Carla Peterson is a customer executive and boomerang – an associate who is on her second stint with JDA! In this week’s blog, she talks about why she doesn’t think being in a male-dominated field is a bad thing and how her life experience has led her to where she is today, personally and professionally.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised just outside of Portland, Ore., and went to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. My roots are in retail, starting all the way back to high school, working at Nordstrom.
You joined JDA from a retail background – what brought you to JDA?
My family was in Arizona. I visited often and fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. I worked at Nordstrom for 16 years in Oregon and Washington, then helped them open locations in Texas and Arizona. By that point, I didn’t want to leave Arizona, but every promotion opportunity would move me north. I realized I was getting complacent in my career and needed a growth opportunity. A co-worker shared that there was “this software company called JDA that I should look into.” It was the biggest and scariest time of my life to make the leap but once I joined JDA, I never looked back.
You did leave JDA for a while though; what did you do in between?
When I first was at JDA in 2004, I was in product management as a designer, moved into pre-sales, then spent a year in consulting.
When I got engaged, my dad said if you want to start a family, you should get off the road and not travel so much. That was the only reason I left JDA at the time, so I could stay put and take care of my two daughters. I took a job at PetSmart and they had daycare onsite, so it allowed me to raise my daughters and still be a working mom.
However, on day two at my new job, I knew I was missing what I used to do. It was a stepping stone for me at the time and I always felt like I’d come back to JDA. While working at PetSmart, a JDA customer, I was still very active with JDA and went to the user conference (FOCUS, now ICON) every year. Two things inspired me to come back. The first was hearing Girish [Rishi, JDA CEO] deliver his keynote at FOCUS. It was inspiring and to see what he delivered on a year later was amazing, especially what he has delivered on with the culture of the company and product growth (Luminate). I thought to myself, “I really would like to work for him!” It really came down to the people. I missed the JDA family.
Sales has long been a seemingly male-dominated field – what has your experience been like?
I’ve seen this field evolve over the years. While it is more male-dominated in the software industry, it is not a male-dominated industry in other industries like retail. Regardless, what’s exciting for me is to see the evolution of that male-dominated field, especially at JDA. The culture and diversity is strong and we embrace that here. You get a better response or result when you are challenged by diverse opinions whether it is gender, race, personal background, etc.
Have you ever found yourself as the only woman in a meeting? How did that feel?
When I first go into a meeting and am the only woman, I’ll be halfway through a meeting before I notice, if at all. Depending on who I am working with, people are more focused on doing the right thing, and what people bring to the table, not about gender.
I also feel proud knowing that I’m part of an organization that is embracing women and approaching business with a gender agnostic point-of-view. Diversity is scary for most because it forces people who are comfortable to be uncomfortable. It also brings the best out in people when different points-of-view are brought together to comprise a solution. I was raised by my parents to do what makes me happy and not position myself based on my gender. It’s liberating.
What is your favorite part of your role?
Teamwork and overcoming challenges. Great things come when people come together. Seeing the success of my clients is what drives me every day and working with good people. I’m here to support my clients and my peers in their success. Working as a team is the core of that. I’m in the role I am today because of the people I work with both at JDA and my customers. All the other rewards of the job are a perk.
What about your career surprises you?
How successful we can be with broken processes! We have growing pains, but we work through them like any company.
I’m always looking for ways to improve and be more efficient both with my customers and at JDA. I’m a true business analyst at heart. My dad once told me you either move forward in life or backwards – change is inevitable and it’s my choice to move forward or backwards. I choose to move forward.
How has your life experience made you who you are today?
I’m a jack of all trades, master of none – a lot of my experience comes from several roles within three companies: JDA, Nordstrom and PetSmart. Being able to “wear the shoes” of my clients and my peers has given me insight and a high level of respect for everyone I engage with which is why I am so passionate about teamwork and respecting different points-of-view.
Also, I notice that many people try to keep personal and work separate but at the end of the day, when you spend so much time with coworkers, you just can’t separate the two in order to be successful. I see people do it, and they struggle. One thing I have taken from my personal life that rolled into professional life is teamwork and always competing against yourself, trying to be better for yourself which makes your team better. Everyone has a role and everyone is important.
What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?
The biggest risk was applying to work at JDA after 16 years of retail and making a career shift. And personally, signing up for an Ironman knowing I wasn’t a strong swimmer and couldn’t even put my face in the water! I had to trust in my coach that he would give me the tools to be successful. I tackled the fear of the unknown and can’t be happier not only overcoming my fears but being successful in both. In some ways tackling the unknown is a thrill. It’s always very rewarding whether the goal is achieved, or a lesson learned.
What I have learned from risks I’ve taken is that no matter what, you must chase your fears and even if the outcome isn’t what you wanted, you learn a lesson and take that with you to your next challenge.
What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?
My dad told me not to be complacent – as I mentioned before, he said you either move forward or backwards in life – nothing stays the same. What might seem like a step back, is always a step forward because there is always something to take from it. I swore I would never be a CE [customer executive] – and laugh as here I am! I love it! Never say never.
What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?
When they try to do the work themselves instead of coaching the team. It does sometimes take longer to coach than to just do, but to grow, we must work as a team and know that one person can’t do it all.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?
I think we sometimes feel that we cannot get passionate because it will be misconstrued as “an emotional woman.” Our passion is what makes us successful – as that perception of the “emotional woman” evolves, I think we will be able to take more risk and overcome greater challenges.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
It’s hard as a type A person, but I find that if I don’t balance work and personal life, both will suffer. I focus on giving 100% to both but know that there are days when I can’t always do that.