Be Loud: Finding Your Voice and Blazing Your Trail
An interview with Google’s Kristen Chard
In this special edition of our blog, we’re celebrating Black History Month alongside our corporate partner Google. All month long, we’ve been spotlighting amazing Black women who inspire us and make us proud. Our Head of Marketing, Christen James sat down with Kristen Chard, Head of Industry for Telecom at Google, for a discussion focused on success and how to maintain it; identity; authenticity; work-life balance; and advice for women starting out in their sales careers.
About Kristen Chard
Kristen Chard is the Head of Industry for Telecom at Google. Kristen is a seasoned digital marketing and sales leader, with over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 500 brands – specifically in the retail, telecom, and travel sectors. As a results-driven executive, she drives revenue by building brands, creating sales strategies, and harnessing the power of technology through digital media and online marketing communications. She specializes in developing strategies for performance-driven advertisers; relationship building through collaboration and flawless execution; and she has mastered the essential cross-functional dance between sales, tech, and media organizations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Thank you for sitting down with us today, Kristen. We’re honored – truly, and for me this is one of those rare full circle moments in life when you get to spend time in a setting like this talking to someone you know and admire. Thanks so much for lending us your presence.
Let’s jump right in. How did you get here? What was your journey to sales leadership like, and what’s your connection to junior sellers in the space?
Thank you. I’m super excited to talk about all this good stuff.
I have a long history in advertising and marketing. I started in account management at a traditional Madison Avenue ad agency, working with big CPG brands. After a few years, I got a call from my old boss at that agency who was now at Google. He called me up and said “you gotta try this company – it’s great.” Then, eight interviews and two tests later, I got the job. I started in a junior role as an Associate Account Manager. From there, my trajectory was pretty traditional, in that I moved to Senior Account Manager, and then Account Executive, and then Senior Account Executive – and now I’m a Head of Industry, leading a sales team of eight, and working with top telecom companies. It’s been 15 years since I joined Google, and I’ve really loved it. It’s a challenging and fast-paced environment, but it’s also fun – and I enjoy being at a cutting-edge company.
What are the best strategies for getting to and maintaining a career at your level?
There are two big things that have always worked for me:
The first is hard work. I’ve never been afraid to roll up my sleeves and dig into a challenge ahead of me – and when I see folks that are growing in their careers, the ones that really stick out are the ones that aren’t afraid to get dirty and jump right in. They’re the ones who are not intimidated by the large goals in front of them – so, definitely – it’s hard work for me.
The second thing is having a group of people that believes in you, supports you, and nourishes you from a professional standpoint. I have one, and I call them my Board of Directors – it’s a bunch of people who essentially are mentors of mine, but they all have very different capabilities and strengths than what I currently have. I go to each of them, and I try to absorb every single thing I can from their gifts and talents. It’s important to have a group of people that you know, and you trust – most importantly, to tell it like it is and to help you navigate the internal structure of your organization. You need people to tell you the real deal and give you hard feedback. I’ve had some people from my Board of Directors lovingly telling me that I’m kind of full of it, or that I’m doing something wrong, or say to me “I know you think you’re good at this, but you’re not – you need to work on this.” Having that group around me has always helped me in my career.
That’s very powerful – especially the part about having people that you trust, who you know won’t lie to you. That is incredibly valuable. Now that you’ve shared some of the strategies that you’ve used for your personal and professional success, talk to us about the strategies you use with your team and with your accounts – what tactical moves do you use to get it done?
I’m pretty firm in my belief that if you have a healthy, high-functioning team, the success will come out from that – and to achieve that as a leader, you need to do these things:
Be very intentional about your hiring. I always hire people who are smarter than me. I like to surround myself with people who know more about certain things than I do, as well as those with special skills. For example, there’s a guy on my team who can put together a Google spreadsheet in less than 10 seconds, and it has the most beautiful graphs and charts you’ve ever seen – I can’t do that in 10 hours! So, I think having a team that has complementary skill sets to one another, and that brings a diverse set of talents to the table is crucial. I also think that hiring good people is one of the things that Google tries to do well – we call doing something well doing it “googley” – but that just means finding people who are just genuinely good, smart and caring people. You don’t always realize the value of hiring genuine and caring people – I frankly thought it was kind of a silly thing until COVID-19 hit. Throughout the pandemic, everyone has had to rally together and be a real team during something that was so difficult for all of us – and having good people who genuinely cared about one another – checked in on one another – had food delivered to one another…that became so important to the fabric of my team. So, for me, intentional hiring is really important for building that good team.
The next thing is coaching and development. As a leader, it’s important to know what motivates my team, so I always like to connect with them – whether it’s just having virtual coffee or just meeting outside of our work context so that I can understand who they are – what their interests are, what their families and pets and hobbies are, what they’re proud of in life outside of work. Those things matter, and being able to understand that as a leader, helps me understand more about them, and then what they can bring to work – because I only want them to bring their best selves to work. If what’s happening outside of work isn’t OK, then what they bring to work isn’t going to be OK either – so, getting to understand your team for effective coaching and development is important.
Finally, I always try to create a space for psychological safety. I’m really lucky to have a safe space within the leadership team that I sit on, and the team I work with. Everyone feels that they have a place at the table, and that their voice is just as valid as our VP, for example. Having that environment where people feel like they matter – that what they say matters and what they do matters – that’s an important thing for a high- functioning team.
It’s really about the team, and the success will come out of that.
The things you said about your team and using those successful strategies is really focused on building community – and a part of that is also mentorship. How have you served as a mentor at Google? What are some of the challenges that you as a Black woman, or other women of color have experienced, and how have you gotten through?
Mentorship is incredibly important. I have been a recipient of other’s mentorship since I started in my career, and I’ve tried my best to bestow mentorship on others and share whatever time and talent I have with those needing coaching or advice. Google has several mentorship programs – I’m in a couple of those, specifically to mentor women of color when they’re joining Google. Our company is a very exciting place – but with so much to know, so much to do and so many people to engage with, it can feel overwhelming – especially as people continue onboarding from the comfort (or discomfort) of their homes. At times, it can feel very isolating, and you don’t get that natural osmosis from seeing someone in the hall and saying “oh, hey – can I put some time on your calendar?” That just doesn’t happen as easily or as naturally anymore, so I think it’s incredibly important to have a person who can act as a guide and point you in the right direction to help connect with people, and share all those internal links, tips and tricks so that they don’t have to figure it out on their own.
I also have a lot of individual mentees – mostly women of color, and I help them with their career development. For example, we have a very intentional performance review process, and it involves advocating for yourself by cataloging your accomplishments – it has to be done in a way that is forthright. I coach my mentees on how to talk about their work intentionally and specifically with numbers, because we’re in sales. I coach women who haven’t had to advocate for themselves in such overt ways in the past, and we work on how to bring about that conversation. This is necessary because bragging comes naturally to some folks – and I find that a lot of women of color don’t come from backgrounds where that’s encouraged. I try to help them understand that this isn’t bragging – this is advocating for yourself, and you have to be just as much of an advocate for your work as the person next to you who may have more of a natural inclination to list out their accomplishments.
I coach and mentor in those areas because I’ve seen women of color in sales face this challenge. The loudest and most confident person in the room often is the one that is listened to the most. Sometimes, we as women of color struggle with the confidence to be the loudest in the room. So, my advice is to BE LOUD. I tell my mentees – you are here at Google because you are so intelligent and so talented – you have the right experience, and so you have a seat at the table. Use it and be that loud voice. Don’t let anybody drown you out.
That’s evergreen advice because no matter how far you advance in your career, there will always be a situation where you have to find the confidence to be loud. With your long tenure at Google, you’ve seen the organization go through a lot of changes – how have you contributed to Google’s efforts to champion positivity and inclusion, while also supporting the women in your sales organization?
Google has gone through a lot of change – I think tech historically has not been a particularly diverse industry for a number of reasons, but Google has been one of the companies at the forefront of trying to change that. I’ve worked to help move our company forward by focusing on hiring, coaching, and mentorship so that we can be a more diverse and inclusive workplace. I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates for our junior and mid-level positions. I believe pretty strongly that a core responsibility of being a leader is talent identification, and with so much diverse talent in the marketplace right now, I want to be a part of ensuring that Google not only identifies, but also attracts and hires from this talent pool. Google has made big strides here.
Another area I’ve focused on is retention, and underneath that is coaching and mentorship. It’s really great if we can recruit, attract, and hire a bunch of talented folks from a diverse pool – but if we can’t keep them, and if we don’t have an environment where they want to stay, then it’s kind of pointless. I think being very involved in coaching and mentorship makes people feel that Google is a place where they can survive, thrive, and excel. Within my larger organization of 70 people, I’m regularly reaching out to people one-on-one, asking if they have questions or if they need time on my calendar. Even if they need time for someone to show them the ropes – those are things that are important for retention. Making sure this is a place that they want to be, and that they feel they are contributing meaningfully to is critically important to me.
You talked about the importance of diversity within Google, and your own sales organization. You’ve also discussed the importance of reinforcing safety with your team. Part of feeling safe is feeling like you can be authentic and not hide behind a persona. What does bringing your authentic self to work mean to you? How are you showing up authentically, and how do you want to continue in the future?
To me, authenticity is really important at work, and I think it’s counterproductive, especially as a leader, to hide who you are and put on some sort of façade. In general, people want to work for and with people that they know and trust – and bringing your authenticity every day is a big part of that. You can do this by being professional – and that’s often where the tension lies in that people can feel that authenticity and professionalism are opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t think that’s true. It’s not either/or to me. Your authenticity is who you really are – your interests, your ambitions, your mannerisms, your style, your struggles, vulnerabilities, gifts, talents – it all matters, and it’s what you uniquely bring in the context of work.
For example, my team knows what I’m good at. They also know what I’m not so good at, and I think that’s OK. My team has met my kids more in the last two years virtually (when they bust into my office), than ever before, and that’s OK too because I’m a working mom, and I’ve never tried to hide being a working mom. But when I’m having a C-level client meeting, I lock the door so they can’t run in – and that’s not hiding who I am. Rather, it’s the balance that creates the context of who I am, and it is intentionally placed in a professional setting – because it’s not appropriate to have a 5-year-old run into your office while you’re having a serious conversation with a CEO.
It’s really important to be authentic, and as you said, a big part of that is psychological safety. To me, there’s never a time when it’s OK to respond negatively when someone is vulnerable and brings their real self to work. That’s not acceptable on my team, and hopefully my team feels that way. I certainly feel that way with my manager and my leadership team. It’s a delicate balance. For example, I don’t act the same way with my team as I do my best friends. But I don’t think that my team would see me as an entirely different person if they saw me outside of work. The core of who I am with both groups is still the same.
What are some helpful ways you have established work-life balance while building your career as a professional saleswoman of color in tech?
Work -life balance looks different for everyone. Women, especially working moms have a different work-life balance – it looks different than single people, or men – and one is not more important, better, or harder than the other – it’s just different, and so you have to figure out based on your context, what works for you. I’m one of those people that is OK working all hours (day, night, weekend, etc.) but, that means I have to carve out very specific spaces where I don’t let work bleed into my life. For me, work-life balance is about creating structure and purpose around the time I’m not working. For example, I like to run outside – but not when it’s freezing cold. So, in the spring, I set very specific goals of how far I want to run (because with having not run since Thanksgiving, things are a little rusty). So, I set a goal to run a specific distance by April, and then by mid-season, I have another goal, and so on. That’s something that’s really important to me, and carving out that special time creates structure and sets benchmarks to ensure that I’m maximizing time that I’m not working.
I have two kids, and even though they’re at the age where they can just play with each other, parent-kid time is important to me. So, for 20 minutes a night before their bedtime, we read Harry Potter books – and that’s the time when I’m not on my phone, taking calls, or letting the other exciting parts of my job bleed into that sacrosanct time with me and my boys, while we do different weird character voices, and things that I don’t do in my day job. So, for me, it’s about real structure and setting real parameters that can’t be broken because that time is so special.
You’ve given such great advice during our chat – advice that I think applies to women at any stage of their career. Can you share some specific advice and guidance for someone who is early into their sales career?
I learned this lesson more as a manager – so, I always tell this to people so they don’t go 15 years without realizing this: it is a really small world out there (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve known you since 8th grade, and here you are interviewing me years later!). You never know who’s watching you; who’s talking about you in rooms that you’re not in; talking about your potential; talking about your performance; talking about whether they can snag you for their team because they think you’re really that good; talking about whether they can poach you for their company because they worked with you 10 years ago; and as a junior account executive you were crushing it. The world of sales is especially small. The world of business is small. The circles get smaller and smaller with women of color. My advice is this: no matter what, and no matter who you think is or isn’t looking – always put your best self forward. Always. You can’t take the risk that that one day you weren’t happy, and you didn’t feel like putting your best effort forward, might be the same day that the president of the company walks down the hall and hears or sees you. So, always bring your best self to work – and get a head start on day one because you want to be well represented in the rooms where you’re being talked about.
Can you share a quote that has been a guiding light for your career? Why is this quote meaningful to you?
Can I have two?
Ok, they’re sort of diametrically opposed, but bear with me.
The first quote is “there are three things in human life that are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (Henry James). We work in a fast- paced and competitive industry. There’s so much to do; so many goals to accomplish; so many things to achieve. I think sometimes it gets lost, but at the end of the day – no matter how competitive, how tough, how hard driving we are – we’re all humans. It’s the human connection that builds relationships, teams, collaboration and partnership – and you can’t do all those good things without being kind to one another and giving each other grace. You never know what challenges people are going through, so being understanding is important. I try to do that for my team, and they certainly do it for me. Maya Angelou always talked about the fact that people forget what you said or did, but they always remember how you made them feel.
You get a lot of leeway when you’re kind to someone, and you also make them feel good.
My second quote is by the great philosopher, Yoda – “do or do not. There is no try.” I actually have it on a decal on my laptop. I say it to my children; I say it to myself, and I say it to my team every once in a while. It sounds pretty hardcore – but I think it’s about being goal oriented. If you envision yourself getting something done, achieving, and executing on that goal, I think that gives you a much better starting place than allowing yourself to get caught up in the challenge of trying. Of course, you’re gonna try. But focus on doing it and getting it done. And if you don’t get it done, you didn’t get it done and the try part doesn’t matter that much. Why focus on the try? It’s either do or do not.
If you have your sights set on getting it done, I think that really propels you and gives you a lot more motivation to accomplish what you set out to do.
About the Interviewer:
Christen James is SIS’s Head of Marketing. Her 20-year career has spanned the business, publishing, entertainment, and non-profit sectors – serving as a Fortune 500 marketer, managing editor, corporate consultant, and non-profit executive. Christen’s expertise in social impact; sponsorship and cause marketing; corporate giving & fundraising; and diversity, equity, and inclusion has produced quantifiable gains across industries – and she’s proud to lend her talents to SIS’s thriving community of women of color in sales, which is now 5,000 members strong. Connect with Christen on LinkedIn.
Sistas in Sales (SIS) is a community for women of color sales professionals to network, advance their careers and most importantly, find sisterhood – offering events, thriving Slack community with companies hiring now, and career coaching services. Learn more about Sistas In Sales membership here, or connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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