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HERstory: Tara Robertson

Director, Marketing Strategy & Operations, Sprout Social

Tara Robertson is the Director of Marketing Strategy at Sprout Social and has a love for all things inbound and digital marketing. With over 15 years of experience, she has consulted for hundreds of companies on marketing strategy and execution. Prior to Sprout, Tara was VP of Marketing at Hotjar and VP of Marketing & Creative Services for TSL Marketing, a digital marketing agency. As a self-proclaimed digital nerd, she loves connecting the dots between psychographics and data to produce kickass results.

How did you break into leadership?

It was very early in my career. When I was in college, I worked in a telemarketing office (gasp!) selling timeshares. They were looking for someone to run the office, and I was selected to take on the role of general manager at 21. It was both fun and challenging to learn how to be a manager at an early age. This experience set me up for a career in leadership.

Quickly after finishing my degree, I got my first job at a company called Technology Sales Leads (now TSL Marketing), an outside sales shop for B2B technology businesses. I worked there while going to grad school full time to obtain my master’s degree in integrated marketing. Because of my experience, I quickly moved into a program manager role and then become the Director of Marketing after graduating from Emerson.

We grew from 10 to 300 people worldwide and the marketing department I started became the highest profiting group in the organization. The experience I had at TSL fast-tracked my ability to grow into the leader I hope to be today.

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

Prior to Sprout Social, I had always been the only woman on an executive team.

In the past, I’ve been paid less than my equal colleagues, treated as a lesser voice in the room, and most importantly, had to ‘go along’ with situations where the rest of the team engaged in uncomfortable or inappropriate behavior.

I was once told that my role as Vice President of Marketing was that I “bring the boobs”.

In another experience, I was told that men were simply “smarter” than women, so it didn’t matter how fast or efficient I worked.

I’m very lucky now to work for a company that has such a strong focus on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and women in tech. That being said, I also am very aware of what else is out there and love supporting women however I can as they grow their careers.

How did you deal with all that?

Generally, whenever an uncomfortable comment was made (like “you bring the boobs”), I would comment about how inappropriate it was. However, it often didn’t do much.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of stability in my career, so after I left my last job, I worked hard to make sure that where I landed aligned with my cultural expectations.

I think as you learn more about acceptable behavior it becomes easier to be confident and move on when it’s needed. Earlier in my career, I didn’t know the difference, so would often try to adapt. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that you should always stand up for yourself and when it’s not a right fit, it’s time to move on.

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

It took me a long time to understand work/life balance. I spent years thinking I ‘had’ to work harder, which meant working longer and often giving up my own personal time or time with my family. I am a strong believer in hard work, and I would never change that. But if I went back to change something, it would be to understand that taking vacations is ok, going for walks is important, and having time for yourself actually helps contribute to your success.

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

I’ve always prided myself in doing exceptional work and delivering results that far exceed expectations. But my highlight isn’t necessarily how I’ve done that, but how I’ve watched team members I’ve mentored or managed grow to help in that success. I absolutely love having a team and watching the people I work with grow, learn, and excel in their careers. Nothing is more rewarding! 🙂      

Thanks to Jes Kirkwood who conducted this interview in April 2018.

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