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HERstory: Ashley Faus

Content Strategy Lead, Software Teams, Atlassian

Ashley Fausis a marketer, writer, and speaker by day, and a singer, actor, and fitness fiend by night. Her work has been featured in TIME, Forbes, The Journal of Brand Strategy, and Hubspot, and she’s shared insights with audiences at Harvard Business Review, INBOUND, and MarketingProfs. She works for Atlassian, a collaboration software maker on a mission to unleash the potential of every team. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter, @ashleyfaus.

How did you break into leadership?

I had a winding path into tech and leadership. I’ve always wanted to manage a team because I love helping people grow in their careers, and I like to empower people to experiment and push the envelope on what comes next in marketing.

I actually had a hiring manager take a chance on me, as a first-time manager and outside hire. She saw that I could connect the dots between different teams, marketing elements, and audience types, and determined that she could coach me on the management front. I made it my mission to unblock my team, which enabled us to deliver both quantity AND quality work. The combination of formal team management and dotted-line management chains allowed me to showcase my ability to help my team thrive.

What unique obstacles or challenges have you faced as a woman in a tech leadership role?

To be honest, I haven’t really faced challenges due to my gender, but I have faced challenges due to my age. People tend to think that younger folks aren’t ready for leadership roles, but I would argue that leadership is a different skillset than technical or craft skills. Leadership is about understanding and motivating people, setting a clear vision, and connecting the dots to help your team move work forward.

Sometimes you need to have a thick skin and a lot of confidence to walk into a room full of people with more specialized experience than you. I’ve found that you have to balance letting your work speak for itself and promoting your ability to ensure you’re credible. Having a manager that has your back is key to overcoming age or experience challenges. One of my best managers trusted me and backed me to her colleagues, and she handed off the team management responsibilities to me explicitly to make it clear that, though I was new, I was capable.

How do you switch roles or teams?

Switching roles or teams is often a struggle, and I’ve had several roles at Atlassian.

I recommend having internal “networking” sessions with your colleagues. Not only will you get a sense for how your team and your work fit into the bigger picture, you’ll form relationships with other teams. The relationships are key if you’re looking to make an internal move. In many companies, you have to inform your manager that you’re interviewing with a different team, so having strong relationships across your organization ensures a smooth move.

When possible, raise your hand for cross-functional projects. This gives other teams visibility into your skills and work product, helps you build relationships across the company, and gives you insight into roles or work that might be a good fit for a future move.

Finally, be nosy. I joke that I stick my nose into everyone else’s business at work. This is a double-edged sword because I need to make sure I’m taking care of the work I was specifically hired to do, but keeping a bit of capacity to help with cross-functional projects, “random” requests to be a sounding board, and sitting in on the occasional “unrelated” meeting have allowed me to broaden my perspective and form relationships with people I might not otherwise encounter.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would tell my past self to be less focused on the specific industry and company. I had this idea that I wanted to only work for a company where I used and loved the products or services, but that’s not realistic. I’ve found that I can fall in love with the customers for just about anything, and that’s what matters.

I would also do more informal networking. Early in my career, I was hesitant to reach out to people to connect if I didn’t have a specific reason. These days, I send notes to speakers from conferences or podcasts, DM people I follow on Twitter when their content resonates, and generally make myself available to talk with early career marketers. You can learn so much when you talk with people at all levels of your skillset or industry, so I would focus more on connection with my peers, not just consuming content to try to sharpen my skills in a vacuum.

What’s been the highlight of your career thus far?

What a tough question! I’ve been fortunate to work for some amazing companies and outstanding managers. A few highlights include working on the launch of “Illuminate” during my time at Duarte, introducing live stream video to several companies, and now my time at Atlassian. I’m currently working with some of the smartest folks in the business, and our CMO is a truly outstanding leader. I’ve also been able to bring my passion for performance to my professional endeavors by hosting and interviewing our customers and other thought leaders.

Share something interesting or valuable with our community.

The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson is a must-read book. It’s all about the power of intersectional and divergent thinking. It includes fascinating stories of innovation by bringing together unlikely experts and disciplines, as well as practical, actionable exercises to unlock your creativity and unblock your brain.

Thanks to Jes Kirkwood who conducted this interview in August 2020.

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