Women in Business Q&A: Juliana Stancampiano, CEO, Oxygen Learning

Juliana is Oxygen Learning's CEO and chief motivator. In September 2009 Juliana bought Oxygen Learning and made Seattle its home. Juliana's background is diverse, from working in a large law firm, to hopping the big pond to take a job in Munich, making Europe her home for over four years. Her mantra? Make it easy to learn, easy to remember and easy too use which results in becoming a better employee and a better leader. Her influence has made a measurable difference for companies like Microsoft, GSK, Harris Group and Active Networks.

How has your life experience and career made you the leader you are today?
I believe that how you are raised, your own personal experiences growing into an adult, and how you approach learning are the pillars that should frame how you 'show up' as a leader in your career. Of course there are certain things that stand out more than others, especially being the youngest of four with three older brothers, which leaves a lasting impression!

Along with three older brothers who I was constantly learning from (the good and the bad), I had parents that believed I could do whatever I wanted to do, and a father that was a leader who incorporated the "whole person" in those that he led. I admired that and learned from him the value of treating everybody fairly and the importance of understanding how folks see the world, from their own perspective. Our family was based on equality in how the household was run, no one was better than the other, we all did chores, all of them, and we were expected to contribute to the family.

These aspects are definitely reflected in how I lead Oxygen Learning, where no single person or department is the lynch pin in the business, we all contribute and are important. At Oxygen we come from the expectation that we treat everyone with respect, we work hard, with the common goal to be successful and have some fun!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Oxygen Learning?
I was fortunate to have a lot of great managers and entrepreneurial thinking around me from a young age. I started working at age 9 on weekends in Yukon Quest (1,000 mile sled dog race) stores in Fairbanks, Alaska. I loved it and had a mentor there that showed me the basics of retail. In high school I worked for an independent shoe store and had the opportunity to understand how the business ran inside and out. Later I worked in HR at a large law firm that taught me the legal essentials of working and managing employees. More recently, working with Microsoft overseas taught me the value of difference and how societies and businesses can run in wildly different ways yet still be successful. Everything has been a building block for me to be ready to dive into Oxygen Learning and continue my professional growth through the company.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Oxygen Learning?
The learning that came from this experience was painful and rich all in one, which should be as expected.

The challenges are always so easy to list! First one came early, joining a company and then taking on the challenge of implementing a business case for opening a U.S. office.

After this was accomplished I found out that the UK business was not financially solvent. Now a director (be careful what you wish for), I was tasked with the hard decision to lay off people in an effort to save the company. That didn't work (lesson learned, again!), and we had to file for Administration (U.K. Bankruptcy), which led to me purchase the company's operations in the U.S. in 2009. The highlights: creating a sustainable business that was in the throes of bankruptcy, working with people that I respect and enjoy creating with, watching as we slowly change expectations of what "good" learning/training looks like and seeing people discover that it can be impactful.

What are the benefits/challenges of helming an all-female executive team?
This question makes me laugh! It's awesome, I love it; surprisingly or not, we have a lot of masculine energy, so it works for us. We like to get work done while enjoying the journey. I think if we had a man on the team that would be awesome as well, we keep looking, yet nothing has panned out yet. We're very opinionated women and it is going to take a very strong man with a strong sense of self to want to join us, but I am sure he is out there!

I wondered at one time if some of the "woman-like" traits in the team were because we are all women. Then while attending an outside, monthly executive group meeting two men from outside industries voiced the same frustrations we were having at Oxygen. So I chalk it up to we're all human, different, and working hard to respect differences.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I know what correct balance is for me and quickly know when it's off. I strongly believe that my work/life balance is not how my COO Jessica would describe her work/life balance. We both know what it is for ourselves and by being able to articulate and constantly monitor that, we find ways to make it work for us.

As an example, I have two young kids and as a result, early mornings are not for me (or work). Conversely, 5-7:30pm is not for me either, or work, it's also for them, and so I work my schedule around this as much as possible. There are exceptions to this, but it has to be important for me to attend client deadline meetings or sales opportunities.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it's different depending on the situation and assume that at different levels there are different issues. However, I think the biggest issue for women that are successful and have also made the decision to have a family is the biases that this can create unconsciously in the work place, by both men and women.

I was the most shocked at the questions I received and how I was treated by men while I was pregnant. Weirdly, the men who were older than me wanted to talk about kids and babies yet would look to my colleague to discuss the business at hand. Many times while out with male colleagues, other men in the group quickly assumed that a male must be the leader.

Perhaps more insidious, when a woman decides to have children while working suddenly the question becomes, 'is she focused on work or family (like they have to choose...) and I don't think a lot of women have good examples on how to make both work. It's here, at this point that so many women step back or hesitate and that's a huge loss for many companies. By working with the 'whole person', where you take time to understand their perspective, their needs, and their wants, you can really go far in eradicating that gap of losing women out of the work force.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having mentors has been vital for me and I can remember having them from about age 9. There is a lot of self-satisfaction in finding that person that is smarter (or maybe just more knowledgeable) than you, more accomplished than you, and if you're lucky enough to get them to help and challenge you, it's irreplaceable. It's a different relationship than you have with anyone else. I also think that it has to be a dual synergy to be really impactful for both people. I haven't ever been in the situation where a mentor has been assigned, it's always happened naturally.

When you find the right mentor things can really percolate on a personal and professional level, everyone should find mentoring even for home and family challenges. We should find mentorship in all aspects, whenever we can; sometimes the need is bigger in one area versus another and through that we can do a lot of joint learning. It's not a one-sided benefit!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many that are awesome, we are becoming really lucky in that way. Specifically I admire Sheryl Sandberg, for standing up and telling her story and saying what she has to say. Whether you agree or disagree, she put herself out there and that takes courage. I am a fan of many of the women that have been pushing to make women mainstream in business. Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, to name a few. All of these women have done extraordinary things, have had very accomplished careers and have been a model of what is possible and have been a large part of paving the way for more women in leadership.

What do you want Oxygen Learning to accomplish in the next year?
My utopia? There is so much! I want to see Oxygen Learning really make a statement, being bold and changing the corporate classroom and expectations of how we teach adults. I want to shout out the message that it's no longer acceptable to walk into a room and have someone lecture at you for hours and expect anyone to retain any of the information or change any of their behaviors. This is a ridiculous way to teach and is no different than throwing money into a black hole.

I want to see Oxygen Learning affecting more and more classrooms around the world, engaging with people and doing our part in taking people forward in both their professional and personal lives.