Autumn Vaupel Interview: How Women in Technology Can Elevate Themselves

As a technology company, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to not only celebrate the Beeline women that push our company vision forward, but to also acknowledge that across our industry, there is more work to be done when it comes to elevating women in tech.

In honor of International Women’s’ Day, we highlight Autumn Vaupel, Beeline Chief Operating Officer, who was recently named on Staffing Industry Analysts’ Staffing 100. Autumn ensures the success of customers and partners leveraging Beeline’s solutions. She plays an integral role in defining the company’s strategic vision and product direction and is responsible for overall customer experience and business operations.

Autumn sat down for a Q&A session and shared her ideas around what it means to be a working woman and be it unapologetically.

Please share the top habits you see most often that get in the way of the women you lead. Which one gets in your way the most?

I would say that women are not proactive enough with their career interests and desires. We tend to be more focused on proving ourselves instead of going out and bringing our accomplishments and career goals to the table. I’ve shared this with a lot of other women — we tend to put our heads down, work hard, wait for someone to notice that we did a great job and offer to promote us or offer more opportunities. Men are completely the opposite. In contrast, they are constantly proactively asking for what they want, asking for a raise, to be assigned to a specific project or asking for a promotion. What I really think is important for women to understand is, that’s your competition. That’s the person you’re competing with for the next job, next promotion, next opportunity. If men are always in their boss’s office asking for more, and women are heads down in their cubes working really hard hoping that our merits will carry us to the next level, it’s women who miss out on the opportunity.

This also leads into the second bad habit, which is a lack of self-confidence. What’s interesting is there’s a book called The Confidence Code that was written for women which I recently started reading with my daughter. One of the things that stuck with me in this book is that somewhere between the age of 8 and 14, something happens to girls that causes them to lose confidence in themselves. What was striking to me was that the research showed that women never regain their confidence to the same level after that point. I think that impacts us in the workplace because we don’t always have the confidence to be proactive and go and say what we want.

The next habit is that women don’t rely on their support systems as much as they should. We feel like we must prove ourselves and we must do it all on our own. That happens at home, at work, etc. and I’m guilty of the mindset of “I’ll just handle it myself.” As you advance in your career and start a family, you can become obsessed with wanting to be that mom who does everything.

My good friends also have careers. For me, my tribe outside of work is important because I surround myself with people who do not judge the choices that I make. They have their own struggles with juggling career with family, and can relate to the struggles I have. Find your tribe. Rely on them. Nurture those relationships because they are going to be there for you when you need it. Like anything, there are peaks and valleys. There are times when you’re seeing them less. What I try to do is set aside time. I have a group of women that I go out with one night a month and we stay committed to that. I also have a book club I’m a part of and I try to honor that connection and commitment. Two evenings out a month is not going to make or break my family.

At work, rely on your peers or your team. Say, “I need some support with this project because I have these other things going on.” Know that there’s going to be other times when you will help them too. As a woman, it can feel like you can’t say no to anything and you can’t rely on other people.

The last bad habit is not setting boundaries. If you don’t set boundaries for yourself – at work, at home, and in your social life – you’re always going to feel guilty for letting someone down. I think guilt, especially when you become a mom, is the hardest part because you always feel that you should be somewhere that you are not. It goes back to the lack of self-confidence. Stop beating up on yourself. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good employee. You ARE a good leader. You ARE a good friend.

You have to set boundaries to protect yourself. Women always want to give to everyone else and take for themselves last. Sometimes my daughter will get frustrated when I get home late from work or if I work late and still exercise after work. But if I don’t exercise and take that time for myself, I won’t be healthy. If I’m not healthy, I won’t be able to be there for her in the way she needs. It’s about knowing that I have to do that for myself and, in the end, I’m also doing that for her and setting that boundary with her.

This also applies to setting boundaries at work and setting the hours that you’re able to work. Make it clear what days you have personal obligations with family. It is important to have those boundaries while making it clear that you’re going to deliver on your commitments and get the work done.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I ask myself often, have I taken enough risks? Have I pushed myself as hard as I could? On one hand, I have taken some risks, but I think I was very calculated in the risks I was willing to take. Maybe I could have pushed myself out of my comfort zone a little bit more. One piece of advice I give women is don’t step aside from an opportunity that comes your way. I did tend to take new opportunities as they came, but I don’t know if I was proactive in making those opportunities come to me.

The other thing I have not been great at is using my network. Again, I think that it comes down to confidence. Every job I’ve had, I’ve gotten my foot in the door because of my network. But I haven’t always used my network to my advantage when I could have. I think your network is what’s going to help you get noticed. Then you can prove yourself once you get in the door.

How do you manage to be a working woman and be it unapologetically?

I don’t know if I’ve always done it unapologetically and it’s certainly a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had moments where it feels like I’m at the top of a very sharp decline and there’s other times when it feels like it’s rolling along. It’s important for women to know that it’s not easy. Anyone who acts like it is easy is lying. You’re trying to juggle a lot of different things.

Statistically, working women do more work than men. Not in all cases, but women end up doing most of the domestic work at home and with the children. I feel like I’ve been very fortunate that my husband has been a fantastic partner in the home. I’m able to do what I do because of that. Women must seek out help from their support systems and not be shy about using it. It’s also about not beating myself up over the guilt. It’s having the confidence and conviction to know that I’m taking in all the data I have and when I make a decision to focus on one thing or another – whether its work or family – that I made the best decision I could at that time. As I look back, there are moments where I made the wrong choice. Instead of dwelling on that, I learn from it to know how to do it differently.

Age also helps. Women tend to get more confident in their 40s. That confidence continues to grow. You become less concerned about what others think of you. You become more comfortable in your own skin and recognize that you are a good mother and you are good at your job.

In terms of women rising in our industry, how far do you feel we’ve come?

There’s two ways to think of this. One is from a technology perspective and one is from a staffing industry perspective. I think the answer is different depending on which part you focus on. Technology is a male-dominated industry. It has evolved a lot, but I still think that it’s further behind than other industries. When you look at the make-up of Beeline, a lot of women are in roles on the business side, but not as many on the development side. I think it’s great that we have so many on the business side, because you must have a technical mind and understand the operations of our customers too. For some reason, even though STEM is being emphasized more in early education, at some point, girls and women drop out from those interests and I don’t know why that is.

I think it’s a shame because being a software developer is an amazing career if you’re a working mom. You can work anywhere, it’s very team-oriented, and you can work flexible hours. So in my mind, this is a great career path for a woman. But for whatever reason, we’re not attracting as many women into that field. There’s a lot of women that excel in science and medicine, but there’s not as many in tech. There’s more that needs to be done to hold the interests of girls and women which is why I joined the board of a local non-profit that focuses on teaching coding skills to underserved children.

From a staffing perspective, I see staffing being much more female-driven. What I find interesting is that a lot of leaders of these companies are still men, although the overall makeup of their leadership teams is much more balanced than other industries. I am thrilled that there are many female CEOs and founders in the staffing world. When you look at the make-up of these companies most recruiters and mid-level managers are women so given that, you might expect that the leadership teams would be more weighted towards women.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of some of these bad habits that get in the way.

Who is a woman you look up to and why?

I really look up to Melinda Gates. She was an engineer so when you talk about being a developer and being in a male-dominated field, she was somebody who worked hard and climbed the ranks at a time when that was not as common as today. I’m reading her book now, and it’s very much focused on her foundation and trying to better the lives of women. A lot of the things in her book are focused on how when you start to empower women, you can deliver so much more for a family and community in general. When you start to equalize, you can lift the family through things like education and better opportunities. I really admire the things she’s trying to do with her foundation.

I don’t look for all my inspiration in women either. I think that for me, what’s been helpful is to have a mentor. A lot of the mentors I’ve had have been men. Mentorship has shaped me more than looking to some well-known figure as an inspiration. If there’s somebody that you admire and can learn something from, forge that relationship.

As a female leader I think it’s important to show that you can be strong, but also lead with heart. I love seeing and celebrating people’s success. There’s an extra special feeling of pride for a woman’s successes that only comes from knowing how hard it is. I know about the self-doubt, the nagging voice in your head, the battles that all women fight. I enjoy celebrating that success so much. I want to show others that you can be tough when you need to be, but also you can lead with heart.