Ashley Goldsmith is the Chief People Officer at the software company Workday in Silicon Valley.
As Chief People Officer at Workday, I have global responsibility for all core HR functions, internal communications, and global impact areas such as belonging and diversity, environmental sustainability, and giving and doing. At the end of the day, my ultimate responsibility is to help create and foster a culture that puts our employees at the center of everything we do and promotes a true sense of integrity, fun, and collaboration.
Why is it important to understand the people side of business?
I strongly believe that people are the lifeblood of any company. When you can motivate and inspire your workforce and get them all pointing in the same direction, it can create a tremendous source of energy and productivity that can drive a business forward. As I mentioned earlier, we put our employees first at Workday because we know that if we do that, they will in turn create a great experience for our customers, which in turn helps us continue on our growth path. When you also consider the fact that people account for roughly two-thirds of any company’s costs and resources, it becomes even more of an imperative for any business leader to understand the people side of business.
How did your educational background prepare you for your current position?
I went to Vanderbilt for undergrad and I started college as an economics major. I took a few psychology classes as electives and the next thing I knew I was majoring in psychology. I essentially fell into HR but I think it appealed to me so much because it combines people and business – two of my favorite topics. After I first started working, I went to school at night at Georgia University to earn a degree in HR development. I then took a job with a business that focused on mergers and acquisitions and I found that when I was sitting in meetings and thinking about companies we were considering buying, I wanted to learn more about the technical aspects of the deal. This led me to pursue my Executive MBA at Northwestern.
What is your favorite aspect of your work?
I think that my team’s work is a fascinating and critical part of the business. If you have a talented workforce, you will have a successful business collective. I like the unpredictable nature of humans. Finding ways to motivate, inspire, and maintain a diverse population is a very intriguing thing to do. In my position, no two days are ever the same.
What is your leadership style?
I would say that I try to focus on being an empowering and collaborative leader. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors that have taught me some important lessons in these areas. I think it’s critical to recognize the talent around you and provide them with the opportunity to stretch and really challenge themselves. At the same time, fostering a people-first environment means you have to be approachable, check your ego at the door, and be willing to listen and work well with others.
How can young people prepare for a career in tech?
Education, experience, and doing great work are the keys to getting ahead in the technology world. I have found in my career that when you do great work, people will notice, and when you help other people do great work that gets noticed as well. I also don’t think there’s barrier to get into technology based on gender. I think companies are dying to hire diverse populations, especially in technology where there’s such an opportunity to improve diversity. Seeking out a mentor can also play an important role in providing you with support and guidance as you explore different career paths.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Be prepared.
What advice do you have for girls who want to work in the “people” industry?
Stay updated on the latest trends in the industry by reading different business and trade publications. Find someone who works in HR and spend some time with them. This professional will probably even let you shadow them at his or her office. Finally, the most successful HR people have great business acumen. They are there because they really love the human aspect of the business.