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Women in Business: Q&A with Stella Goulet, CMO at Avanade

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As Chief Marketing Officer, Stella Goulet leads Avanade's global marketing organization, guiding the company's corporate brand and service offerings through a period of high growth and significant change in the IT industry.

Stella joined Avanade from Capgemini, where she led global marketing as corporate vice president. A former member of Forrester's CMO and Marketing Leadership Group and the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) Advisory Board, Goulet is a vocal advocate for evolving how marketing teams contribute to sales and build corporate brand reputation.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in England in a family that encouraged learning and travel, which really instilled in me an interest in and openness to new things, different people and cultures. So when new opportunities have come along, I've embraced them. For example, when I was offered the chance to attend the University of North Carolina, I accepted before ever having been to the United States. Later when I was going to night school for my MBA while I worked during the day, I received an offer for my first marketing job while I was taking my first marketing course. A business leader said to me, "I have $250,000. Come and do marketing for this Year 2000 solution we're creating." I wasn't necessarily prepared but I had an opportunity and seized it, and that's how my marketing career began.

I know that taking up new opportunities can be hard for women to do because we often feel that we need to be one hundred percent ready or knowledgeable before putting up our hands. But, as a leader, I encourage others to develop and embrace change. The right attitude and potential to grow can be just as important as experience.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Avanade?
Working in global roles for many years and enjoying the opportunities and challenges that different markets and cultures can bring has definitely helped me in my position at Avanade. From that early start in marketing, I've managed or been involved in just about every marketing aspect of a business-to-business services firm. From marketing technology and consulting services to packaging and promoting business solutions for different industries, field marketing, content and thought leadership development, branding, advertising, digital marketing, media and analyst relations, and marketing for major acquisitions. You name it, I've done it. So the opportunity to lead marketing at Avanade has allowed me to put all those pieces together.

In addition, my previous experience in partnering with Microsoft has helped me understand the opportunities for Avanade, which is a business technology and managed services provider focused on helping customers realize results through the Microsoft platform.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Avanade?
I've been with Avanade for 18 months now and compared with the challenges I've heard that other senior leaders experience when they join new companies, Avanade is very unique. Since joining, I've been embraced and others have helped me to succeed. Regardless of their role or level of seniority, everyone's been willing to share their knowledge and exchange ideas about how we can improve marketing. One of the highlights since I started with Avanade was about six months ago when I was given a position on the Executive Committee. I was very excited to join my colleague Pam Maynard, who leads our Europe, Africa, and Latin America business, as the first two women to serve on the committee.

Of course there have been challenges. I was brought in to help Avanade take the next step in its marketing journey - to help tie marketing more closely to the business and sales and increase return on investment. Any change program always has its difficulties and marketing is a topic on which you'll never manage to get everyone to agree. But together with my marketing colleagues, we've made real progress and are starting to see some exciting results.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is hard to do. At Avanade's International Women's Day event in March, I heard Dame Stephanie Shirley talk about the idea of work/life integration and, to me, that seems more achievable. Although, without the concept of balance, there's still the tendency for work to become too dominating and take over. But it's important for me to make and keep commitments to my family just as I would with my colleagues at work. Despite heavy business travel, I've spent every wedding anniversary together with my husband since we married 26 years ago.

Having personal goals also makes it easier for me to set aside personal time. There are periods when I switch off my mobile phone and stop looking at work e-mail. I try to find time each day to do a bit of exercise or something creative. I take regular horse-riding lessons as well and I've recently picked up my violin again after many years.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I'm not sure that there's one biggest issue, but rather three main challenges that women tend to face in the workplace - although they're not completely unique to women. The first is juggling family commitments and responsibilities with the demands of work. Another is being visible and having the confidence to share our point of view regardless of whether or not others might agree with it. And the last one is having the courage to put up our hands for what we want, especially if we don't feel one hundred percent prepared.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
There were quite a few "aha" moments for me as I read Lean In. And it was good to learn that some of my less positive experiences in the workplace aren't unique. Whether you fully support Sheryl's positions on women in the workplace or not, she's done a great service to open up the debate so publicly and encourage people to keep talking. My favorite question that she posed is: What would you do if you weren't afraid?

I also really agree with the recommendation to "make your partner a real partner." When both individuals in a couple work outside the home or want to build careers, they should both play an equal role in the management of a household and upbringing of children or care of other family members. When the demands and expectations for men and women are equal in the home then their opportunities and challenges in the workplace are more likely to be equal too.

One thing that particularly dismayed me was to learn of the 2003 study by Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson showing that "success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women." Women are still being evaluated on stereotypes, so there is still a lot more work and education that needs to be done around gender equality.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Over the years I've learned so much from many different people and continue to do so. I haven't really had formal mentors, but as I look back over my career there have certainly been people who played the mentor role. Two people who come to mind are Jim Woodward, the executive who gave me my start in marketing, and Colette Lewiner, who headed a consulting practice for Utilities and was a prominent leader in the nuclear energy industry in France. From Jim, I learned how to build and grow a successful business and the critical role that marketing plays, as well as the importance of building and developing an effective team. Colette helped me understand the importance of setting scope and doing fewer things with greater impact. She's a great role model for women who want to be leaders.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Whether or not I agree with their broad policies and opinions, I admire women who lead in public life, such as Angela Merkel, Madeleine Albright, Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Also, the women serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as well as female economic leaders like Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school pupil and education activist, also stands out because of her bravery and ability to inspire others. I admire that all of these women visibly promote their opinions even though they might be perceived negatively by some. They show that women are smart and strong, which stands in stark contrast with how the majority of women tend to be portrayed in the media.

What are your hopes for the future of Avanade?
From a business standpoint, I hope that Avanade will continue to grow faster than the market and be the leader in its field. This will mean that we've been successful in helping customers realize results from new technologies and innovation. Just as importantly, it will provide excellent opportunities for our people.

I also hope that we will be able to continue to expand our efforts to attract more women to the IT industry and to encourage the development of careers and leadership of women and men.

Tell us some more about Avanade's Accelerator Program for Women and how it is transforming the company.
Avanade recognizes that a diverse workforce increases our global competitive advantage, enhances our engagements with customers and ensures that we attract, develop and keep the best talent. The Accelerator Program for Women is a new initiative we've designed to support female managers as part of our talent management. Its goal is to help women progress at Avanade with equal opportunities and recognizes female role models within the business to encourage career progression.

Program participants receive mentoring and coaching from executive-level women for a period of six months as well as tools that equip them to better navigate their career paths. It also enables these women to address some of the common issues and barriers they may face in the workplace, such as lack of visibility, juggling work and home life, and self-limiting behaviors.

We're pleased to have more than 40 employees from around the globe taking part in the Accelerator Program, as well as hundreds more who have been touched by its initiatives. Ultimately, we believe that our investment in gender diversity will help us build better and more inclusive leaders and talent for the future.