These 5 Women CEOs Are Working to Redefine Portland’s Business Culture

Women are still underrepresented in the top tiers of Portland business, but their numbers are growing, especially in the notoriously male technology industry. Many of the women making it into the CEO club are focusing not only on the success of their companies, but on redefining local business culture to support the success of women and other underrepresented groups in the Portland business world. Here are five women leaders who are striving to redefine Portland’s business community.

Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO, Puppet

Named CEO of DevOps automation company Puppet in January, Yvonne Wassenaar is the most recent addition to a growing club of women CEOs in Portland’s Silicon Forest tech community.

Previously, Wassenaar served as CEO of drone company Airware and held senior roles at VMware and online analytics company New Relic, where she served as CIO and was key in taking the company public. She also spent 17 years at Accenture, in roles ranging from software engineer to global sales operations practice lead. Currently, she also serves on the board of directors of Forrester.

Wassenaar has been vocal about the need for diversifying the technology industry. Puppet is part of the Portland Techtown Diversity Pledge, which has been joined by more than 20 Portland companies committed to creating a more inclusive tech community.

In 2016, she joined the board of trustees for Harvey Mudd College and learned about the science and engineering school’s successful diversity initiatives. Female enrollment in the school’s computer science department rose from 12% in 2005 to around 40% today.

“It’s not one thing you need to do, but an environment you need to shift,” she said. “From the right role models to being conscious of micro-aggressions to how you talk about opportunities, all of those things matter.”

She believes that having women in top roles can have a huge impact by signaling that the company supports advancement.

“If you had to pick one thing that I think matters most, it’s having diversity at the top levels,” she said.

Kate Johnson, CEO, Act-On Software

Shortly after being named CEO of Act-on in January of 2018, Kate Johnson implemented a major reorganization of the company. Just one quarter later, that risk already seemed to be paying off.

The changes resulted in average new customer sales amounts growing by 24 percent quarter over quarter in Q1 2018. And as of August 2019, the company has maintained profitability for the fifth consecutive quarter.

“At some point you have to prove that you can actually grow the company in a profitable manner, and that you can sustain profitability,” she said.

Previously, Johnson spent three years as Act-On’s chief financial officer and six years in executive roles at Jive Software, where she helped the company prepare for its $100 million IPO. She also served as corporate controller at InFocus and worked in accounting roles at Xerox and Tektronix, the grande dame of Oregon’s tech industry, after graduating with an accounting degree from Oregon State University.

Creating an environment where women have equal opportunity and are heard is a key priority for Johnson.

“Setting this tone from top to bottom is really important,” she said. “We try as a company and teams — in logical ways — to make sure females get the same lights as males.”

She knows that women still face plenty of obstacles to advancement, but says they should not let those stop them.

“I didn’t feel that being a female should hold me back from moving up in my career and so I’ve always approached situations that way,” Johnson said. She advises women to take full advantage of any opportunities that arise.

“One of the best ways to get new opportunities and move within the company is not to say ‘no,’” she said.

Karla Friede, CEO and Co-Founder, Nvoicepay

Karla Friede co-founded financial technology company Nvoicepay in 2009. Since then, the company has revolutionized the way enterprises pay suppliers, both domestic and international. Earlier this year, Friede sold Nvoicepay to FLEETCOR Technologies, the 14th largest payment company globally. Friede remains at the helm.

At the time Nvoicepay was founded, Fintech was not an established industry, but Friede forged ahead.

“I always wanted to start a company but didn’t have a particular industry in mind. It was an opportunity that presented itself at a time when I was open,” she said.

Before Nvoicepay, Friede served as CEO and VP of marketing for Zevez, an accounts payable software company, and in senior marketing roles at digital certificate provider GeoTrust and Mentor Graphics. She also founded enterprise consulting company The Ascent Group and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

For Friede, achieving a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, it’s been proven to boost the bottom line.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know many large enterprises that are doing a great job with diversity and inclusion. I do see many early stage companies that are interested in diversity and in changing the way businesses work, and that’s encouraging. I think the only way we’re going to make real progress is when people stop thinking about this as a feel-good initiative and realize that it’s a competitive advantage,” she said.

Sce Pike, CEO and Founder, IOTAS

Sce Pike has seen some career twists and turns since she studied anthropology and electronic arts at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Now she heads IOTAS, a smart-technology company focusing on the multifamily housing industry that was recently named Startup Grind’s Startup of the Year.

To date, IOTAS has integrated smart home devices in more than 4,000 apartments in the U.S. and aims to have more than 70,000 apartments connected by the end of 2021.

Pike’s experience in smart technology dates to her experience at Palm, which she joined in 2000. She also co-founded IoT connection company Citizen in 2007, which she later sold to Ernst and Young. While she was working with smart-home technology for single-family homes, she had the realization that the most enthusiastic adopters of smart home tech are renters rather than home buyers. She founded IOTAS in 2014 to fill that gap.

Pike said that her humanities background gives her a unique perspective in the tech world, especially in home IoT, which is all about the human experience. She believes that the tech world should more readily embrace people with nontraditional backgrounds like hers.

“Technology needs a different point of view, from an art background or an anthropology background. I think that’s where there’s an opportunity to bring in women or girls in a different way. That’s key, having strength of representation,” she said.

At IOTAS, steps toward this include diversity- and inclusion-focused recruiting and efforts to improve retention and company culture. Pike is also heavily involved in the Portland tech community, serving as an ambassador board member with PDX Women in Tech; executive council member with iUrban Teen; economic advisor to Mayor Ted Wheeler; advisory council member of Smart Grid Northwest; and an investor.

Monica Enand, CEO, Zapproved

Monica Enand launched Zapproved in 2008 and its first program — designed to help companies store and catalog the massive amounts of data that they collect — was launched in August of 2008. This was two months before Lehman Brothers failed. In the ensuing economic crisis, data management slipped down the priority scale for many of Zapproved’s potential customers.

Enand had to pivot to survive, and turned to law firms, where data management is crucial. Zapproved developed cloud-based software called Legal Hold Pro that organizes data required during lawsuit discovery.
“When there’s a recession,” Enand said, “people sue each other more. Not that I root for that, but that’s how we survived.”

Zapproved not only survived, but thrived. Last year, Zapproved was recognized as one of the Fastest Growing Private 100 Companies in Oregon for the fourth straight year; was listed on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list for the third year in a row; and appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. private companies.

Enand has spent her life succeeding in situations where she stands out, first growing up in an Indian immigrant family in West Virginia, and later, as one of only three women in her electrical engineering class at Carnegie Mellon. She started her career as an engineer and software developer at Intel, earned an MBA from the University of Portland, and and went on to roles at IBM and semiconductor supplier Avnera before starting Zapproved with co-founder Chris Bright.

Being a women leader in tech has also served up its share of challenges.
“When you try to raise money, you’re going to get rejected 10 times as often,” Enand said.

Initially she believed that the tech industry would naturally grow more inclusive of women, but “realized it’s not getting better. Even if you can get girls into these fields, once they get to work, they quit,” she said.

Zapproved hosts monthly workshops on inclusion in an effort to help create a more diverse environment, and Enand serves as chair of the board of directors of the Technology Association of Oregon, which has made diversity a high-profile priority.

“Seeing more diverse faces in our board meetings is one step, but I strive to lead this board to have intense, challenging discussions that arm them with new ideas about change they can take back to their companies and which will have an impact on our broader community,” she said.

Jennifer Sokolowsky writes about tech, legal and tax topics. She has an extensive international background in journalism and marketing, including work with The Seattle Times, The Prague Post, Microsoft and Marriott.