Women in Leadership: Denise Dresler

Since she was very little, Denise Dresler felt a natural call for taking on leadership roles at school. She has always been interested in learning English—the lingua franca of business—and also in mathematics and logics, because of their natural connection with human thoughts and problem-solving mechanisms. These interests seemed to be unconnected at first, but everything started to make sense as her professional career developed.

Her Avature journey started in 2012, when she joined the Consulting team. After some years helping customers fulfill their Talent Acquisition and Talent Management needs, she decided to turn her expertise in favor of Avature’s own growth in the Talent Acquisition team. She quickly became the team’s manager and later director, having great impact in the construction and specialization of the area. Finally, in 2020, her drive for facing new challenges and expanding her knowledge brought her to the Product Management team as Product Design Director to take the design of Avature’s platform to the next level.

Outside work, Den’s passions include travelling, skiing, and playing with her dogs, Loba and Elvis.

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How did you start your career in a leadership position?

Well, most of my experience is endogenous: I just reached 10 years at Avature!

As for my path towards leadership, I believe it had to do with my personality: I have a natural tendency towards leadership. I felt it from a very young age: I’ve always been empathetic, affirmative, extroverted, determined—it was just innate.

And in terms of the workplace, Avature is an open and inclusive place, so I never felt things were harder on me for being a woman, but most probably, my own personality added to that.

What unique challenges have you faced in your career? How did you overcome them?

I think my biggest challenges have to do with my own ambitions. I believe there are two sources for challenges: an external and an internal one. External challenges are imposed by a company, by your managers, etc. And internal challenges are the ones you impose on yourself. In my case, this last group is the strongest. I’m very ambitious and I set up new goals every time which are harder and harder to achieve, because that’s what motivates me.

As a leader, one of my self-imposed challenges is to have a holistic vision of how a company works. That’s precisely where my drastic changes of positions at Avature come from: my own aim to understand and manage an organization as a whole, my own goal of having a path which goes up to the highest levels of leadership, of being part of a company’s top executive board.

On the other hand, I believe a distinctive characteristic of female leaders is building an empathetic leadership, an inclusive and open one, based on your own self-confidence. This helps me not to question my own decisions from a negative perspective or to make difficult decisions with confidence (like putting together a plan, firing someone, putting on hold a whole project, or even throwing away a bunch of work that’s already been done). I do it keeping in mind that I’m adding value to the company and using this determination to build a better place for everybody. When people see how you proceed and why, they respect you for that.

In the future, I believe gender will have an increasingly stronger relevance for me, because as you escalate in your career, you start taking up spaces which tend to be more male-dominated. This might not be the case at Avature, because there are several female engineering directors, for instance; but looking at the whole industry, if you escalate to VPs, it’s not that common to find a woman. For each step you go up, it tends to get more male-dominated.

I think changing this overall male-predominance in the industry is about fighting what’s inside people’s heads, their assumptions, more than your own.

If you could give some advice, based on your personal experience, to other women starting their journeys, what would you say?

I will take up Steve Jobs’ words here, which he used in Stanford’s commencement address once: we should follow our passions in an “atomic” way. If you’re interested in something, you should go and learn, follow your interest, and make your strengths stronger, instead of trying to make up for your weaknesses—which is OK anyway. It’s precisely these strengths that will eventually give you your unique professional signature.

When we’re young, these different things we do seem as isolated little stars (in my case, it was improving my proficiency in English as the universal business language, or getting into math because of their connection with the structure of thought and the ability they enable to apply these structures to problem modelling and solving). When you’re young, it doesn’t necessarily add up to pursue all these different interests on their own, but as time goes by, these little stars begin to form a constellation—explains Jobs—and this constellation is your professional career.

Now that it’s been 10 years since I started my professional journey, I can see the constellation. When I was young, I didn’t see it, and that’s OK: we have to work to satisfy our curiosity, invest in ourselves, make our strengths stronger, and be open to listen to new opportunities so that all this starts to materialize.

We shouldn’t do anything because someone else says it, be it parents or just society. It might be possible that you achieve something following those lines, but most probably, it won’t be the professional career that will make you happy every morning when you wake up. We must find a balance and build our skills in a way that they get us closer to the life we want to have.

What do you imagine or expect as the next steps for you to continue growing professionally?

Oh, if it was up to me, I’d go up to the very top of the line! To be a VP, part of an executive board. I’m even interested in one harder challenge which has to do with venture capital and investing in other software companies. And when I look up how venture companies are made up from a gender perspective, I find out that women are less than 2%. That makes me mad.

And do you find it discouraging, or on the contrary, it makes you feel an even stronger desire to change things?

I can’t help but feel a sort of anger for that, and because I think that we women, and also young people in general, are not speaking enough about our financial education and investments. But still, I don’t find it discouraging; it rather pushes me to go on, even farther, and to try to make a change from my own individual place.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?

I believe leadership comes from your strengths, but always keeping in mind your weaknesses.

Some things do not come naturally or may not be easy to do; those can be weaknesses when it comes to being a leader. But we can find strategies, tactics, mentorships, concrete actions that one can do to mitigate those things. Even if you don’t eliminate them completely, you can mitigate them to a great extent.

I used to have trouble when it came to asking for help—it just didn’t happen naturally, and that’s a dangerous thing for a leader, because you can’t let a project or an organization suffer because of your own weaknesses. So I had to push myself to ask for help, even when I found it hard. I had to find a way to spot this weakness and mitigate it. Today I don’t struggle with it anymore.

This is what we should try to do with weaknesses, while we continue making our strengths stronger.

One of my strengths is that I’m an empathetic person. I read lots of fiction—I’ve always done—and I try to step into the shoes of millions of characters, in completely different situations, and try to think what it would feel like to be in that place. That sort of empathy comes to be a great strength as a leader.

I’d recommend that we don’t try to stick to a fictitious, made-up image of how a leader should be. We should go for what’s in line with our strengths, our skills, our personality, and our nature. All of this is what will make you unique and give you the chance to grow as a leader.