Alexandra Jorissen

Leader Q&A: Alexandra Jorissen

Post by: Anna Johansson
Published: 16 November 2022

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far. 

I actually thought I was going to be a lawyer, I graduated  from law school and started a job in London. I spent a lot of money on expensive suits and I showed up to this prestigious company and it was just awful. Within days I knew that it wasn’t for me and it was heartbreaking. I had enjoyed studying it but just hated the job, it was very old school tech wise and everything had to be on paper which really frustrated me and helped with my decision to move to tech.

Long story short I started my first sales job in AdTech, I was there for about seven years before they IPO’d and thought woah this is amazing and wanted to do it again. I then worked at two more start ups where I got a lot of experience managing teams.

By this point, I had a huge network of clients and colleagues which really paid off. An ex-client had moved to Google and saw a role which they sent to me because they thought I would be a good fit and offered to recommend me. I joined the Doubleclick side of Google and built a team in EMEA and loved it. During that time I had two babies – I call them my Google babies.

My ambition is to be a global VP of Sales or CRO and since I had worked in the US and EMEA I wanted to learn more about APAC. When COVID hit I had been in a similar role for a while and I wanted to try something new. I moved to Singapore with my family in 2018. Whilst working on Google Cloud, I started to notice all the problems that came with it around cybersecurity and got a bit obsessed with it, I saw a huge opportunity in this space and wanted to be a part of it

During the Singapore lockdown I decided to upskill and did an online course in Cybersecurity at Harvard and I loved it. I jumped into cyber about a year ago and it’s such an exciting and growing industry.

Across your sales career you have worked across different locations, how have you had to adapt your leadership style to the different markets and cultures? 

There is a different culture in every market. My advice would be to take a step back, try to learn as much as you can and focus on reading the room; look at other people’s body language, ask people from the country what the customs are and always be willing to adapt; be curious and respectful. 

A few things that I noticed in the US is that the sales culture is very aggressive compared to the European focus on relationship building. In APAC there are so many different cultures and markets in the wider market which is all about adapting, for example in Japan I tend to lower my voice a little bit. But at the same time you want to bring your authentic self, people buy from people. If you are there pretending to be something or someone you are not, no one will trust you or buy your product. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges that women face in sales leadership?

There are so many. The obvious one is that we are underrepresented. I remember the first time that I realised I was the only woman in the room – it was at a board meeting at a startup I used to work at. I immediately felt a little awkward and out of place. That in itself is a challenge, one you can overcome but still a challenge. 

I think the level we are at now in terms of women getting into leadership depends on men and their role to play on it. You tend to get into leadership roles later on in your career which also means that you might be at an age where you are thinking of having a family, which funnily enough for women keeps you very busy. But for women to be able to make it into the boardroom, someone needs to help look after the family, to help share that load. 

Why do you think not as many women get into cybersecurity? What could the industry do as a whole to encourage more women into it?

It’s really interesting because everyone in cybersecurity talks about the shortage of people and skills but don’t make too much of an effort to encourage more people into the space. It also is quite daunting to get into the space because you go in knowing the ratio is already off, for me I remember looking at it and wondering whether that was an opportunity or a problem.

When I started to interview for roles in cybersecurity, after having worked in tech for 20 years, there were still a lot of people who would say ‘Are you sure you want to get into cybersecurity, it’s really technical?’ Which is something that very much has to stop.

I am used to the ratios being skewed, but I think the industry as a whole still has a long way to go, cyber feels like it is where general tech was about 5 years ago.

I’d really recommend joining the industry though, it’s really fast moving and exciting and will still be growing in the years to come.

How important do you think representation of women in leadership is for people in the industry and younger generations?

It’s a very obvious one – it’s super important. We know that companies in general perform better when they have diverse representation. At Google we started to realise we were hiring the same profile, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But tech is about innovation, coming up against new problems and trying to find new solutions to solve the problems.

If you put ten people in a room with similar backgrounds (culture, gender, age, education etc.) they will come up with one answer because they all have the same mindset. But if you put people in the room from different countries, backgrounds, religions,  cultures, male, female, LGBTQIA+, any differences! – they will hopefully come up with three or four different solutions and you can find a few winning ones.

I don’t think we are too far away from getting to a representation that will be better and I think it’s interesting because it could change within a generation. I was raised by my father, and my daughters spent the first few years at home with their dad, so for them it’s very normal to be able to work in any field they want and achieve whatever they want.

As a leader are there any key things you’re doing to support diversity and more female leaders?

Honestly I try to be supportive of anyone who needs help. I am not going to prefer mentoring women compared to men. I have had both men and women as mentors.

One specific thing I did, relates back to starting a family and working. I had a bit of a hard time returning to work after maternity leave at Google with my first baby. I was lucky to have 7 months off at Google on maternity leave but eventually the day comes when you go to kiss your baby and go to the office. By 11am I found myself crying in the bathroom because I missed my baby.

At the same time I was really happy to be back at work, learning, and picking my career back up again. I think most women would say that they found that whole process hard and a real shock. So I set up a mat leave buddy system. It helped women who were pregnant and starting to prepare for that period in their life;  to talk to another woman who had gone through it already to share their experience and help in that transition.

What have you been reading or watching lately?

The last good book I read that I want to recommend is Don’t Quit Your Day Job by Aliza Knox. Aliza is one of my favourite people in the tech community, she’s an incredible woman who has had a remarkable career which she has now written a book about with really great stories, as well as practical advice and I was super impressed.