Leader Q&A: Karen Schuman

Post by: Abbey Baldacchino
Published: 5 October 2023

Tell us about your career so far.

My first job was in consulting for an organisation just outside of Washington DC.  I was working with hospitals as they digitised their Medical Records and HR files.  While it was an exciting area, flying every week and living out of a hotel became exhaustive. 

I was fortunate to find a job at Cisco, where I would spend the next 20+.  I started in our Channels Organisation supporting MCI / Verizon.  It was a good opportunity to learn the Service Provider Segment and also engage with a very complex customer.  After a few years, I was looking for the next challenge.  


So in 2006, with two small children, my husband and I packed up our life and moved to Australia, assuming it would be a two year adventure.  I had accepted a role on the Telstra Account Team as a Service Creation BDM, transferring with Cisco.  While I hadn’t done Service Creation before, I understood Service Providers very well and this represented an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.


Throughout my time at Cisco, I fulfilled many roles from BDM, to Channel Leader and then Small to Medium Business Segment Leader.  


In December of 2022, after 22 years, I decided it was time to take on a new challenge;  I saw an opportunity to develop skills in the field of cybersecurity and work under an amazing leadership team, whom I had previously worked for at Cisco.  In January 2023, I joined Trellix to lead sales across Australia and New Zealand, Enterprise, Commercial and Public Sector.  Trellix provides cybersecurity solutions from Endpoint, Email, Network, Cloud, and XDR (Extended Detection and Response). 


You’ve worked across the USA and Australia throughout your career – how have you observed diversity and gender equality across the world?

When I first started in the US, the workplace was very male dominated.  There was no concept of women supporting women, or Networks focusing on driving gender equality.  Maternity leave in the US was bare minimum- 6 weeks paid.  


Moving to Australia, I remember showing up to my first job in Australia back in 2006 and there were only 3 women in the office, including myself.  While there was still a gap in women in the workplace, I felt Australia was ahead of the US with respect to benefits, supporting women and the overall flexibility for women with children.  


For example, I was fortunate to have a supportive manager who encouraged me to take 8 months off after my third child and return to work part-time.  Something that I could’ve never imagined in the US.  


Over the next 10 years, I saw a major shift both in my workplace and also in the industry.  Industry organisations and groups emerged, providing a platform for women to share, learn and grow.  


Now diversity and gender equality is critical for attracting top talent.   We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.  


Have you experienced any self-doubt or imposter syndrome as a female leader in tech sales? What originally gave you the confidence to pursue leadership?

I have been challenged, in a number of situations, where I have doubted not only my leadership skills but also my industry experience.  


It is ok.  I look at it as an opportunity.  Everyday I’m asking myself what I could or can do better.  I want to continually be learning, growing and helping my team learn and grow.  


Looking back on my life, I’ve always been a leader.  I grew up playing soccer, before it was popular as a female sport.  I played at University on a scholarship and was the goalkeeper.  The goalkeeper must lead, and communicate to the defense line, as the goalkeeper sees what everyone else can’t. 


As I moved roles at Cisco, I continued to develop my leadership skills, but timing wasn’t right to move into management.  After my third child, I was approached about leading a team.  At that time, I was balancing work, 3 children and had just taken a role at the children’s school as School Council Vice President;  I didn’t feel that I could lead at home, at my children’s school and at work, so formal leadership at work took a back seat.


Once my children got a little older, I felt that I could give more to the company.  An opportunity came up and I made it clear I was ready!  


You’ve worked on an internal company board that advocates for women in the workplace – What positive diversity & inclusion progress have you seen and been a part of in the tech industry?

I’ve seen a lot of progression over the last 20 years.  


Mentorship. To achieve better gender equality and diversity- it starts early- at college and university.  I’ve seen organisations build very successful mentorship programs for college and university students.  Participation in International Girls in ICT day- where you go into classrooms to discuss career pathways into Tech.  Formal University mentorship programs that span 8 weeks, working with the students on everything from career development, resume writing and interview skills. 


Leadership Programs.  With a focus to increase women in tech, some organisations have developed women’s leadership.  This provides a platform, not just to build new skills, but also for exposure to the executive leadership team and different areas across the business.


Work / Life Balance and Benefits.  Over the years, maternity leave has expanded.  What started as 6-8 weeks of paid leave has now grown to 20 weeks.  What is even more promising is how organisations are driving this to a more inclusive policy, including paternity leave and adoption leave.


Cybersecurity is the most talked about tech niche right now – How has the increased importance of cybersecurity impacted the industry? 

Cyber is hot right now.  Not such a good thing for organisations as we are seeing more sophisticated attacks and it’s affecting all sizes of organisations.  


Organisations recognise that they must invest in cyber.  The Government alone will provide $101.6 million over 5 years from 2022–23 (and $11.8 million per year ongoing) to support and uplift cyber security in Australia.


While this is great for the industry, it is also highlighting the gap that still exists with women in cyber.  As a leader sourcing talent, I still find it difficult to find women for roles.  



What advice would you give other female sales professionals wanting to progress into leadership?

Find a mentor.  It doesn’t need to be a formal mentor.  Find someone you connect with, can share experiences with and gain insightful advice.  They don’t need to be at your organisation or even in the same industry!


Surround yourself with people you can learn from.  


Have regular career discussions with your manager and leaders outside of your direct reporting line.  


Believe in yourself.


I’m a big fan of Brene Brown and as she said:  

“Leadership is not about titles or the corner office.  It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.  The world is desperate for braver leaders.  It’s time for us all to step up.”

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Thank you so much to Karen for joining us and providing insight into her career journey. 

If you want to stay up to date with Karen’s career click here

To check other installments of our leadership Q&A series click here