At Samsara, we value strong leadership and creating communities for diverse perspectives. One such community is the Women of Samsara (WoS), an employee resource group that hosts events, professional development workshops, and mentorship programs for all employees who identify as female and their allies. Last Thursday, the WoS hosted a (virtual) discussion with three of Samsara’s female leaders:
Emily Critchfield, VP of Sales Operations
Chloe Hill, VP of Finance
Sarah Patterson, Chief Marketing Officer
Moderated by Desiree Kohnen, VP of Sales Operations and Strategy, the candid conversation covered everything from professional development to setting boundaries at work and being your authentic self. Read on to get a glimpse into these leaders’ careers and lessons they've learned along the way—plus some great tidbits of advice.
From left to right: moderator Desiree Kohnen and panelists Emily Critchfield, Chloe Hill, and Sarah Patterson.
Q: All of you have had brilliant careers, growing professionally in a variety of settings and roles. How do you think about career development?
Chloe: I'm very goal-oriented. I push myself to think about what I want to achieve next, whether that’s a career goal or a life goal. It’s really important to create the mental space for purposeful goal-setting. Once you've figured out what your goal is, then it’s all about identifying who's done it before so you can talk to them about their skillset. That way, you’re not reinventing the wheel every time—you're tapping into others’ experiences and guidance to help you achieve your goals.
Sarah: Similar to what Chloe said, I set goals for my personal life as well as my professional life. I ask myself, where do I want to be in five or 10 years? In my professional life, I’ve found it helpful to look at job descriptions for the roles I aspire to. Then, I’ll take stock of what skills I currently have and what skills I need to develop to get where I want to be. At any high-growth company, organizational change offers a great opportunity to raise your hand and say, “I want to learn this new skill.” That’s the benefit of growing your career within a company that is itself growing—you already know the people and the processes, and you can focus on expanding your skillset. That has really helped me accelerate my career.
Emily: From a long-term growth perspective, I think it’s really important that you don’t underestimate the importance of finding a career that fits your passions and your personality. For me, I love planning and strategy—it's how my brain works and it's how I approach my personal life, too. As you begin your career, you'll gravitate towards roles, projects, and opportunities that fit your personality. Pay attention to that. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do right away, so I tried different things, which was great for exposure and experience. Because of that, I was able to eventually choose a path that felt very authentically “me.”
Q: What challenges have you faced over the course of your career, and what lessons have you learned?
Emily: Don’t operate under the assumption that other people are smarter than you and that you should wait for someone else to lead. I always tell people I hire—even those just a few years out of college—to not assume that anyone knows more or better than you. A fresh set of eyes on a problem goes a long way. Also, don’t underestimate the power of thinking outside the silo of your particular job or function. Don’t be afraid to take full ownership of projects and shepherd large-scale transformations. I think this is the type of growth mindset that gets you noticed and sets people apart from their peers.
Sarah: One challenge that I have worked a lot on is my perfectionist tendencies. Growing up and throughout school, those perfectionist tendencies served me well, in part because our educational system is designed to encourage that. What I've learned throughout my career is that it’s usually better to get feedback on a project before you spin your wheels trying to make it perfect. The more you can open yourself up to feedback on your work before things are fully baked, the better the end result. For me, part of that process has been learning to not be so hard on myself. Everybody is fallible. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace.
Chloe: I encountered similar challenges to what both Emily and Sarah mentioned: perfectionism, as well as not believing enough in myself. I'm a finance person, so I like to follow rules. But what I learned is that if I really wanted to move to the next level and achieve my goals, I needed to develop the confidence to go after opportunities and believe in myself a little bit more. I learned that you can still follow the rules while not letting the rules confine what you aspire to achieve or what you think you can become.
Q: All of you have been in the workforce for 10+ years. How do you think about creating a sustainable career?
Sarah: For me, the key was realizing that life and work is a marathon—not a sprint. What helped me take that longer-term view was reframing my mindset. Taking time away from work actually helps me “recharge,” so I can bring my best self to work and bring better ideas to the table.
Emily: Your life will go through stages and evolve over time, and it's really up to each of us to define what's sustainable at each stage. For example, when I had my first baby and went back to work at a previous company, there was a period of time where I was hiding in the mother's room, pumping, while taking meetings with my camera off. It just wasn't realistic or sustainable, and I think that’s a common experience for a lot of working moms. By the time I had my second baby, I really had to think about what sustainable meant for me and set my own boundaries. I found the courage to communicate what I needed at that stage and it’s worked out well for me so far.
Chloe: This may be due to my finance mindset, but what has worked best for me is prioritization. When I get incredibly stressed, I create a list, starting with the biggest items that I can tackle right now and ending with the things that might just need to just “fall off”—maybe they’re important, but they’re not going to happen right now. I do this exercise for everything I’m balancing across the board—not just my career, but my personal life too. Who you are as a college student is different from who you are at your first job, which is different from who you are later in your career. Different things will be important to you at different stages in your life and career. For me, prioritization has helped me adjust and adapt to those changes.
Q: What is your number one piece of advice for people early in their careers?
Emily: Give yourself grace! Don’t beat yourself up over the small stuff.
Chloe: Set aside time to reflect on your goals for your career and your life outside work.
Sarah: Find the fun in what you do. Life is short!
Q: What is your favorite part of working at Samsara?
Emily: The people!
Chloe: The people!
Sarah: Definitely the people!
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