Sali Christeson has “insane conviction” about giving women the confidence to navigate their careers. Christeson is the founder and CEO of Argent, a line of chic women’s workwear that is equal parts fashion and function. The venture-backed brand was built out of Christeson’s own need for quality business suiting and her love of color. What started as a pain-point has grown into a runaway success with fans including Hillary Clinton, Jane Fonda, Kamala Harris, and America Ferrera. From entry-level newbies to C-suite executives, women across the country are wearing crimson, powder blue, juniper and sage-colored suits with functional pockets and wrinkle-free fabric.
“Our intention is to visually inspire women to be bold, and say, ‘F the rules. Go for it. Be unapologetic,'” says Christeson. “Because it is a world of double standards and women encounter a lot more obstacles than men do.”
Amy Elisa Jackson’s warm, funny conversation with Sali covers the importance of feminism and fashion, why wearing something awesome builds a powerful attitude, and why Sali believes that designers were not giving women an accurate portrayal of success. As she says, “We really pride ourselves on being a resource for women and being a tool for women having the right attitude for achieving whatever is that they want to.” Sali shares the best piece of business advice she ever received and has some wise counsel for anyone who wants to launch their own startup. Her leadership at Argent has embraced campaigning for pay equality and community-building in and out of the workplace.
IN PURSUIT is hosted by Amy Elisa Jackson and is an original podcast from Glassdoor.
Click to listen now. Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Through honest and candid conversations, guests share how they navigate their careers through achievements, hurdles and heartbreaks encountered along the way. If you have a question or feedback for us, message us on Twitter (@glassdoor using the hashtag #InPursuitPod).
Amy Elisa Jackson: I’m Amy Elisa Jackson, and this is In Pursuit, the podcast from Glassdoor. In every episode, we share the real stories of people navigating life’s most pivotal moments at the intersection of the personal and professional. It started with pockets, or the lack of pockets, in a suit or dress. Also having no place in a blazer to put a phone. Sali Christeson used these frustrations and also many microaggressions to ditch the corporate world and her comfortable job to go with a gut instinct. She founded a fashion startup called Argent to make functional and beautiful workwear. I speak with her today about how she’s using the brand to change the conversation around women in the workplace. Here’s my interview with Sali Christeson.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Sali Christeson, thank you so much for joining us here at In Pursuit. We’re super excited to have you today.
Sali Christeson: I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Amy Elisa Jackson: How’s your day going? Talk to me about what a typical day looks like for the founder and CEO of Argent.
Sali Christeson: Well, this week spent a lot of early mornings. I have a toddler. Let’s see, I’ve been up at 3:30 and 4.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Ouch.
Sali Christeson: Every morning this week. This morning actually was 5, felt good. And then hang out with him, get him all settled. And then generally, I’ll start plugging in around 7. Our nanny comes. I had my first meeting at 8:00AM this morning, breakfast meeting. I’ve had a couple of calls and now I’m here.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Lovely. And then what time does the day usually end? What time are you shutting it down, taking off the Argent blazer?
Sali Christeson: I don’t know that that really happens.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Do you sleep in a blazer? Tell me now.
Sali Christeson: I never take the blazer off. No. Yeah. I would say that the blessing and the curse of an entrepreneur is you just can’t really like turn it off, you know?
Amy Elisa Jackson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sali Christeson: So, I feel like I’m always working but I certainly value my downtime. So in the evenings I try and unplug for an hour of TV. I’m in bed pretty early though because I know that early rise is happening.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Exactly. Because the toddler is pulling on you very early in the morning.
Sali Christeson: And then I like to read once I get into bed. So, I have an hour, maybe an hour and a half-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Before the pass out?
Sali Christeson: …that’s not work, not kids.
Amy Elisa Jackson: So you founded Argent in 2016. And four years in, how has the day-to-day changed? What are the challenges that you’re tackling now that pale in the comparison to the problems that you were solving back then?
Sali Christeson: So I quit my job in 2015. I was working at Cisco. I spent a year just sort of concepting, business planning, team-building, fundraising, building an actual product, understanding the market and then we launched in 2016. And there are stages of the business, for sure. I think most entrepreneurs are like this, at least I’m like this, you’re much more forward-looking and you blackout what’s happened, the good and the bad. But there are milestones that you hit in the nature of what you are working on, what you’re stressing out about, just changes so significantly and you don’t even notice that it’s happened.
Sali Christeson: And so at first, you’re doing everything. We’re a customer-facing, external-facing brand, so you want to present bigger than you actually are. But people would be surprised to show up and they’re taking appointments with the founder and shopping with the designer. So, we’re so much more hands-on in those early days because you had to be. Now, it’s more strategy and thinking about team building. In our current phase, we’re looking at making it a bit more formulaic, some of the things that we do. And thinking about how to drive consistent revenue.
Sali Christeson: What have we learned in the last few years? Levers are working, let’s double down on some of those. What’s not working? And then, where are our gaps? And where do we take it? In terms of hiring team building. So, there’s a little more strategy now and it’s actually more fun too because I feel like I can actually think about growing and building the business versus where is payroll coming from.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Correct. You’re not thinking about “How do I keep the lights on? Are we sure about this?”
Sali Christeson: “Are we going to make it?”
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yeah, absolutely. Take us back because you sort of breezed over that “I quit my job at Cisco.” That’s a big deal, sis. How did you first come up with the idea for Argent? And when did you know you had lightning in a bottle? Because a lot of folks come up with great ideas and a lot of people want to be disruptors in the industry, but what was it that really convinced you that you had something? And how did this all first start?
Sali Christeson: Yeah, so, my background’s in business. I think the best businesses are born from individuals who experience a problem and they aren’t seeing anyone else solve it. And that’s very much the case in this situation.
Sali Christeson: So, I started my career in banking. I worked in Chicago for a few years. I went back and got my MBA, I studied supply chain. And then I got hired at Cisco Systems and they had a leadership rotational program in their supply chain organization that’s essentially this crash course in supply chain. Which I, at that point, had the idea of starting Argent in the back of my head, simply because I’d worked across different industries and different cities and saw that this was a pervasive issue for women. And we’re moving towards this more casual dress code. And the experience of shopping for workwear was fundamentally just flawed. Women really, really hated the experience, myself included.
Sali Christeson: So I intentionally chose my career path, thinking “maybe I’ll start this.” And then while I was at Cisco, I got pulled into the cloud initiative that’s new for them, which was an opportunity to be an intrepreneur. So to build a team, to define a team, to hire and manage. It was a team of 16 which is pretty big. And just build something from nothing. So our team grew, I was the seventh person hired. Our team grew to 250 people in a year. And so, I just learned a lot about myself through that.
Sali Christeson: During that experience, I read a study that showed that women are judged based on appearance, and every woman’s like “Uh huh.”
Amy Elisa Jackson: Uh huh.
Sali Christeson: And for the first time they quantified the impact of what you wear on your bottom line over your lifetime. Actually, it’s super significant. So, 20-40% is how much that could impact your own personal bottom line. Meaning, you can take 20-40% less home over your lifetime simply based on how you show up.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Wow. Just based off of what you look like, what you’re wearing, et cetera?
Sali Christeson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so I read that and that was the catalyst. I put in my notice immediately because I really saw this massive opportunity to solve a problem that I’d experienced for so long, and leverage the power of brand to really change the conversation around women in the workplace.
Sali Christeson: I felt like no one was giving women an accurate portrayal of success, you know? And so our intention is to visually inspire women to be bold, like, “F the rules. Go for it. Be unapologetic.” Because it is a world of double standards and women encounter a lot more obstacles than men do. Yeah, so I quit cold turkey.
Amy Elisa Jackson: That’s amazing.
Sali Christeson: Having done nothing because I knew that there was something there. I just knew in my gut that there was something there.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I think you’re tapping into something that’s really important. It wasn’t just about creating vibrant pieces of clothing for women to wear, but it was connecting to that message, connecting to the fact that you can be uncompromising and show up in your workspace in a vibrant cobalt blue blazer. You can show up in bright pink and be taken seriously and still command attention in the boardroom.
Amy Elisa Jackson: How did you find yourself trying to navigate being uncompromising and being a fashion disruptor? Because there are plenty of companies that come out with a hot pink blazer. But what was it that you were really trying to impress upon the marketplace and to women who were buying your clothes?
Sali Christeson: From day one, we started talking to the customer. And I am the customer and we are obsessive about creating a line of communication with that audience between us, our design team and customer base. I truly believe our product is so much better and so much different than anything that’s out there. And what makes us unique is functionality.
Sali Christeson: So we have interior pockets on all of our blazers. Just to give you one small example, but a place for your phone, a place for your credit card, a place for your ID, a place for pens and lip gloss. You can put so much in this jacket and it doesn’t compromise the aesthetic of it.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Game change.
Sali Christeson: So, when we are conducting competitive research and looking at the competitive landscape, every company actually positions themselves as a work solution but that’s oftentimes a secondary or tertiary focus for them. And you experienced that as a customer. And too much of the work has been put on the customer when they shop and have to piece together an outfit and figure out what’s appropriate and what isn’t. And for us, we are strictly in the work category and we’re not deviating from that. And so I think that really makes us special.
Sali Christeson: And then we did introduce a new attitude and I think that just came from me and my experiences and really being frustrated by the fact that no one was connecting directly with myself and my peers. And the last piece of it is we’ve really definitely become known for color. And we saw immediately an appetite for color. And this was before anyone was offering any type of colorful suiting. We sold out of cobalt, we sold out of red. And so we took that insight and-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Ran with it.
Sali Christeson: Ran with it, yeah.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Absolutely. The idea of quitting a very lucrative job, very successful job to launch a business that yes, you were absolutely equipped to start, but that’s a risk, right? And there’s a privilege in even the ability to walk away and confidently know.
Amy Elisa Jackson: What do you say to people who were out there, women who are out there, thinking about entrepreneurship but really hesitant and may not have the same amount of privilege? What advice would you give them?
Sali Christeson: So one, I was in a place in my life where it didn’t feel like a risky decision to me. I had a husband and we didn’t have kids yet and I was 28, 29. And so it felt as if this was, regardless of outcome, going to be a really great experience for me. And I felt that I could re-enter the workforce and this was only going to position me to be a bigger value add if I had to do that.
Sali Christeson: And my advice for anyone thinking about starting a company. So I just have insane conviction in what our ultimate goal is. We envision ourselves becoming the workwear authority. We connect now and will continue doing so, connect women with tools to help them optimally navigate their careers. We’re having a real impact on women and we’re hearing from them every single day that we’re giving them confidence heading into a presentation. We’re giving them confidence heading into a salary negotiation. They’re getting raises, they’re getting new jobs and they’re like crediting how they’re feeling and the confidence they’re deriving from wearing Argent. And that’s everything.
Sali Christeson: So, I had to do this because I feel so strongly about helping give women tools to be successful. And I just think it really is unequal footing, as much as we’re talking about it. And society, like tech companies are largely predominantly male still. So this is our effort to try and help out as much as possible and that just aligns so much with who I am and what my values are. And so, I had to do this.
Sali Christeson: And I think that I’ve talked to a lot of people who have an idea but they don’t have that conviction. Do not start, do not try. You will fail. You have to have such resilience and you have to be a little bit delusional and it isn’t always logical on paper. And I walked away from a really great career path, but this is absolutely more rewarding.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Was there a moment when your conviction really was the thing that buoyed you? A moment that was a huge setback or a slap in the face or a rejection or a “No” where the conviction is the thing that pushed you forward?
Sali Christeson: So many moments. I mean, I don’t know if I can point to any particular amendment, but I think… I’m a female and raising money for a fashion company and I’m solving a female problem. That’s the trifecta in the worst way.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Especially when you’re trying to raise money at VCs and yeah, having those conversations in rooms that are mostly male.
Sali Christeson: The conversations are so different with men and women because women in two seconds are like, “Oh, I totally get it.” And men are like, “Explain the problem to me.” And so you can just zoom past the problem statement with women and actually dig into the data and for men it just takes so much more education. But beyond that, there’s just inherent bias, whether people know it or not. And so at one point early on, a really reputable VC told us that, “Utility doesn’t belong in women’s clothing.”
Amy Elisa Jackson: Oh. “Utility doesn’t belong in women’s clothing.” Whoa.
Sali Christeson: And that’s a huge part of what we’re building.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Right.
Sali Christeson: And if you think about the number one complaint from women, it’s pockets.
Amy Elisa Jackson: It’s pockets. We never get pockets in pants. We’re thrilled when we get a pocket in a dress. There’s never anywhere in our blazers to put your phone, a tampon, sneak a tampon, right?
Sali Christeson: Anything.
Amy Elisa Jackson: How many of us put the tampon in our sleeve to try and get to the restroom? It’s impossible. All the tricks of the trade we had to learn.
Sali Christeson: Hundred percent. I mean, to me, that was such an enlightening moment because fashion is also in the upper levels, it’s predominantly male run. And I think that there is this assumption of this shrink and pink it model, where they remove pockets and they just are trying to make women look pretty and you’re like, “We absolutely need function. We want function, we need function.”
Sali Christeson: And there are some real experiences that I can point to where not having Argent clothing actually held me back. So, I worked on a joint venture with Estate and Enterprise in China while I was at Cisco and an executive came into town. There were two other women that were working on the project and it was predominantly male. It was a male executive in town. We all went out for lunch together and continued the conversation, but all three women had to go back to their desk to grab their purses and all the men had everything they needed on them. And so the conversation continued during the walk to lunch and then everyone’s seated or everyone sat around the male executive and we ended up at the end of the table. And that to me, it’s such a small example, but this is like, these are the subtleties that we’re trying to solve in our clothing.
Sali Christeson: So, now I carry my credit card and my ID right here in my pocket in my blazer, I have my phone in my blazer at all times. And so I have the basics, so I can just go straight to that meeting. And that’s what we want to give women. Just like at conferences, you’re carrying handbags, you’re just [fumbling], it’s unnecessary. How do we streamline this woman’s life, who’s time constrained and expectations are huge upon her?
Amy Elisa Jackson: Great examples. What’s been the most rewarding part of being CEO and Founder of Argent? I mean you talk about sort of the women who have sent you notes about being that much more confident in their salary negotiations, et cetera. What are some of those rewarding moments that make all of this worth it?
Sali Christeson: I mean that’s it. That gives me life. It gives me energy, it gives me everything. I mean I’ve had low, low days. Every entrepreneur has what they call the trough of sorrow. You have periods of time where you are just depressed, you know? You have periods of time where you doubt something or you question yourself, you question your entire venture. And I think anyone that says otherwise is-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Lying.
Sali Christeson: Lying. And so yeah, I’ve had some really dark moments and what I learned pretty quickly is that turning to our customers is what keeps me going and digging into some of those testimonials is what really gives me life. And yeah, I think that’s my number one. We also have had the opportunity to address a lot of really incredible women.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yes. Hillary Clinton, AOC, Kamala Harris. I mean, everyone is wearing an Argent suit.
Sali Christeson: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve been unbelievably fortunate. I think there are a lot of high profile women that are wearing us and it highlights how underserved this market is across Hollywood, across politics, across tech and consulting and banking.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I think it’s been amazing to see someone like Hillary Clinton wearing an Argent suit, right? Because she was the founder of the Pantsuit Nation, known across the globe for wearing her power suits, but always being criticized, right. For what she wore, whether it was feminine enough, is it too masculine? Is it too feminine? It’s like, is she wearing the right color? Is she not? How has the conversation really changed for women and their workwear, their capabilities, right. And sometimes how you look is intertwined with your professional acumen. How has that conversation changed and have you seen it change?
Sali Christeson: Yeah, so I think what’s interesting, so Hillary Clinton’s self-proclaimed pantsuit aficionado, she’s awesome.
Sali Christeson: She really, I think, gave women in politics especially permission to start expressing themselves through their clothing. And they’ve started doing that and moving away from blending in to like really standing out owning their power. So I have talked to a lot of individuals over the last five years and sometimes I get pushback in terms of like, “Why are you having this conversation with me and not with my male peers?” And I completely understand that. I think it’s absolute BS that women are held to a different standard and more is expected of us. But I think what’s important is awareness and that’s why we exist. Awareness of the fact that people are paying attention to what you wear, people are judging you based on what you wear, people are making career decisions about you based on what you wear. And if you choose to ignore that, that’s totally fine. But it does have an effect on your outcome.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Correct.
Sali Christeson: And so I look at this as just another piece of the puzzle. Like the more aware you are of what’s happening in the workplace, the more equipped you are to navigate it successfully. And so this is one piece of many. The flip side of it that I also like to talk a lot about is like you derive confidence from what you wear. So we all know that experience of putting something on that makes us feel awesome.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yep.
Sali Christeson: I see it time and time again when women come in and they’ll put something on that’s not quite right and I’m like, “Okay, no, not right for you, not right for you.” They put something on, they feel great and their shoulders are back. They’re glowing, they just interact with the world differently. Like they just feel so good.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Absolutely.
Sali Christeson: I think that’s so powerful and you can show up to work like that. Our goal is to help women feel like that. I don’t know that I’ve actually seen much change in terms of the judgment that happens, but I have seen a lot of change in women really embracing standing out, which I love. That’s really been the change from when we launched.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Fantastic. I think it’s been very interesting to see the conversation around being a woman in the workplace really evolving, right? The New York Times has even published a guide on how to navigate being the only woman in the room. How do you think about where Argent participates in that conversation of women in the workplace? You’ve created a very strong foundation and you’ve been highlighting a lot of the differences between men and women in the workplace and how they’re perceived. But how do you think about the conversation moving the conversation forward?
Sali Christeson: I very much see us as being part of the conversation. So I think something that captures who we are as a brand or the events that we’ve hosted over the last few years, our goal is to truly be a resource to women for whatever they need. Obviously, our foundation is our product and that’s just simply a physical reminder of who we are and what we stand for. And if you’re the one woman showing up to a room of 10 men, you know there’s a small army of us behind you, you know? And we’re all going through the same things. And when you encounter a difficult salary negotiation or whatever it is, you know that you have to fight a little bit harder and we’re here to sort of push you. But the events that we’ve hosted, so we do things like financial literacy planning training, negotiating training.
Sali Christeson: Everything that we’ve done in an event has something actionable that you walk away with. So, I’ll use negotiations as an example. We brought in six executives that you wouldn’t normally get face time with. We include men, we have male executives and female executives. We have male attendees and female attendees. We 100% include men in all of the activities that we do, because we think change really is going to happen by informing everyone. And then you would sit down and basically do like speed talks with three of the executives and they’d talk through how to manage a salary negotiation, how to manage a vendor negotiation. Just general Q&A. And so it’s catered to you and where you are in your career.
Sali Christeson: What I found really interesting from this exercise was that the male executive walked away understanding that women are fundamentally experiencing something different than men are and they’re in a position of power and can influence that outcome. We really, really pride ourselves on just being a resource for women and being a tool for women and having what I think is the right attitude for achieving whatever it is that you want to.
Amy Elisa Jackson: You guys are also opening up brick and mortar stores. Talk to me about the decision to go into local communities, because you see so many retailers just either one, sticking to the online space, or two, shuttering their own stores. What made you want to go brick and mortar and what’s the experience like when a woman walks into Argent?
Sali Christeson: Inherent, our model have always been physical spaces and physical locations simply because we’re building a community. And so having those locations for events and for hosting women and men getting together, it really allows us to build what we ultimately envision building. Right now we have a store in San Francisco, a store in New York, a showroom in LA and a pop up in DC.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Wow.
Sali Christeson: It’s great for a number of reasons. I mean, the community-building aspect is probably my favorite piece. It also gives women an opportunity to come in and like feel, see, try on and touch the clothes, our success rate if someone comes in and actually experiences the product is huge, because our price point’s very accessible for the quality.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yes, accessible for the quality. But the average person who’s just like browsing online, they see the price point and they’re like, “Ooh, workwear.” But I think you have sort of a real understanding of the price point does match the quality of the clothing and the quality of the materials.
Sali Christeson: Yes. And it’s intended to be in your closet for at a minimum of a decade. We’re sourcing high quality fabrics from Italy, Japan, France, Switzerland. We’re manufacturing in Manhattan.
Amy Elisa Jackson: So, this is not fast fashion.
Sali Christeson: This is not fast fashion and it is not going to end up in the landfill.
Amy Elisa Jackson: But it’s true. Everyone’s paying much more attention to fast fashion and how it is filling up landfills and there are a lot of companies who are trying to address that issue. One of the other things, going back to the brick and mortar experience, I love the fact that there are phone rooms and little coworking nooks in your stores. I think for those who are listening, any of us who are multitasking women out there have had the experience where you’re like, “I’m just going to dip out in my lunch break. I’m going to go shopping real quick.” And all of a sudden your boss calls or all of a sudden there’s a meeting that has to happen and you’re like frantically trying to log into the Zoom dial-in. You’re trying to balance your coffee, your phone plus the laptop and trying to make it all work at the same time. But if you walk into Argent, there’s an opportunity to not only try on a dope blazer but also multitask with your call and your boss never has to know.
Sali Christeson: And we learned that from people doing it. So, we had pop-ups and I’ll never forget a woman just sat in the fitting room on the phone. She was a journalist, she was in an interview for-
Amy Elisa Jackson: ….been there.
Sali Christeson: … two hours, I was like, “What? Are you okay? Are you sure you don’t need anything?” I think the key insight is we know who our customer is and we know that we can offer these amenities if needed because yeah, things pop up and oftentimes are unanticipated and so we have in our spaces, you can just set up and like be on wi-fi and work. We have private areas for you to take phone calls. We actually have some private areas you can take meetings, it depends on the space. DC does not offer this. So don’t get to DC for any of this. But in our other spaces that we’ve actually built out, we were really cognizant of what we wanted to offer to a really specific consumer.
Amy Elisa Jackson: As a successful woman, Sali, in sort of this workplace space, do you feel pressure to continue to lean in, to not let up because you’ve got this army of Argent women now cheering you on, right? And four years in, do you feel the pressure to continue plowing forward or do you feel like the women who support the brand and the business really understand that there are times to lean in and times to lean out?
Sali Christeson: I think my motivation comes from the impact that we’re having in an individual level for women and to the conversation and ultimately really believing in what we’re building. I don’t know that I really call it leaning in per se. I just am being who I am and I’m trying to give women access to whatever it is that they might need. And the feedback that we hear from them is so validating. It just keeps us moving forward. So I don’t know that I really think about it in those terms, if that makes sense.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yeah, it does make sense. I think the question sort of comes from a place, not only in my own professional career, but many of the executive women who I’ve sat down with who are trailblazers, right? They’re either the first or the only. There is this sense of responsibility to the women coming up behind you or the women alongside you to continue to push forward, to push ahead. And that’s fantastic and it’s wonderful and it’s inspiring and we’ve all been there. But then there are those moments where you want more than one hour to watch Grace and Frankie, you want to take off the blazer for a second and you just want to chill, or you just want to go on vacation and not answer the phone. And so I just wonder whether, as a female entrepreneur, whether you feel like you have the ability to lean out a little bit, where you’re not plowing ahead with opening five new stores and then tackling this and visiting so-and-so and taking meetings, et cetera. How do you balance that?
Sali Christeson: I think everyone has to be mindful of what makes them happy and what makes them tick. And I’m acutely aware of that. I actually learned this at Cisco because I was in a job that was insane. I probably slept two, three hours a night while I was there. And the thing that I learned more than anything was, I hate using this phrase, but work-life balance, I really figured out what I had to have every day. So I have to exercise, I have to have some time to unplug. Now I’m having kids, I have to have time with my kids. So I know what drives me and my family life. And I also know that I have an opportunity to give back and I will always make time for that. But I think you have to be realistic in terms of keeping yourself grounded and what amount of time is appropriate to be doing that and how you’re most efficient with that, et cetera.
Sali Christeson: So I’ve certainly had to be a little bit more thoughtful in terms of how I manage my time. But I always, always want to be available for anyone that I can potentially help, anyone that I could help in any way. And I’d like to model the behavior of a successful badass woman, however you want to say it. But I think the struggle that I’ve seen with female executives is that there are so many demands on their time, because there are so few of them and where Argent comes in and what I’ve always hoped for-
Sali Christeson: Where Argent comes in and what I’ve always hoped for us is to be able to solve that so we do bring in these female executives and they give back to 100 to 200 women in an hour or two versus having to have to-
Amy Elisa Jackson: …have 20 coffees with someone over 30 minutes.
Sali Christeson: Yeah. How do we make it a bit more scalable and how do we make their time more scalable and how do we give women access to the same types of information to level the playing field. Then I’ll also say I don’t really think of myself differently in a lot of ways than my male counterparts. I just-
Amy Elisa Jackson: You’re just doing it and climbing ahead. You’re like, I’m going to be a badass. I don’t care who it is or what we’re doing.
Sali Christeson: I’m winning. You’re winning. Cool. I had so many male mentors too and I think that the risk with this conversation is alienating men and focusing on females as the only way to really get any training and that’s the networking you should be doing. That’s who you should be learning from. I’ve learned so much from my male mentors and advocates and so it’s always been a balanced mix for me. But yeah, I don’t… I’d never lean out as you put it.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I love your point about the importance of bringing men into the conversation and having male mentors. I think there can be this perception that as women, climbing the corporate ladder or just climbing any ladder, that it’s all about the sisterhood and we’ve got to lean into one another and there are some bridges that always have to be built and maintained and there’s really valuable insight from the guys in your workplace and from other men who’ve done it, blazed trails of their own. I think that’s a really important point. It’s not only about the woman tribe, but it’s also about bridging the gaps and not sort of segregating. I think right now in this MeToo era, it’s very easy to separate. It’s very, very easy to be like, oh, I don’t trust that or I’m not really sure or I’m worried about having this type of professional relationship, but it’s really important.
Sali Christeson: Many decisions about your career are made when you’re not in the room. The numbers are just going to show that men are oftentimes making those decisions. Networking is something that men do more than women, especially early in their career. It’s the most important thing that you could do and you should be networking-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Nonstop.
Sali Christeson: Nonstop with men and women. I think the unfortunate repercussion of the MeToo conversation is that women are being excluded from consideration for jobs now because it’s perceived as risky. I think they’re getting cut out in a lot of ways and that is the absolute worst outcome. It’s figuring out how to combat some of the things that happen. I went out once with probably the male that was the most influential in my career at Cisco and be out… He’s been so supportive at Argent. We went out one-on-one for drinks one time and there was a group of three women next to us that were certainly judging us and making comments and it was a professional relationship, always has been. In that time, I learned how decisions are made for promotions. I learned who’s on my side, who’s not on my side, who I need to talk to. I’m learning so much informally, that if I didn’t take that time or have that relationship, I wouldn’t know or be privy to.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Right. We have to make sure that as women, we’re not looking at another woman who’s having a professional drink with a man and giving her the side-eye. There’s a lot that we can be doing to support her and not question that relationship because having a drink with a male colleague does not mean anything other than you’re having a drink with a male colleague. I think there is that sisterhood that we could be extending a little bit of grace and understanding and not allowing ourselves to fall into the stereotype as well.
Sali Christeson: Completely.
Amy Elisa Jackson: What is a great piece of business advice or life advice that you’ve received along your journey in the past, maybe four years? Who gave it to you and how has it enhanced your life? Okay. You better tell because that look on your face, the chuckle, it’s probably really good.
Sali Christeson: I feel like it’s so specific to Argent, but I think this is more related to building a company. Every entrepreneur is so naive going into that process and in a lot of ways you have to be to survive and to even make the commitment to begin with. Very early on someone just warned me against getting too caught up in the hoopla when you do launch because there is a lot of attention the second you launch. The advice was to stay steady and… We got some great press coverage when we launched. So many things happened the second that we launched and we were living high, but you cannot do that. You can’t stay there because you have to sustain that and it’s like an absolute marathon. I thought that was really good advice.
Sali Christeson: The second was, this is probably my favorite, is to be really intentional and thoughtful about who you involve with your venture because it’s literally you against the world and your odds are very low and you have to find people that are genuinely passionate about what you’re building and what you’re doing. This applies, I think, regardless-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Regardless, yeah.
Sali Christeson: … what environment you’re in, but really, really taking that time upfront, not rushing decisions and making sure that they see you as more than a paycheck. I’ve made that mistake. Even with that advice, I made that mistake over and over again and I think you have to learn that one the hard way unfortunately, but I think I got there quicker because I had this piece of advice in the back of my head.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I think that’s so important for all of us. Whether you’re starting a business or you’re simply working at a company that you love. Really being mindful of the people you surround yourself with. Being mindful of the people who pour into you and who you are in relation with because they leave an imprint and their words creep in and it can sway you one way or the other. Being surrounded by good quality friends and family and business contacts and vendors, all of that is so invaluable and so important to the success of your business, but also your own professional success.
Sali Christeson: Yes. As an entrepreneur you’re the most excited, you’re the most passionate and so early on I was the worst person to hire people. I was basically cut off from being the sole hirer.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Why were you the worst person to hire?
Sali Christeson: So many of us are guilty of this. I would project my enthusiasm onto whoever I was talking to and they’re feeding off of my energy. I don’t recognize that and then I hire them. And they’re like, what the hell?
Amy Elisa Jackson: What happened to their enthusiasm about our mission?
Sali Christeson: Why didn’t I see this?
Amy Elisa Jackson: Then you think back to the interview question and you’re like, they weren’t really that jazzed about our mission. They were just feeding off of the cute blazer.
Sali Christeson: Oftentimes that’s the case. Oftentimes the founder is not the best judge, but I’ve learned how to tweak. We’ve put a system in place that protects us against rushing those decisions. Hiring is your make or break.
Amy Elisa Jackson: One thing I read about Argent that I really loved was that not only are you uncompromising and you’re disrupting in this space, but you are here to dropkick the glass ceiling. First of all, I’m all for the dropkick, I’m here for it. If you had one piece of advice to women about navigating bias and drop-kicking the glass ceiling, what would that be?
Sali Christeson: I think you have to be a little bit unafraid and outspoken with what you see. I’ll use an example from my past. I noticed that I was getting asked to take meeting minutes. I was going to ask to plan parties. I was getting asked to do non-promotable tasks.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Non-promotable tasks. Yes.
Sali Christeson: It happens. You read about it happening all the time. I was like, I’m going to talk to my manager about this. I didn’t have a manager in between a more senior manager. I was reporting above what I should have been and he had so much authority. I said, look, just so you know, one, I’m working on actively saying no because I say yes to everything. Two, you’re asking me to do all these-
Amy Elisa Jackson: Administrative feminine tasks that you think only women are supposed to do.
Sali Christeson: All the time. I was the only woman in the room. I was one of the more senior women… The makeup of our team was 95% male, 5% female. It was such an eye-opening conversation for him and he was in a position of power. For me it also allowed me to really focus on my work, but then I watched him divvy up the work across my male peers and counterparts and it was so productive. I think the majority of people in my experience aren’t intentionally bias. It just happens. How do we become a part of that conversation at every level? I was in my twenties when this happened. I think I really did see changed behavior. I think this manager was amazing and so open to the conversation, I think we have to be able to have those types of conversations. I think managers have to open the door to them as well.
Amy Elisa Jackson: As women sometimes we have to find that voice. I had a situation at work where I was just really disappointed with a decision that was made and it took me five or six weeks to figure out how I wanted to craft a response because I didn’t want to come from a place of emotion. I knew that if I did I would just lose all my power. I’d be like, you’re not getting my tears. You are not getting my tears. It took me five or six weeks to figure out how I wanted to craft that response and deliver it in a way that was powerful and succinct and reflective of how I felt, but it took time. It takes time for women to feel like, for anybody, it could be man or woman, to feel like they’ve got the right words and which to say, I appreciate that you really enjoy working with me, manager, but I want to call to your attention that you’ve asked me to get water or take minutes or whiteboard something four times and none of the other men in the room are being asked for this.
Amy Elisa Jackson: It takes real time to practice that and it’s not something that an Instagram quotable is going to give you overnight. I think there’s that perception that Sali from Argent said, I need to get it together and so immediately it’s going to happen. That change doesn’t happen overnight.
Sali Christeson: Yeah. That sounds so much more eloquent than the way I handled it too. I was like, listen, but yeah, I think that’s exactly right.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Sali. Careers aren’t linear. What has been your best detour or pivot?
Sali Christeson: Advice that I always give is never become complacent. Anytime that you are complacent in a role or you’re not learning, find the next role. I think that the landscape has changed so much now in the modern workforce, very different than it was for our parents and previous generations. Probably my most nonlinear would be the leap from tech into Argent, but if you look at my career path, it’s logical in some ways, but I also just always put myself in roles that I thought were interesting and I thought were places that I would learn from. If you’re doing that, I think that that keeps you really innovative. I think it keeps you relevant. I think it keeps you just kind of on your toes and really going against the status quo and challenging what’s been accepted in ways that I think is really productive. I truly started Argent knowing that I would just learn from it and nothing more. I didn’t need more from it, I just wanted an experience to learn from. I would like it to be successful obviously, so I maybe need that, but I really think that nonlinear career paths are the most interesting, for me at least, maybe not for everyone.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I think it’s all about how you craft the narrative about your career.
Sali Christeson: Completely.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I think a lot of people rely on their resume or their LinkedIn profile to make it obvious that they took this step and then this step and it made sense, but it’s really about the narrative that you tell. I think what you’re pointing out around you’re taking roles and you look at new opportunities around what you’ll learn and how you’ll be challenged, I think that that makes perfect sense.
Sali Christeson: It’s just more holistic I think than people often are willing to do. I truly think that you are a little bit more lethal when you are willing to take that path because it’s risk-taking and it’s perceived as being brave and it’s perceived as really pushing things and if it makes sense to you, just do it.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Lastly, Sali, as you look ahead, what are you most in pursuit of?
Sali Christeson: Equality for sure. I think it’s obvious from probably everything I’ve talked about, but I just want women to have equal access and I want us to be a part of that as much as possible or as little as possible, whatever is needed, but I think that… We talk the talk, we’re not walking the walk and unfortunately the increased amount of conversation leads people to think changes happen and I don’t think change actually really has happened and so how do we get there and how do we make our society more productive by involving women in a more fair way?
Amy Elisa Jackson: I love that. Sali Christeson, thank you so very much for joining us on In Pursuit.
Sali Christeson: This was so fun. Thanks for having me.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Thanks for listening to In Pursuit, the podcast from Glassdoor. This episode was produced by Lee Schneider and Alison Sullivan. Music by Epidemic Sound. Production by Red Cup Agency. Look for us on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re on Apple, don’t forget to share the love. Give us some stars. Leave a comment. Thanks for listening. I’m Amy Elisa Jackson and this is In Pursuit.