Lessons from 12 Women in Startup Leadership Roles

Valuable lessons in leadership from the women leading the companies hiring on Elpha.

As we reflect on the women who came before us, the women who represent us today, and the women who will come after us, there’s one quote that has been on a lot of our minds here at Elpha, especially during Women’s History Month. 💜

"You can't be what you can't see." - Marian Wright Edelman

Giving visibility to women in leadership roles can inspire other women to become leaders themselves. According to our 2021 report on top workplaces for women, seeing women in positions of power drives a culture of empowerment and mentorship for women employees.

This form of representation creates an environment where women feel they can voice their opinions freely, and where they feel valued and respected by peers and managers, and it creates a culture that encourages male allyship within the company.

We’re proud to work with companies that help women succeed at work. Here are some valuable lessons from 12 women in leadership roles at companies hiring on Elpha. ✨

Women's lens on leadership

Every leader has their own style of making decisions, managing team dynamics, and communicating their vision. We asked Elphas to share their thoughts on what leadership means to them.

1. Roxanne Petraeus , CEO at Ethena

“Great leaders care about those they have the privilege of leading. They think a lot about what their followers need, and they work hard to give them that. That’s not the same as wanting to be liked – being a great leader is more like being a great parent. It’s caring enough to say the hard thing or watch someone fail.

In doing something physically scary like jumping out of a plane or deploying to war, I also got to physically observe great leaders. The best ones projected calm especially when things got scary. Flailing your arms or raising your voice rarely helps the situation. But a funny joke when things seem dark can really help keep everyone’s spirits up.”

About Ethena: We’re a compliance learning platform built for today’s teams. Our software breaks down topics like harassment prevention training into digestible monthly doses delivered throughout the year.

Now hiring: 12 open roles

Request an intro to Ethena →

2. Vrinda Gupta , co-founder & CEO at Sequin

“As a founder, I’m working to step into the fact that there is not only a different way to lead that is successful, but in many ways a more effective way to lead. I’m starting to feel confident that some of these hetero-normatively feminine ways that I’ve chosen to lead my company, build my product, and co-design it alongside our community, are actually a strength even though they are different.”

About Sequin: We’re a fintech company working to revolutionize women’s finances, beginning with a first-of-its-kind debit card that builds credit, with rewards where women spend, and community-based education. 

Now hiring: 1 open role

Request an intro to Sequin →

3. Mariah Driver , Head of DEI at Webflow

 "Trust is earned through humility and not through perfection. The leaders who have the highest levels of trust and psychological safety on their teams aren’t the ones who have all of the answers — they’re the ones who are courageous enough to not have the answers, to make and acknowledge mistakes, and engage authentically across difference.

Humility is especially crucial for inclusive leadership, which requires an ability to be vulnerable and acknowledge that you have gaps in your knowledge and to continuously invite your team to provide feedback on how you can improve."

About Webflow: Our mission is to empower everyone to build software without code. Less than 1% of people know how to code, and we believe there is a huge potential to change economies by allowing more people to partake in this valuable process.

Now hiring: 62 open roles

Request an intro to Webflow →

4. Teresa Man , Lead Designer at Superhuman

“Effective leadership can lead to positive growth for an individual, conversely toxic leadership can really pervade one’s career and impact their mindsets, behaviors and attitudes towards themselves and their job for many years. It’s therefore very important to develop healthy relationships with those you manage and to bake in constant feedback cycles (for yourself as a leader) to ensure you are constantly  

1) checking in on how you’re showing up as a leader, and 2) creating a safe space for others to share their thoughts with you.”

About Superhuman: We are building the fastest email experience in the world. Our customers fly through their inbox twice as fast as before – more than half hit Inbox Zero within 4 hours. ⚡️

Now hiring: 12 open roles

Request an intro to Superhuman →

5. Ellen Jantsch , Founder and Growth Marketer at Tuff

“For me, it comes down to choosing the positive and intentionally approaching opportunities and problem solving with fierce optimism. I’ve found that as a leader, the more positive and constructive I am, the better I am at everything. I’m better with my teammates, I’m better with our partners, I’m better at my job, and I’m better with myself.”

About Tuff: We’re your growth marketing team for quick wins and long-term growth. No mysterious secret sauce. 

Now hiring: 2 open roles

Request an intro to Tuff →

6. Emily Young , Head of Credit and Fraud at Nearside  

“I’ve found that the best leadership style is one that focuses on adaptability. Good leadership is one that is dynamic - it changes based on the situation. My leadership style is one that encompasses many different styles - motivational, empathetic, delegatory, democratic, transactional, and more. However, the thing that never changes is my focus on guiding my team towards success by empowering them and presenting equal opportunities for everyone in my organization.” 🙌

About Nearside: We are building financial products that empower business owners and enable them to focus on their products and on growing their businesses.

Now hiring: 20 open roles

Request an intro to Nearside →

Thinking about the “big picture”

Apart from leadership styles, being a leader is also about having a vision. Making that step from being an individual contributor to a leadership role can be challenging. Here’s what Elphas had to say about building strategies and leading with a vision. 👇

7. Liz Meyerdirk, CEO at The Pill Club

"First and foremost, I try to simplify things — in life, with kids, and in business. Simplifying seemingly-complex business topics not only forces you to think critically about the building blocks but also makes “strategy” or “business” less scary sounding. I often go to first principles and ask: "What problem are we solving in the world?" And then, “What unique customer insight do we have that allows us to solve this problem better than anyone else?” 

About The Pill Club: Our mission is to be the most trusted health care partner for women, empowering our members through greater access, choice, and education about their options – all while delivering a positive and personal experience.

Now hiring: 18 open roles

Request an intro to The Pill Club →

8. Shruthi Murthy , Head of Engineering at Modern Treasury

“Do not be afraid to take a stance. Startups by their very nature follow new and unforeseen trajectories. There are numerous situations where there are no good patterns to follow and no precedents to fall back on to make decisions. You may rely on data somewhat but being a disruptor many times means there is no good data either. You are thrust into thinking from first principles and developing a keen sense of intuition. Meanwhile, decisions need to be made and the team needs to make progress.  

Sometimes you may end up placing the wrong bets, but you will be fine as long as you persevere to learn, fail fast, make tough calls, and course-correct.” 🚀

About Modern Treasury: We are building payments infrastructure to power $750 trillion in bank transfers every year.

Now hiring: 29 open roles

Request intro to Modern Treasury →

Creating a workplace culture where women can succeed

A huge part of seeing women succeed at work is creating policies that make them feel supported as they advance in their careers. 

9. Nicole Misek , VP of Decision Engineering at Nextmv

“The stability at home paired with the amount of thought my company, Nextmv , puts into creating a culture where employees can feel supported when growing and caring for their families, gave me so much peace of mind. 

I had 14 weeks of paid leave, gradual ramp-up time at the end of my leave, flexible work hours, the #kids Slack channel, and a 100% remote office which allowed for nursing/bonding time with Owen. Our PeopleOps is constantly finding ways to evolve our benefits, so I knew I was in good hands and supported in my return to work. 

Additionally, I felt welcome and needed at my company. Instead of feeling forgotten while on leave for 14 weeks, I was promoted to VP of Decision Engineering .” 💁🏻‍♀️

About Nextmv: We’re changing the way companies make decisions. Where data science answers what's going on, Nextmv's decision stack tells you what to do about it.

Now hiring: 1 open role

👉 Here are 26 companies with 12+ weeks of paid maternity leave

10. Marissa Fong , Head of Product, Money at Teachable

 “Firstly, workplaces need to provide flexible career paths (e.g. job mobility and promotion opportunities that include lateral rotations and roles that may be more flexible at certain points in life). Secondly, workplaces need to have different types of leadership roles - from individual contributors to hybrid and remote roles. Lastly, workplaces need to incentivize and encourage mentorship and sponsorship.

About Teachable: We’re powering the world with shared knowledge through online courses and coaching. 

Now hiring: 18 open roles

Request intro to Teachable →

Celebrating their achievements at work

Behind every great leader is a great team. Elphas share some of their proudest wins while working with their teams.

11. Cat Perez , co-founder and Chief Product Officer at HealthSherpa

“The impact we've made, without a doubt! We've helped over 9 million low-income people enroll in subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.” 🏥

About HealthSherpa: We are a profitable and fast-growing healthcare startup – a small and mighty team of 60+, helping people to find, enroll in, and use ACA health coverage. 

Now hiring: 14 open roles

Request intro to HealthSherpa →

12. Claire Vo , Chief Product Officer at Color

“Scaling our team in a way that I’m proud of – culturally, operationally, and technically. 

When I joined Color a little over a year ago, the technology side of the house was around 35 people, and now we’re well on our way to 200. I also now run our full technical operation across Product, Eng, Design, and Data, which is a big remit! Scaling this much across so many teams required recruiting great leaders, and amazing ICs, as well as putting operational practices in place to successfully onboard and develop all this great talent. When you grow this fast, it’s also important to take care of the culture and ensure we’re honoring our company values.

I’ve put care into building a low-ego, scrappy, fun team that enjoys working together.”

About Color: We are building and delivering technology-enabled healthcare to millions of people. This includes testing and telehealth services for preventive health and infectious disease management.

Now hiring: 76 open roles

Request intro to Color →

To close this off, we’d like to share some thoughts from Teresa , who also leads Community here at Elpha:

“Advocate for each other both privately and publicly — if you see other women doing great work, share your appreciation with them one-on-one, it goes a long way for one to receive a personal message that recognizes their efforts! And, when possible, champion each other in public forums (company Slack, emails, etc.). The more visibility we bring forth to each others’ work, the more we encourage peer sponsorships within the workplace.” ✨

👀 All these companies with women in leadership roles recruit directly from the Elpha Talent Pool. Add your name to be matched with openings that fit your skills and values.

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