Heather Jones provides valuable insights into her personal and professional journey - from her aspirations to attend law school to becoming the CFO of a rapidly expanding tech company.
From Law School Hopeful to CFO
Heather’s career goals faced a different direction in the beginning. She initially wanted to be a lawyer but chose a different, more family-friendly route. She holds an undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship and a master’s in accounting. Little did she know that her accounting degree would pay off significantly. Heather had a friend who bet her that she couldn’t score higher than her on the GMAT. If she did, she had to proceed to graduate school. Heather, being a lifelong leader and highly motivated individual, did in fact score higher, thus bringing her closer to where she is today.
In the tech industry, Heather found her niche. When asked if being a woman in the industry shaped her success, she responded, “The opportunity presented itself, but it wasn’t my mission. I enjoy technology and shiny things though!” Describing her leadership style, Heather revealed that she is the grounder to her risk-taking partner, Jan. She believes that women in leadership bring compassion and attention to detail to the table, making them more willing to tackle messy and complicated situations with empathy.
Balancing Personal Life and Career
When asked about her dream career goals, Heather openly shared that she once wanted to be an attorney but prioritized starting a family. She is happy with her decision and looks forward to her next phase in life. Reflecting on her career, Heather admits that she has faced discouragement and has been terrified on the job numerous times. However, she emphasizes the importance of a robust support system, continuous learning, and persistence for women who want to grow as leaders. Her advice to young professional women? “Be brave, don’t be afraid of failure. Take risks! Make your own luck. Don’t worry about the things that don’t matter but focus on the ones that do.”
Contributing to a Healthy Workplace
When asked what she does to make ACF Technologies a positive and productive workplace, Heather shared: “I strive to create an environment where people can be creative in finding innovative solutions without fear of failure. We understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. I encourage everyone to have a growth mindset and take on challenging tasks.” Heather realized that taking risks and being brave can be rewarding. “I’m here today because I took a chance and invested in myself when nobody else would, and it has paid off immensely.”
Heather is passionate about helping ACF Technologies reach its full potential and furthering her own career goals. She is currently researching new trends in the tech sector, striving to stay ahead of the competition and elevate ACF Technologies into uncharted frontiers. As she looks forward, Heather hopes to lead her team toward success with a laser-sharp focus on innovation and agility.
Here is a little bit of Q&A fun with Heather.
Describe your leadership style and how you “lead” others. Is it different from your male counterparts?
Jan is the risk taker, and I am the grounder. [That is how they balance their partnership. They are also very competitive with each other, and it has been a huge driving factor for the company.]
Who inspired you to be a leader and why?
I was very fortunate to be surrounded by strong women throughout my life, whether it be family members, teachers, co-workers, or friends. With a strong support system, I felt safe taking risks, therefore allowing me to learn and grow from my mistakes. Not one, but several from teachers to professors to family and an entire network of leaders that have helped me in life.
When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this profession/organization?
Early on, my goal was to learn and gain as much knowledge and experience as I possibly could, but it was a goal to be in a position of leadership eventually.
What motivated you to step up and become a leader in the organization?
I knew I could make a positive contribution. I wanted to be able to teach others and motivate them to chase their goals. I feel very passionate that people need to be given an opportunity and to know that someone believes they will succeed. I like to fight hard to help people to achieve their goals.
What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others?
Confidence. You must believe in your own abilities to have influence over others.
What are some benefits of having women in leadership?
Compassion and attention to detail. I feel that women are more willing to take on messy and complicated situations and work through them with compassion. Women can navigate difficult and tense discussions while being able to remain empathetic and approachable. This often leads to more open conversations by allowing people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opinions. [In her experience, not being intimidating as a woman offered the opportunity to make the company more approachable.]
What benefits have you received from your leadership experiences?
Being able to offer people opportunities to learn and grow. Instilling in them to become a mentor to others. Building relationships and maintaining relationships. Being open, as a woman, as a person, makes it easy to understand and listen and nurture.
What struggles have you had as a woman in this role?
I was not treated differently but struggled to find a balance between friendships and maintaining professional authority. I found the hardest part of my career was struggling to find the balance or line between nurturing and professionalism. [When she realized she couldn’t be everything for everybody, she had to make that shift to more CFO and less office mom.]
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Developing the confidence in yourself to know your value and where you can have the most positive impact. Learning how to be assertive without becoming unapproachable.
Why aren’t there more female leaders?
I believe the struggle to balance a career and family is a large obstacle. Regardless of drive, without a strong support system surrounding you, a career will take a back seat to family.
What’s the most dangerous behavior/trait that you have seen derail female leaders’ careers?
Overcompensating for perceived weaknesses. Countless hours, verbose explanations, and struggle to control all the details and outcomes.
Have you ever experienced resistance when you are leading men? How do you deal with it?
While I have experienced this a few times, it isn’t often. But I feel that it is important to not position yourself differently just because you are a woman.
How did you navigate power structures EARLY in your career versus LATER in your career when you had a more formal leadership role?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. It takes time and most of all, experience. I struggled A LOT in my early years trying to find how and where I fit in. Rather than learning to navigate the power structures, I spent time watching and learning from every interaction.
How do you push for systemic change around ideas that are new or not that popular?
I think it is critical to give everyone a voice. Reach out for opinions and feedback. Allow employees to talk because oftentimes resistance is born from fear and a lack of communication.
Have you ever been afraid on the job?
Many times. Never afraid of the challenge, just fear of the unknown.
Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit?
Many times. Growing organically in a small business is NOT easy. There are so many obstacles that arise and can become overwhelming. It is imperative to learn to balance your workload and prevent early burnout.
How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
Experience is the best way to build confidence. Education, peer mentoring.
How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Is there such a thing as balance?
That’s a heck of a question. I believe it is personal for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life balance.
What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
While I understand how critical self-care is, this is not my strong suit. However, in the past few years, I have made this a priority. I use my lunch break to ride my Peloton and take my dog, Zoey, for a walk. I also make it a point to take a day off occasionally, even if only to just relax and hang around the house.
How can women develop their leadership skills?
Join a peer organization!
How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader?
Critical. Everyone needs a sounding board.
How do you encourage other women to not give up?
Get a strong support system. Never stop learning and be persistent in reaching YOUR goals. On the really tough days, grab a friend and a glass of wine, tomorrow will be better.
At the end of the day, Heather is far from all business. She is an avid traveler and outdoor adventurer, especially when heights are involved. You can find Heather outside of work honing her skills in her newfound loves: carpentry and creating welcoming spaces, with a little exploration into stained glass making. Her next phase in life will be spent in her own bakery or plant nursery.
Thank you for joining ACF Technologies as we celebrate this woman leader in the workplace.