Christina Kemper, Vice President of EMEA at Recorded Future talks to Liv Price, Senior Associate at Erevena, about her career in sales, sharing her views on whether the skills held by women are becoming recognised as more relevant in the fast-growing, once male-dominated field of high-tech sales.
Recorded Future delivers the world’s most advanced cyber-security intelligence to disrupt adversaries and protect organisations from risk. Christina is based in London, leading the EMEA region for Recorded Future.
Industry statistics show that only 25% of salespeople in the tech industry are women. That number becomes even more brutal when you look at sales management where only 12% of sales leaders are women. In the US, women hold fewer than one-third of B2B sales positions.
Getting the gender balance right is still a challenge, with too few women considering a career in technology. We need to show why technology is a great career choice for women – to attract more women to the sector and build a diverse talent pool.
What attracted you to a career in sales?
I started off studying accounting at University but switched to business & marketing, as I really wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do as a career. I did a sales internship at a telecoms provider in my final year, supporting the sales team and was fortunate to have an inspiring sales manager who taught me to love the art of sales, eventually leading to a permanent role with that company. Aside from the fulfilling nature of the role, I liked the fact that commission is tied to how hard you work and how well you do. I suppose I’m competitive like that.
Within a couple of years, I moved into sales management and discovered that I enjoyed the added complexity of managing teams.
Even though I liked telecoms as an industry I wanted to focus on something more ‘strategic’, so headed off to Columbia Business School which included a couple of internships in corporate development and partnerships, at Google and About.com, both of which I enjoyed. But I missed sales – I missed the activity!
I considered consulting as a career but after a couple of offers and a lot of soul searching, my husband who is also my biggest supporter suggested that I consider a different type of sales organization, a more complex one, and suggested selling enterprise software.
Tell us a bit about your journey to Recorded Future and what attracted you to the business?
Upon getting my MBA, I took an enterprise sales role at Callidus Cloud in New York and was lucky enough to learn the ropes from a world-class leadership team. During my 10 years at that company, I progressed through to sales leadership and in 2015 was asked to move to London to assume the role of Senior Vice President of Sales covering EMEA. We were working closely with SAP and were acquired by them in 2018. After helping with the integration in the new organisation, a year later I felt it was time to move on to move onto something new.
And, quite fortunately, at that time, I was faced with a lot of different options across the universe of technology and software. My husband and I enjoy living abroad, and I knew that I wanted another role in EMEA sales. Cybersecurity was an industry I hadn’t considered previously. Upon speaking with the leadership team at Recorded Future, I knew it was for me. Christopher Ahlberg, completely sold me the dream, explaining that the company is ‘about helping to take bad people off the streets.’ That impact of doing good with technology was really exciting to me.
Why is diversity so important to your business?
It’s proven that diverse teams are more effective in general and ultimately have a positive impact on sales and the profitability of an organisation. Women and men naturally have different approaches and it’s beneficial to have a mix on the team. The skills of women are also becoming more relevant in the fast-growing, once male-dominated field of enterprise software sales.
At Recorded Future diversity is a priority as the impact that a more diverse team can have on our business is widely recognised. We have 30% women across the entire company and our target is that 40% of new hires and promotions will be women in 2021.
We’re not just concerned with improving gender diversity – diversity of thought is also important to us as an organisation. This is what gives us the ability to brainstorm and come up with new, innovative solutions. Diversity of thought can come from diversity in age, education, race or background.
What initiatives has the company implemented to encourage diversity?
For many years we’ve had employee groups specifically for women and other diverse groups, and I am part of a diverse hiring committee that proactively goes about removing unconscious bias. This year we have introduced bias training across the business, to help increase awareness of the natural biases that we all inherently hold. If we’re aware of these unconscious biases and manage them it will have a positive impact on our hiring outcomes. This focus comes from the top of the company and everyone is involved.
It’s not just about women but about supporting other diverse groups across the company. Non-diverse individuals need to be part of the conversation to create a work environment where we can support and mentor people from different backgrounds, with different needs.
What about specifically in sales?
In enterprise software sales there is a large imbalance between the genders. Traditionally it’s been a technical role that has tended to be dominated by men because women have historically not been as involved in STEM. However, with my generation, that’s changed dramatically. In the USA there has been a large move of education driving change with the positive encouragement of girls into STEM subjects and associated careers.
Women are naturally the only sex that can have children and be mothers. In the past women in this position have been faced with the difficult decision about the balance between childcare and their career.
At Recorded Future we currently have a scenario where an account manager is going on maternity leave and a business development rep (BDR) is covering her role for a couple of months. This is a win/win scenario; bringing up a junior rep who will gain experience, whilst the more senior rep on maternity leave knows that her customer relationships will be managed and developed. Previously issues over how commission is paid when someone is on maternity leave have put companies off implementing solutions such as this. But if we want to retain good female salespeople we have to be aware of the unique issues they face and come up with innovative solutions.
When it comes to creating a more diverse environment, what are your hopes moving forward?
I would like to get to a place where this is a non-topic. It would be great if we could get to a place where diversity is the norm and we don’t have to be thinking about diversity all the time, or put quotas in place around hiring, but instead just be as people. People who have strengths and areas of development of their own.
Is there a leadership lesson you’d like to share with other women?
I want to actively encourage women to open up the conversation, to bring their ideas to light and to not be afraid to raise up their hand. Women can generally lack the confidence to shout out, but the more we can support one another the better it will be for all of us. I encourage women to acknowledge the differences between the sexes and not be afraid to bring this topic to light. I’d also say increase the amount of networking you do, for example at sales leadership networking groups, and not be afraid to ask for support for a suitable mentor.
“My advice is kill your number, raise your hand for your next role and find a fantastic mentor.”