During Women’s History Month, Cloudera hosted a fantastic fireside chat featuring Irma Laxamana, Chief Legal Officer for Cloudera, and Cloudera’s CHRO, Amy Nelson. The discussion was wide-ranging from reflecting on career lessons learned, to advice on navigating the workplace. Below are the highlights of the chat.
About Irma Laxamana
Irma is the Chief Legal Officer at Cloudera leading a global team of lawyers and legal professionals supporting all areas of the business. She has been a practicing attorney for over 22 years, mostly at in-house legal departments at technology companies like Wind River and VMWare as well as smaller startups. In 2013, she joined Hortonworks as one of its first 3 attorneys, and there she helped to grow and scale the legal function through its IPO and hyper-growth stages. When Hortonworks merged with Cloudera, she joined the combined company, and in late 2021, she was promoted to the role of CLO.
About Amy Nelson
Amy joined Cloudera eleven months ago as the company’s Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), leading all Human Resources (HR) functions and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) organization. Amy has been in HR for almost 30 years. She spent 20 years at Dell Inc. in several Human Resources Business Partners (HRBP) and Talent Acquisition leadership roles before joining Quest Software which had been divested by Dell as part of a private equity spin-off company. There she led the company’s HR integration efforts and oversaw several HR functions, including the HRBP and Talent Acquisition organizations.
What was the best piece of advice you have received in your career that was unexpected or you didn’t think a lot about at the time, but was of impact later?
While a good work ethic and investment in the details are definitely important and will help you build a good reputation, as you move up into leadership roles in fast-moving businesses, striving for perfection in all instances can be a hindrance. “The best piece of advice I got from a trusted manager was that although you may want to strive for perfection, don’t wait for it in every situation before you move forward and act. As I moved up in levels, this became more and more important as with more responsibilities, decisions for resolutions are tougher. So, I give it the best I can, being as thoughtful as I can, but I do not wait for everything to fall into place before I make a decision.”
Be open to new opportunities even if it’s a stretch role. “When I was at Dell working in talent acquisition, I didn’t have any plans to move into other areas of HR, but I remember having a skip-level career conversation with the Senior Vice President of HR. He advised me to be more open to and proactively consider growth opportunities. He also told me not to get too comfortable in my current role. This planted the seed for me to look for other opportunities to broaden my skill set. Several months later, I accepted another role outside of talent acquisition which helped moved my career forward.”
When people come to you looking for advice, what is the skill you emphasize first?
Be resilient. Resilience is a mindset that can be very powerful in an ever-changing work environment. “Market conditions are changing; companies are changing. We are shifting all the time, having adaptability as a skill set is only going to make you more successful in your role.”
Be self-aware and have an eye for the big picture. “Being self-aware of your strengths allows you to be your best with your work but being self-aware of how you are perceived by others also helps you – in how best to partner with others and interact to collaborate for outcomes. Also, it’s easy to focus on what’s in front of you, but as you grow your level of responsibilities, building business and strategic acumen is invaluable. Look at the bigger picture and ask yourself ‘What am I doing to help the business move forward?’ or ‘What can I do new or different to help the business move forward?’”
With gender disparity in the technology and legal fields, as women, how have you navigated this space?
Build a network that includes mentors and sponsors. “What’s been important for me has been building a network. It’s one of the most crucial things you can do to really get ahead in your career. It’s more than just meeting people, it’s about building respectful relationships and creating those connections. Establishing mentors and senior-level sponsors can drive your career advancement. Make sure you surround yourself with people who would mention your name in a room full of people. I wouldn’t be here today without mentors and sponsors.”
Build a network, including by participating in professional organizations to seek help and to help others. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding the right network for yourself and participating in it. Coming into the VP level and leadership level in legal, I more proactively got involved in groups like The Women’s General Counsel Network, and The Silicon Valley General Counsel Network where you find you’re not alone in the work that you’re doing and the problems you’re trying to solve, and the blind spots you have, others have. There are people that can help you, and you can also find ways to help others.”
How do you navigate work-life boundaries especially as you progress through your career and hold more responsibility and accountability?
Knowing your priorities and your purpose and knowing they can change over time. “It can be very difficult, and you have to be very intentional about it. Having the right support system around you and being aligned as a family or household is important. Always be clear about your purpose and know that it can change over time. For me, at first, it was building a strong foundation for my family. Later it was about finding self-fulfillment in my career, learning and growing, feeling like I was challenging myself. And while learning is a continuous journey, now I explore what I can do to be a sponsor or mentor.”
It’s a skill and a discipline. Saying yes is easier than saying no. “Work-life balance is the most important skill any professional can have, but also the most difficult to learn. Even though I believe in a strong work ethic, and will always do what it takes to get the job done, it is also important to resist the urge to be continuously working. Having a healthy work-life balance means leaning on my team and peers at times. Even though I have a tendency to want to take it all on myself, I’ve learned that is not the way to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
Special thanks to Irma and Amy, for participating in this important discussion.