Office Hours: I run a leadership program for women and was previously at PayPal & Intercom. I’m the CEO & Founder of Ascend. I’m Shivani Berry.Featured

Hi everyone! I am Shivani Berry, CEO and Founder of Ascend, which offers online leadership programs to help women advance into leadership. Our participants from companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Box gain confidence, consistently get buy-in from stakeholders, and grow in their careers. www.weascend.coPrior to founding Ascend, I was a product leader with experience in go-to-market and finance at PayPal, Intercom, GetYourGuide, and Credit Suisse. I have a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and MBA from Harvard Business School. I learned critical leadership skills by making a lot of mistakes. As I developed these skills, I felt more confident, accelerated my career growth, and made an impact, not just on my teams, but also on executives and boards of directors.I wanted to create the leadership program that I wish I had access to when I was transitioning to leadership. I quit my job in tech to found Ascend so I can help elevate more women into leadership.I’m from San Francisco but recently lived in Berlin so the European weekend getaways were amazing.Ask me about leadership, working with dominant personalities, imposter syndrome, how introverts can get their ideas heard at work, getting buy-in, creating systems for accountability, the founder journey, and anything else!
Thanks so much for joining us @shivaniberry!Elphas – please ask @shivaniberry your questions before Friday, October 16th. @shivaniberry may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
What is the most practical way for someone who has always been an individual contributor to learn leadership skills to prepare them to be considered for a managerial/leadership position. what's the best route for me to learn those skills if I am not yet in that leader /manager role yet?
Hi Iman, It's great that you’re proactively thinking about preparing for leadership. I recommend that you start taking on informal leadership roles within your team / company. For example, lead certain team meetings or own a part of a project. You can also consider taking on a leadership position for an employee resource group at your company to practice your leadership skills. Share your career goals with your manager and develop a plan with them to take on additional responsibilities at work. I also recommend participating in professional development opportunities where you can develop the skills you need to succeed. For example, in Ascend’s leadership program, several of our members are individual contributors who want to proactively develop the skills to lead and influence so they can hit the ground running as they move into a leadership role. You can learn more here: www.weascend.coGood luck developing preparing for a leadership role!
@shivaniberry this is phenomenal! I am very interested in what you are building - would love to support if there is any opportunity to do so.
Hi Tillie, thank you for your kind message and offer! I really appreciate it. I'll DM you
Hi again, looks like your profile doesn't accept DMs. Are you able to DM me? Look forward to connecting!
Hi Shivani,Thank you so much for offering your time!I wonder what behaviours you’ve seen and advised to stop doing that signal to leadership that a person is not ready to move to the next level? Some that I noticed: getting defensive about a problem, jumping into conclusions on the spot, giving a direct answer to a question without making sure what really bothers an asker, saying NO w/o providing context first. What else?Thanks!
Hi Julia, Thanks for your question. You highlighted some important behaviors to avoid. Couple others I’d add are lack of self-awareness and not exhibiting the skills required to get to the next level - you want to start demonstrating your ability to take on the responsibilities required for the next level before you get promoted.
Thank you Shivani! My high-net venture investor replaced the previous venture ceo (who had been her co-angel until they split up) with another ceo two months ago. The previous angels along with two other board members (son of high-net angel and friend of previous ceo) had hired me as cto in 2018 for one of their entities which I advanced, then verbally agreed in June 2019 to make me ceo of another startup as I could then bring in government money. Since that date I’ve been ceo on all documents with all stakeholders and was recently awarded $1.6 mm. I emailed the board that I would need an updated employment agreement to move forward with the government contract to which the new ceo said he would finalize with my input. Today the new ceo refused to tell me the salary and equity he’s going to the board with (now only high-net Angel and her son) but did manage to say that I’m only the cto not the ceo. I’m not ok with this. I’ve brought in many stakeholders to support this entity with me as ceo. If I can’t get the current board to keep me as ceo I don’t feel comfortable I’m going to get them to comply with the government and support my success. I need to stay in dialogue even if this new guy has taken over the narrative, but how and on what terms. Any insights, frameworks or questions I should be asking myself and others would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
HI @shivaniberry!Thanks for doing this!A couple of questions:1) What are the main qualities that you have seen in successful leaders? Any suggestions on how to cultivate those qualities?2) When you were creating the leadership program, how did you validate that access to leadership training was a problem and how did you decide what content to include in the program? Essentially, what were the early stages of the founder journey like?Thanks for all your help!
Great questions! Q1: A couple traits for successful leaders include: - Trustworthy: This one is self-explanatory. Couple things to keep in mind to maintain trustworthiness is to always explain the rationale for decisions, and as much as possible, be transparent about how decisions are made.- Empowers team: As the leader, you should set a direction and ensure that your team understands and is supportive of the goals. Then I recommend you create the space and autonomy for the team to execute and are available if the team runs into roadblocks. One way to create space is by ensuring that your team has the appropriate resources to be successful.- Invested in team’s success: Support your team members’ career development by understanding how they want to grow and create a plan to help them get there. Create an inclusive and supportive work environment where people feel valued and are comfortable speaking up and making mistakes.If you want to dive deeper, I recommend checking out Google’s Project Oxygen study on the traits of great managers. In addition, a big focus in Ascend’s leadership program is creating your personal brand as a leader. This includes reflecting what leadership traits you want to exhibit, identifying specific actions you can take to embody these traits, and creating accountability systems to ensure you start building habits to exhibit these traits. You can learn more about the program here: www.weascend.coQ2:A recent study by McKinsey and LeanIn found that the biggest obstacle to women’s progress to reach top levels of leadership is not the glass ceiling. A “broken rung” at the first step up to a manager role is actually the biggest obstacle that women face on the path to leadership. At a manager level, 72 women are promoted and hired per 100 men. This results in fewer women in the pipeline at every subsequent management level. The study highlights that leadership training is one important solution to help solve the “broken rung” problem and to proactively prepare women to successfully transition into leadership roles.I set out to create a leadership program that would help elevate more women into leadership. The program is designed by experts and lots of user feedback and iterations. We take a customer-first approach and focus on having our members gain confidence, have their ideas valued, and perform better. I’m always chatting with our members and looking out for signals on how to make the program even better.The leadership program teaches women the skills and actionable frameworks to lead and influence - crucial topics like getting buy-in are rarely taught. The 6-week program is curated by Harvard Business School coaches, industry experts, and senior leaders at top-tier companies. The program designers -- including myself -- have been in similar situations as our members, and we have built the program to equip women with the skills and strategies required to successfully navigate real challenges they’re facing.
Thank you Shivani!How do you show your value at work when you're surrounded by dominant personalities, especially when it seems like your manager and other execs have and favor dominant personalities?
Hi Padmini, great question. This situation sounds very frustrating, sorry to hear. Dominant personalities and showcasing your value at work are two popular topics in Ascend’s leadership program. Here are some actions we practice in the program that also apply for your question:1. Win their respect: Understand what your manager / execs care about and consider how they can look good / achieve their goals on the projects you’re working on with them. In addition, tailor your communication style to what resonates with them (while still being authentic to yourself). For example, if an exec heavily cares about the data, come prepared to show that before they ask for it. 2. Understand context: Understand why they favor the dominant personalities. You can achieve this by asking questions about why they’re supporting the recommendation from your colleague vs. other recommendations. This context will help you understand motivations and hopefully provide helpful info for how to navigate the situation. Talk to trusted peers to see what’s worked well for them3. Leverage allies: Have colleagues advocate for you and your work. For example, in a meeting have a co-worker acknowledge your idea and share why they think it’s a great idea. This can help build your credibility. 4. Give feedback: While giving feedback is uncomfortable, it can sometimes be unavoidable if you’ve tried the above. I recommend starting with your manager or a person who you think will be more receptive to the feedback. Come from a place of curiosity and good intentions. Focus on what you and they can do to build a stronger relationship and steps to take to have your ideas valued. I don’t recommend focusing on why they’re favoring the other person over you (unless you have solid data on this) because this will make the person feel attacked and they’ll probably get defensive.
Hi @shivaniberry thanks for sharing your insight with the Elpha community! I'm in the space of supporting women in technology and see so many organizations doing the same. Women in leadership is a similar game and I wonder how you make Ascend stand out from the crowd? Is there something unique that you add to Ascend that can't be replicated by other organizations for women in leadership?
Hi Kylie, That's great you're also supporting women in technology - love it.There are many things about Ascend that differentiate it including the community and the program design. Our hand-selected community members are high-caliber and low-ego. It’s a space for like-minded women who are equally committed to growing and supporting each other. Majority of our new members are referred by alums. Even after completing the program, members still keep in touch and continue to support each other which they find to be a very rare and special opportunity. The people are my favorite part of Ascend. You can read about members' experiences here: www.weascend.coThe 6-week program is curated by Harvard Business School coaches, industry experts, and senior leaders at top-tier companies. The program designers -- including myself -- have been in similar situations as our members, and we have built the program to equip women with the skills and strategies required to successfully navigate real challenges they’re facing.
Hey @shivaniberry thanks for answering my question and sharing so openly about Ascend. I like your approach of using a highly curated and credible network of champions. You response has me thinking about what differentiates Chic Geek and our approach to supporting women in tech. This is something I need to figure out!
Hi Shivani, In regards to your founder journey, how did you approach getting your first few beta or paid customers for your early cohorts?