“Chunk it!”  

If you take nothing else away from Stela’s incredible story, take that phrase. (But we have a feeling you’ll have plenty more to take away by the time you’re done reading.) 

“Chunk it!” is a strategy Stela learned early in life that has helped her “immensely.” She discovered that if she tries to figure out everything in the foreseeable, and even more distant, future, she’ll get overwhelmed, and “the world starts looking like a scary place.” Stela learned to identify a goal or dream and break it into immediate, digestible chunks. She says, “Focus on the first chunk and do the best you can, assess how you’re doing, adjust the next chunk as needed, and move forward.” 

We should all heed Stela’s advice. She “chunked” her way through a B.A. in English, a move to the United States from her native Bulgaria, a fellowship in Literature and Psychology, a Master’s in English Literature, a Ph.D. in English Literature with a focus on psychology, and an incredible tenure at Corel/Alludo of almost 27 years and counting, with an impressive record of impact. 

Bridging the gap between tech and academics 

At first glance, the tech world might seem incompatible with Stela’s stellar academic background. And yet, it makes perfect sense. Stela started as a woman in tech at what was then known as Corel. She began her career as a technical writer while still pursuing her Ph.D. She crafted content for Help systems and manuals, created templates, authored marketing documentation, and worked on localized documentation and training materials, among other tasks.  

Stela had to test products to write effective documentation, so she learned the products well. She also learned about product design and user experience, which coalesced perfectly with her interest in psychology. She started thinking “a lot” about UI/UX and focused her attention on elements of design and user experience that could be improved. 

She made more than a few suggestions that were implemented, and she loved that element of her job. This excitement motivated her to keep learning. As a woman in tech, she’s still improving product design and user experience at Alludo—and still learning. 

“I have managed design teams for 17 years. I took design courses, went to conferences, and learn every day from the talented team I work with. Through User Assistance, I am still rooted in creating learning materials for our customers, and I currently work with two amazing professionals. I love my job and am happy that my journey took me to where I am today.” 

Stela and her team serve as user advocates who understand users’ unique pain points and needs, workflows and businesses, and interactions and aspirations. They design and enhance features, create customized experiences, and produce learning materials—all while balancing Alludo’s legacy with leading-edge innovation. 

A community of strength and support  

Through many promotions and successes, Stela keeps “chunking it.” She reminds young women fresh out of school to “Keep an open mind” and “not assume that they need to make all the big decisions for the rest of their lives.” She encourages young women in tech to dream big, explore opportunities, and always surround themselves with supportive people who lift them up. 

Stela is quick to name the people who have elevated her throughout her career. She heaps praise on her team, on mentors, and on her mother, who relocated from Bulgaria to help her care for her children when they were young. Now that Stela’s children are grown and she has achieved significant success in her career, she’s eager to pay it forward. Today, she is heavily involved in community work in addition to her job and actively seeks opportunities to mentor others. “I have been a mentor to quite a few women already, and this has been a very rewarding experience. If anyone is interested in approaching me, I will be honored.”  

As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month, Stela says, “There is no field in which women cannot be successful if we stay strong and persevere. “My hope is to build a strong community of women supporting each other, and I see myself contributing to this vision as a mentor and advocate.” 

By the way, if you’re inspired to “chunk it,” you might also enjoy Stela’s list of principles that have helped her personally and professionally. Here they are, in her words: 

Be strong but be humble. 

Work hard and persevere. 

Work on your emotional intelligence and situational awareness.  

Don’t compare yourself to others, just to the best version of the person you could become.  

Don’t be afraid of change and embrace new opportunities.  

Be empathetic and a good human.  

Joanne’s journey into the tech industry, more than 30 years ago, was anything but conventional. After graduating with a Business Degree, she embarked on a soul-searching adventure through Southeast Asia. Returning home, she found herself at a crossroads, unsure of her career path. A chance recommendation from a friend led her to a technical data center position at Transport Canada, despite her limited computer experience.

Taking a chance on tech

“When I joined Transport Canada, the only computer experience I had was with a DOS-based computer and WordPerfect,” Joanne recalls. “I didn’t know anything about Windows, UNIX, CAD, or GIS systems, which is what the job entailed.”

But Joanne’s friend saw potential in her, citing her management science degree as a solid foundation for learning the ropes. It was a sink-or-swim situation. No one was available to train Joanne for the highly technical role, which tasked Joanne with troubleshooting complex workspaces and working with cutting-edge technology featuring unfamiliar software and hardware tools. “I had to rely on myself to figure out and overcome each problem I encountered,” she reflects.

Joanne sought out available resources and not only survived in the role but thrived in it. She mastered the tech surrounding her—and got her first taste of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, which was a fortuitous introduction. She and her team had a high-profile project that involved taking maps from Transport Canada’s CAD/GIS systems and importing them into CorelDRAW, where a large format poster would be printed to represent the size and scale of every airport in Canada.

Leading and inspiring others

Her time at Transport Canada laid the groundwork for the rest of her career as a woman in tech. She joined Alludo when it was still known as Corel and flourished in various roles, ultimately landing as Lead Program Manager.

“In my current position, I wear many hats,” Joanne explains. “I work closely with cross-functional teams, from project management to product development, ensuring we’re all aligned towards our goals.” Joanne is a Scrum Master and versed in Agile and iterative development, and is a long way from her earliest days of being thrown into the deep end of the tech pool. She’s sailing through it now as a woman in tech, leading and inspiring others along the way.

An advocate for women in tech

It’s not lost on Joanne that she has achieved success in a traditionally male-dominated field. Being a woman in tech has posed a number of challenges, particularly during pivotal life moments such as starting a family. “There weren’t a lot of my peers or team members who were starting a family,” she shares. “I became very efficient with how I spent my time.”

Joanne’s journey has inspired her to advocate for other women in the tech industry. “When I encounter someone who is considering a job in this field, I tell them to jump in and to not be afraid to take a chance,” she says. “I have helped many newcomers to high tech make introductions with hiring managers.” And if anyone feels intimidated by a steep learning curve, Joanne can relate firsthand and encourage others with her history of resourcefulness and tenacity.

Finding work-life balance

Despite her demanding role, Joanne prioritizes work-life balance, carving out time for outdoor activities like walking her dogs and paddleboarding. “Being a Program Manager means that I am acutely aware of time,” she admits. “But getting out into nature every day seems to have a calming effect for me.”

With almost three decades at our company, Joanne’s story is a fantastic reminder of the talent, skill, resilience, and determination of women in the tech industry. As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we’re honored to spotlight Joanne as one of the women who makes Alludo shine. We’re proud to have an exceptional ratio of women working at Alludo compared to our peer organizations, particularly in leadership positions*. For us, every day is International Women’s Day—and we have people like Joanne to thank for that.

* We are extremely proud to report that we are above industry standard for the percentage of women in our workforce: Nearly one-third (31%) of our workforce is comprised of women, and we have a particularly strong—and rare—representation at the leadership level. Our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, and Chief Legal Officer are all women; our operations committee, which consists of our most senior leaders, includes a 32% representation of women; and 33% of our people managers are women, highlighting the efforts we make to ensure equal opportunities and empowerment across all levels of the organization.

Some people recognize the need for change. 

Some people talk about the need for change. 

And some people create change. 

Leyla D. Seka is that last type of person. I’ve known Leyla for years, and time and time again, this founder and executive has put her actions where her values are. She operates with the type of personal and professional ‘haiku’ that demands she step up when something’s misaligned. In a world where ‘groupthink’ dominates decision making, Leyla knows the power of going against the flow. 

Management by haiku is a concept I developed to inspire leaders to focus on their core priorities in order to expedite decision-making; stay on track; be intentional; and go further, faster. It is all about clarity and focus— two of the most transformative forces you can unleash in an organization. And the key to unlocking them? Take a lesson from Leyla and challenge groupthink everywhere it rears its head. 

Leyla Seka is one of the most experienced operators in tech today, and frankly, her achievements are inspiring. Much of her success comes from her personal commitment to the power of diversity—something too often overlooked in Silicon Valley circles even though research consistently shows that diverse teams perform better.  

Leyla kicked off her post-college life by joining the Peace Corps, spending two years in Mali, Africa. There she saw firsthand how the power of diversity is antithetical to groupthink. It avoids that fatal trap of eliminating challenges and dismissing individual creativity and contributions. Diversity of thought, perspective, background, and identity—it’s all essential if you want to break out of ruts and innovate. A few years later, those lessons would become foundational to her tech career. 

A longtime Salesforce executive, Leyla was one of the most senior women in the company’s history, serving as GM of multiple business units, including mobile and AppExchange—but she wasn’t interested in being alone at the top. She not only advocated for more women in leadership, she also started and led Salesforce’s ambitious $8.7 million effort to close the gender pay gap, a huge initiative which rippled throughout the tech and business sectors. 

And she was just getting started. 

Leyla is fiercely committed to increasing diversity in venture capital, and once again, she’s not just a vocal advocate; she’s actively creating change. She helped launch and build Operator Collective, a venture capital fund focused on encouraging female operating executives to invest. Upon doing that she realized even fewer Black executives were engaging in the Venture Capital ecosystem. “Fewer than 3% of VC funds employ Black or minority professionals, and only 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder,” Leyla says. She cites Morgan Stanley’s assertion that this systemic exclusion “leaves a trillion-dollar opportunity on the table.” 

Leyla says that realization ignited something in her. In response, she co-founded Black Venture Institute (BVI), an organization created to educate Black executives on venture and angel investing. To date, BVI has graduated more than 250 fellows, many of whom are actively investing and working in Venture Capital today. 

Leyla has also sat on the Board of Girls Who Code for five years. “I firmly believe that change has to be systematic and it has to begin early. We’re taught from a young age who and what we’re supposed to be, so changing that requires real commitment. I don’t want to leave the world the way I found it; I want to leave it better.”  

Why groupthink is dangerous, and how diversity can help 

When asked to share her thoughts on groupthink, Leyla’s reply is decisive and, as expected, clear. “Too often in my career I’ve watched people make poor decisions because no one wanted to give the hard truths. Speaking up is hard; speaking out is harder. Over time I’ve learned to do both. At moments it has hurt me, but more often than not, it has differentiated me from the pack and given me opportunities to do some truly remarkable things.”  

It’s not lost on me that managing by haiku and using groupthink ostensibly try to accomplish the same task: making expedient decisions. But it’s important to never conflate one with the other. When you manage by haiku, you welcome new ideas and challenges. You need new perspectives. When you get new information that makes your haiku better, you adjust accordingly. As Leyla states, the power of diversity supercharges this process.  

Managing by haiku means saying, “Talk to me about how your idea supports our focus.” 

Managing by groupthink means saying, “That’s not how we do things here.” 

Advocacy, allyship, diversity, questioning, challenging—these aren’t threats to focus and clarity. They’re invaluable reinforcements, making your haiku stronger and more actionable. After all, successful leadership isn’t just about making decisions efficiently. It’s about making the right decisions efficiently, based on the right questions. 

If no one ever challenges your ideas and decisions, are you really making the right decisions? Or are you just surrounded by groupthink and plunging ahead, regardless of who it impacts and the superior solutions that were left unexplored, or worse, unspoken? (Spoiler: It’s probably the latter.) 

On that note, I’ll leave you with a haiku. 

Without obstacles, 
Momentum rolls fast… 
But it rolls downhill. 

In a recent podcast interview with Paddle.com, we discussed a topic that I’m personally very passionate about — shaping effective and ethical leadership within companies and organizations. 

While chatter about ethics may seem like a buzzword that corporate folks love to throw around, in actuality it’s always been a critical, core ingredient for building a sustainable, winning business that stands the test of time. 

Your leaders are like the captain and compass of your ship. They set the company’s culture, guide decision-making, and provide a roadmap to achieving those long-term goals. Get the right people with the right compass in leadership roles, and you’ve got yourself a thriving, innovation-driven environment that hits those financial targets and supports ethical practices.  

Unleashing innovation 

Think of your company culture like a garden. And in this garden, innovation is a prized flower. Now, you can’t just hope for occasional blooming, right? You need to foster an environment where employees consistently challenge the status quo, and where risk-taking is valued and failure is a lesson, not a defeat. How? By championing cross-departmental collaboration and creating an open forum for ideas – this is how we tap into that beautiful power of collective intelligence. 

Balancing act with financial targets 

But innovation can’t happen if you’re ignoring the financial health of your business. Leaders must show how innovation initiatives link back to business objectives and financial wellness. Maybe it’s about creating financial models that prefer long-term gains over quick, short-term profits, or investing in technologies that boost operational efficiency. Have you heard about balanced scorecards? They’re handy tools to measure performance across a variety of metrics, not just financial ones. 

Fostering open dialogue 

Remember, great leadership isn’t about being the only voice in the room or making all decisions single-handedly. Leaders should welcome feedback and opinions from all employees, no matter their role. Why not try regular town halls, open-door policies, or even anonymous feedback channels? When your team feels heard and valued, they are more likely to stay engaged, be productive, and show loyalty to your company. 

Championing diversity 

A diverse leadership team is like a Swiss Army knife – full of different tools and perspectives, ready to tackle any challenge that comes its way. This means hiring leaders from various backgrounds, industries, and disciplines, as well as promoting those hardworking internal candidates who’ve seen the ins and outs of different departments. Embracing diversity also means ensuring that every person at the table has a voice and is empowered to share their full self in the workplace. Diversity not only fuels creativity and innovation, but it also delivers bottom line results.  

Power to ethical individuals 

Finally, I can’t overstate the importance of ethics. It’s vital to make leadership roles enticing and reachable for individuals who show high ethical standards. How about redesigning recruitment and promotion processes to focus on ethical conduct? Or setting up mentoring programs to nurture ethical leaders from within your company? And don’t forget those clear codes of conduct that set the standards of behavior. Ultimately, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is to make sure you reward and recognize ethical behavior and decision-making within your organization. And be sure to hold leaders accountable for their actions. 

Ready to take your business to the next level? Let’s do this! 

This content originally appeared on Paddle.com. Listen to the full version of my Protect the Hustle podcast. 

Did you know that up to 20% of the global population is neurodivergent? That means they perceive and interact with the world differently than the neurotypical majority, and have one or more neurological differences that may include ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and others. 

While many of these individuals face challenges when it comes to things like social interaction and organization, these obstacles are outweighed by the incredible strengths they bring to the table. When given the space and psychological safety to thrive, neurodivergent people can significantly enrich an organization’s capacity for innovation and problem solving and can help challenge the status quo. 

Based on feedback from a recent global survey of nearly 1,000 neurodivergent individuals, let’s explore the top five strengths of neurodivergent employees and how these strengths can help your business go further, faster: 

1. Creative, flexible, and outside-the-box thinking   

Neurodivergent employees are masters of creative and unconventional thinking. They excel at approaching problems from new perspectives and coming up with innovative solutions. As more conventional work becomes automated with the use of AI, the ability to innovate, think outside the box, and approach problems with entirely different frameworks will become significantly more valuable. 

2. Strong observational skills and attention to detail   

Leveraging their photographic memories, neurodivergent employees possess a remarkable ability to pay attention to the smallest of details. Their self-proclaimed perfectionism drives them to spot the smallest details that others might miss. This ability makes them particularly valuable in roles where accuracy is critical.  

3. Ability to stay focused for long periods of time   

Neurodivergent employees have an impressive capacity to maintain focus for long periods. Their hyperfocus and determination also means that they rarely give up on difficult tasks.  

4. Excellent ability to recognize patterns   

Neurodivergent employees have excellent pattern recognition skills. Their ability for spotting patterns and trends enhances operational processes and improves efficiency across various tasks. This strength proves particularly beneficial in roles that involve customer service and analytics.  

5. Excellent math skills   

Neurodivergent individuals often exhibit extraordinary math and logical reasoning skills.  According to Harvard Business Review’s Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage, neurodivergent individuals possess a unique ability to understand complex mathematics, identify obscure patterns in data, and memorize intricate details that others might miss. 

It’s time for the global workforce to recognize that neurodiversity is diversity. Neurodivergent employees can help organizations break through plateaus that have been plaguing their teams for months, years, or decades because they kept approaching the challenges with the same types of minds. Fresh ways of thinking are especially important during challenging economic times. 

In an ever-accelerating race for competitive advantage, employers who embrace the strengths of neurodivergent employees fully are likely to find themselves moving to the front. Embracing neurodiversity means embracing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to work. The future is about true freedom and flexibility in the workplace. Let people show you their full potential by working where, when, and how they do their best work. 

Hi. My name is Becca Chambers, and I am a neurodivergent executive. 

What does neurodivergent mean? It’s a big question, but at a high level, neurodiverse populations are those who have diverse thinking styles and have conditions like, but not limited to, ADHD (that’s me!), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other diagnoses related to the way people perceive and interact with the world. 

According to numerous studies, around 20% of the world is neurodiverse. Yes, that’s a lot of people. It’s also important to call out that many neurodivergent people go undiagnosed and live their lives experiencing difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, and social interactions. Up to 80% of those on the autism spectrum face unemployment. It’s not because neurodivergent lack something or are less capable. It’s because the world was built for the neurotypical majority. When held against those standards, neurodivergent people are set up to struggle. Despite advancements in acceptance of mental health, there remains a significant stigma around neurodiversity. I believe some of the responsibility falls on leaders across all industries to help break down this stigma. At my company Alludo, I’m doing my part to help the company embrace and lean into neurodiversity. I’m proud that Alludo is on the forefront of leading this revolution and breaking the stigma for good. How are we doing it? For starters, Alludo isn’t afraid to hire great talent that is born out of diverse backgrounds, locations, and thinking styles. Here, we believe that neurodiversity—that is, diversity of thought and perspective—is diversity. And we know that diversity begets innovation and accelerates progress. It breaks through plateaus and ruts, allowing organizations to go further, faster. 

Bringing your true self to work

As SVP of Brand and Communications and a person who is neurodivergent, I’ve yet to work with a leadership team like the team at Alludo. For the first time in my career, I can finally be my whole, neurodivergent self. It’s a gift I’ve never been given until now. I have always walked a tightrope of balancing my gifts with my perceived shortcomings, struggling to present as neurotypical. How can we bring our absolute best and innovative selves to work if our thinking style is not embraced? (Spoiler: we can’t.)

Leaning into neurodiversity  

At Alludo, I am empowered to lean into my neurodiversity. I don’t hide it. I embrace my whole self, and by doing so, I give people around me permission to embrace their whole selves—neurodivergent or not. Even though Alludo is at the leading edge of this revolution, we’re nowhere near done yet. We have a wonderful and challenging journey ahead of us. We’re starting with a newly launched Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group, a safe space for neurodivergent employees and allies to discuss, share, and educate each other on the challenges and opportunities associated with neurodiversity.  

Until this point, the world has missed out on an incalculable volume of creativity, inspiration, and innovation stemming from stigma around neurodiversity. Now that we’ve started to break down that stigma, the possibilities are endless. I’m excited about where we’re going. I finally feel true freedom (one of Alludo’s values) in my career and won’t settle for anything less. And I want that same feeling for every one of the 1 in 5 people around the world who don’t fit the neurotypical majority. 

Happy Pride!  

As we express our identity and values as a company, a key theme keeps coming up over again: the power of authenticity.  

Kicking off June and Pride month, we’d like to state that we believe unapologetic authenticity is integral to working better and living better. All genders, races, ethnicities, religious beliefs, identities, and sexual orientations are honored here. At Corel, we not only welcome diversity, but we enthusiastically champion it.  

Beyond being compassionate and the right thing to do; it’s also smart business. Diversity drives innovation. It breaks through plateaus. It challenges status quos and paints new possibilities. It’s at the very core of not only our employee culture but our offerings. We deliver a space to create, ideate, and share because individualism matters. If we lived in a world where everything was the same, nothing would be worth sharing. 

It’s one thing to write that we welcome and champion diversity at Corel, but we recognize that’s not enough. We also want to unequivocally state our company’s support for LBGTQIA+ rights. Supporting our LGBTQIA+ employees, partners, customers, friends, and allies in the greater community isn’t political; it’s about humanity. 

In this context, Pride Month feels especially important as we continue to place a high value on creating a safe space where people can show up fully as they are, bring their whole selves to work, and enrich our community with unique perspectives, backgrounds, identities, beliefs, and capabilities. 

Wishing everyone a safe, authentic, and happy Pride!