Sarah Jarman is the Commercial Director at Darktrace, and recently recognised as a finalist in the Women in ICT Awards.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far.
I finished school and not exactly knowing what I wanted to do I did a Bachelor of Business and Entrepreneurship. I then worked for a large company in the FMCG space whilst completing my degree. I decided I wanted a new challenge and applied for a scholarship which is an award form the Australian government to go, live and study in China and learn Mandarin.
The whole purpose is to understand how Chinese businesses conduct themselves during business and learn all the different nuances of culture to eventually help between trade agreements between the two governments. It was an incredible experience – very challenging. I moved to Shanghai and started working in Global Business Development at a startup.
I came home for a 10 day holiday to see family and for the Australian Open and Covid happened. My whole life was over there, if I had left a week later I would have been stuck in China for months. For about 6 months I did think I would move back but then I had to come to the sad conclusion that the China dream was over.
I had worked so hard from the age of 14 it was a shock to be unemployed. I applied for a lot of different roles until the opportunity at Darktrace came up. I ended up speaking to a friend who was a recruiter, I interviewed the next day. After a few more interviews they offered me a role as an Account Executive, after 5 months in the fastest ever promotion for the team I became the team lead. After about 12 months I became the Commercial Director and am currently heading into the final two months of my first full FY.
Do you think there are any myths about working in cybersecurity? What would you say to someone considering a new role in space?
I think a lot of people think you need to be very technical to get into the space. Anyone in my personal life would tell you I can hardly turn on a computer – I came into Darktrace with no technical experience. Another myth would be that it is all males, whilst you could consider it a male dominated space there is certainly a lot of females up and coming.
One more myth would be that the tech world can be quite ruthless – it is fast paced, there is a lot of hard work and astronomical growth but there is also so much learning and so many benefits. You need to be a certain kind of person to go into the tech industry. You need to be ambitious and have the fire in your belly and as in any sales job you need to be resilient because there is rejection. I think all these myths are changing for the better.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in the initial jump from an individual contributor to a leadership role?
I don’t think there was a huge jump from AE to Team Lead – personally I found it a huge jump from the team leader to Commercial Director. For me the biggest challenge in this jump was the jump from peer to manager. I also found it challenging to feel confidence in adding value especially to someone who may have been at the company longer. It’s all about finding the right time and way to add your value.
How I have overcome that is by leading from the front. Prospecting for example, no one wants to do it and I can’t expect my team to do it if I won’t myself so I will jump on calls for the team. This has been a massive focus for me. I am also relatively young, I got this role when I was 27 and am not the most technical person on the team but you have to hold your own. For example when forecasting it might not always meet the number you forecasted but it’s all about owning it and recognising it and then learning from it.
Have you ever experienced feelings of imposter syndrome as a leader? What are your strategies to overcome it?
I don’t think this is necessarily a female thing, I think everyone experiences it. I personally like to flip it. I remember that I am 28 and going into a meeting with a CEO of a ASX listed company and they need to listen to what I have to say. Of course I get nervous and I am absolutely always over prepared but always remember you are there because they need you and your solution. Understanding their gaps and their needs and then providing the right solution is always going to be powerful.
You should never have to feel like an imposter if you are prepared and believe in what you are doing. I back Darktrace 100% which means I’m selling something I believe in. I think anyone who says they don’t have imposter syndrome is lying but you just have to remember to flip it, they are there to listen to what you have to say and don’t let anyone feel like what you have to say isn’t important.
Darktrace has an incredibly high ratio of female leaders, how do you think this has impacted the organisation as a whole?
I think females have a very different way of selling. I know women the majority of the time sell off relationships and that translates because people buy from people and this is such an advantage for females to use. I can honestly say hand on heart that all the males I have worked with here at Darktrace are all really supportive of women in sales. Our CEO is a female and 60-70% of our C-Suite are female and it really shows we are a progressive company.
We also don’t just hire women for the sake of a number – they wouldn’t be in these roles if that was the case. I think it is really empowering to work really closely with all the females on my team as well as the males on my team. I think it’s fantastic that they have all been hired off merit, it’s fantastic to have 40% of the company as females but everyone is here on merit.
It just shows back to your question about the myths, that there are so many amazing women in the industry and more women should join the growing space.