As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Townsend, Chief People Officer at Duck Creek Technologies.
With more than 15 years in human resources, Courtney has extensive knowledge of the field and brings many strengths to Duck Creek, including strategic planning, organizational design, culture development, mergers and acquisitions integration at both private and public businesses, and internal and external engagement. Most recently, Courtney served as Chief Human Resources Officer at Stats Perform, a sports technology company, where she managed overall leadership and direction for their global human resources function and served as a trusted advisor and coach to the CEO and executive leadership team. Prior to that, Courtney held key positions supporting human resources objectives at Wolters Kluwer, a global provider of professional information, software solutions, and services for a variety of sectors.
Courtney is a graduate of Michigan State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business with a focus on human resource management.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My first job, besides babysitting, was waitressing at the local Chinese restaurant and I absolutely loved it! I loved the customers and providing great service. When I got to Michigan State, I decided to major in Hospitality to build upon what I “thought” I wanted to do. After several hospitality classes, I realized that it was not for me. Knowing I still loved people and wanted to provide great service, a few HR leaders in my family swayed me to declare my major in Human Resource Management. This would allow me to be able to help people, companies and provide the service that both would appreciate. I began my HR career at a large pizza chain….so it was HR AND the restaurant industry.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am lucky enough to have a couple of HR leaders in my family, who definitely helped shape my career. My Aunt being one of them is still in the field. I have gone to her on multiple occasions to bounce ideas around, talk about career goals, as well as promotions and relocations. She has worked for some amazing companies, growing her long tenured career in HR while also raising three amazing kids and running a household. I have always looked up to her for achieving both successes in her career and being a mom and wife.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
When I find myself stressed out over work or needing to take a break from thinking about a tough decision, I go hang out with my two-year-old son. There is something about a happy and smiling toddler that makes everything else seem simple — it immediately de-stresses me. Many have also told me that yoga works well….it’s on my to-do list to try!
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I will keep this pretty simple. If everyone on the Executive team comes from a similar place or has had similar experiences, where will the creativity and healthy debate come from? Having diverse members brings different viewpoints to the table that can educate everyone and help build a more dynamic process. Also, if you are trying to hire a more diverse work force and they don’t see someone who looks like them or has similar experiences at higher ranks, they more than likely will not feel that we prioritize inclusiveness.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society?
Honestly, I think it is all about truly listening to others. I’m not the expert on these topics, but I learn through people’s experiences. Then take what they say and turn it into action.
Ensure that you are creating an environment that is inclusive of everyone and their differences. Everyone wants to be heard and know that they are helping to form an amazing place to work where they can be themselves and in turn, give back to their communities using the same principles.
In just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
You are the face of the entire department! Your attitude and direction shape the way the work gets done and how your team is perceived.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One myth that I have heard throughout my career is that the higher you climb, the more work you have on your plate. Don’t get me wrong, you ARE responsible for an entire department and everything that it produces but if you’ve done it right, you have a team of A players that are there to help with the workload and make the department better. I say it is the responsibility that grows versus “the work.”
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe that all executives face similar challenges, whether male or female. It can be a highly stressful job either way. The role is what you make of it and how you represent yourself and your team, no matter your gender.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I have to go with nothing! I’ve been in HR for over 15 years and I’m pretty sure I knew exactly what I was signing up for at each step of the way. Now dealing with humans can always be surprising, but the fundamentals do not change.
In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
READ THE ROOM! Always know your audience when speaking. Whether it is entry-level team members or a board of Directors, you need to understand how they process information and how your message will be received. You will not be successful if your messages fall short due to over or under complicating what you are trying to convey.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be authentic, even if that is not always popular. You do not have to be liked by everyone, but always be fair and consistent. Most people will not fault you for that approach.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m not sure that I’ve reached the place in life where I’ve made the world a better place. I am 90 days in at a new company, so I would like to start making a difference there with team members, then moving into our local communities and globally with our CSR activities.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not perfect, you never will be. When something amazing happens at work, something crappy may happen at home. Realize that you do the best you can wherever your focus happens to be at that moment in time.
- Being removed from the day to day is tough. When you are used to the role of the “doer” and always having time to roll up your sleeves, it’s quite an adjustment to become the strategy owner and stay high level.
- You are the boss! Instead of having someone to lead you, you are now leading others. You’re responsible for the success of your department, your team members and how the organization views the initiatives you put in place. There is nobody to blame if something goes wrong, you need to be able to sort it out!
- There is always more to learn in your field. In my role, I’m constantly thinking about how to develop others, but you still need to focus on developing yourself. And if you can get out of your comfort zone while learning, even better!
- Find the fun and humor wherever you can. The world is a crazy place right now; we can all use a smile. Stop what you’re doing once and a while and have laugh with a co-worker or a virtual happy hour!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is, “Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.” I heard this several years ago and I love it. So many things in life are about communication, especially our careers. Be impactful, intentional and not long-winded. It is important to convey what you need to say without going down too many roads or getting off track. This works in my personal life as well!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
He or she might just see this if we tag them. I just recently joined the Chicago chapter of Chief. At the very first event I attended, there was a candid conversation with Diane von Furstenberg. To say that I was impressed was an understatement. She is truly an icon for a woman in business. She says what is on her mind and puts her dreams in to motion.