up for success. I learned how diplomacy will always win at the end -- something that has stuck with me throughout my career.
The second taught me a lot about internal relations and coached me in how to promote initiatives and projects within an organization confidently. She showed me how the optics in different roles should be considered, both for mindshare and advocacy. Our conversations flowed in all directions -- upwards, downwards and sideways -- but they were always engaging, crucial, candid and respectful.
WiC: How should women in comms identify and foster a relationship with a mentor either on an informal basis or through a formal network?
JK: In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says, "If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works." I couldn't agree more.
I find formal networks can be a little forced. Essentially you're asking a stranger to be your mentor. Instead, find people who inspire and motivate you and with whom you're already interacting and working. They should be people you've already demonstrated a potential with and who you trust, someone that isn't just going to mentor you, but advocate for you as well.
Mentorship -- whether you're the mentor or mentee -- is personal and should happen naturally. Truthfully, you're the only one that can figure out who would make a good mentor for you because it's all about the connection you have with that person.
WiC: What is your advice to be a successful mentor yourself?
JK: A successful mentor is about being able to empathize with a person while providing a common share of experience. For example, if they're experiencing a challenging time in the workplace, explain that you understand what they're going through and offer learnings from your encounters. This is a great way to open a line of communication with a person by identifying why they may be frustrated or struggling with a particular situation.
Many people, when they get into tough situations, respond by "fight or flight." They either fight against it in an unproductive way or bury their head in the sand. It's important to coach people through either situation: here's how to fight your fight productively, or here is something you're trying to avoid, but need to face it as it won't disappear. It's important to provide constructive advice and to offer multiple perspectives, as often these will be points the other person hasn’t necessarily considered. Demonstrate how they can take a step back to look at the broader picture.
WiC: How important is it to mentor the future generation of workers, especially young women in the tech field?
JK: Millennial women are at the frontier of a new era in the technology industry. While I think mentorship certainly matters and is essential, a lot of mentoring can be done behind the scenes. What people need, though, is someone pulling from the top. We need advocates. We need advocates to publicly support and hear when a promotion is deserved or a win needs to be recognized. To have a senior leader rooting for you, whether it be in meetings where they highlight an achievement or actively promote your big wins, that is a huge motivation for any individual. This experience will empower and enable a person to thrive in their career.
— Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms