Interview with Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix

She declares herself a badass, and we can’t disagree. She wears her woman-hat proudly—but she also drops football analogies into the conversation, unabashedly adores rockets, and speaks her mind without hesitation. Meet the new CIO at Nutanix.

Wendy will be speaking at Girls in Tech Catalyst, June 20-22 in San Francisco. Join us so you can see her live!

Wendy Pfeiffer blogYou’re an active writer on LinkedIn. Do you love to write?

I love to write, and I’ve been a writer my whole life. I became active on LinkedIn when I was still with GoPro. On Thursday afternoons, they gave us time to do the things that interested us. So, I went off and did a lot of things… I was breaking my neck trying to skateboard, drowning while trying to surf. But I realized, I love to write, so why not that? I write to blow off steam. It’s a nice release.

You’ve spoken about mom guilt in the past. What do you want to tell the young moms of today?

As moms, we need to learn how to create authentic separation between our personal and professional selves. As females, as moms, as professionals, we need to figure out our most authentic self. You can’t pretend you are not a wife, a female, a mom. It’s a continuum from one role to the other. Be your authentic self. If you fake it, people will know. You can’t be inhuman.

You’ve said, “I don’t lead like a boy. I lead like a girl.” Expand on this.

I am female. I am a mom. Before those things, I was a girl at heart. I like it when men open doors for me. I like being feminine. But I’m also a badass. I’m a heavy lifter [I lift heavy weights]. I have an aggressive personality. I lead large teams. I have the ability to be uniquely multifaceted. As a woman, I can walk into a meeting, ask colleagues about their families, bring cookies that I made, and still tell people that if they are not meeting my expectations. It’s leading with an iron fist in a velvet glove. And this is very unique to women, it’s something that is natural to women. It’s a unique advantage that we have as females, if we’re not afraid to show it.

You seem very comfortable with who you are. What did it take to get there?

I don’t know if I’ve always had this. All of us are managed by emotions. I’ve been motivated by fear and anger, the most powerful fuel. Growing up, I remember I never wanted to be dependent on a man. My Dad worked, my mom stayed at home. I knew, even at age 6, 7, 8, that lifestyle wasn’t for me. Fear caused me to work especially hard, to leave no stone unturned.

As I got older, I saw the gender inequality. The differences between men and women, between people of different ethnicities, of different geographies—it all felt so unfair. This developed into anger, and I feel it deep in my soul. If two people do the same work, they should receive the same reward. I wanted to test the upper limits of this, I wanted to know, how far do I have to go? And this feeling, it’s never ended. My underlying anger fuels me.

How would you describe the way you manage?

Manage or lead? Those are two different skillsets. As for managing, I truly believe that the thing that drives me most is empathy. [My team’s] gain is my gain; their loss is my loss. I want to help them become masters of their own destiny. Tech people can struggle with how to manage business, social skills, humility; sometimes they are not as socially aware. I want them to become self-actualized in their roles.

Leadership is less personal. People view me from far off. I may not know who is affected by how I behave, but I do know that people are watching. A lot of women and girls of every age think they may want to be like me one day. With that comes a lot of responsibility.

You loved rockets growing up as well as shoes. How was your love of science and tech stuff fostered by your family or environment?

It was sheer chance. Boys may be interested in a spectrum of things that includes some “girl stuff” and girls may be interested in a spectrum of things that including “boy things.” Every child starts with natural, mutual interest on things across the spectrum. Also, I never wanted to do what I was told to do. If I was told to wear tutus, I wanted baseballs.

As my own kids get older, there are social subtleties. But my kids are just interested in things they like. I think a girl and a boy can both appreciate rockets, launching them into the air and creating a big bang. Who doesn’t appreciate that?

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