Ambitious Women Spotlight Series – Meet Roli Saxena
During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the stories of women who forged new paths, defied gender norms, and paved the way for the women of the future.
Today, we’re continuing that tradition by sharing a recent conversation with Roli Saxena, President of AdRoll and fierce advocate for women in tech. She led teams at Brex, Clever, and at LinkedIn — where she co-founded the LinkedIn Women’s Network program — before joining NextRoll. As a mother, mentor, and all-around influential woman, her career journey has helped open doors for many aspiring women leaders.
You’ve had an incredibly successful career to date, spanning finance, product management, marketing, and more. You’ve also been recognized as one of San Francisco Business Times’ Most Influential Women in the Bay Area. What were your early success tactics?
My parents have had a huge influence in who I am as a person and in my career from the start. I come from a family of educators, and the value of learning was instilled in us from early on. My dad would always say: life is all about learning from experiences and gaining new skills. And so I always prioritized roles where I could learn something new or solve hard problems over a title or function. In many ways, the experience and empathy across multiple functions has really prepared me for my job today.
The second thing we valued as a family is ‘relationships’ and nurturing them. Over time, those relationships become the networks you can lean on to continue learning and growing, and where you hear of opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise. So, in summary, focus on learning and solving hard problems, as well as building and nurturing relationships.
You co-founded the LinkedIn Women’s Network program, which helped increase women’s representation in senior leadership roles. What led you to start the program?
As one of the few senior women leaders within the sales organization, I was aware of how few women LinkedIn had in senior leadership roles. However, what really drove me to action occurred during our annual sale kickoff. After I presented to the entire sales team (over 2,000 people), many women in the organization came up to me and shared how inspiring it was for them to have a woman on stage.
It wasn’t until then I realized how stark the gap between men and women leadership numbers were within LinkedIn. I became acutely aware of the privilege I had and wanted to do something about creating opportunities for other women in the organization. I was very fortunate that LinkedIn’s CRO at the time, Mike Gamson, was also arriving at the same realization and was prioritizing investing in and creating a more equitable organization and investing in diversity. With Mike’s sponsorship, and after partnering with a few other very talented women leaders in the organization, we kicked off the Women Initiative (Win) program.
You also serve on the Board of Culture Amp — why is company culture a critical area of focus for you?
One of the reasons I was excited to join the Culture Amp board is that I have seen the power of culture in building breakthrough companies and results. I was at LinkedIn during their hyper-growth, when they grew from 500 employees to 10,000 employees over five years, and cultural values permeated throughout the organization. The tone and prioritization around culture is set at the top but cannot be built in isolation. Understanding what’s important to your employees and pairing them with the company’s values makes for a sustainable culture. Culture Amp solutions allow organizations to keep a pulse on their employee sentiments at scale and drive action towards them.
What advice would you give women in the tech industry? What’s the most important bit of advice you’ve received throughout your career?
Your voice matters. Let your voice be heard. Even if it means sharing one comment in the meeting. As an introvert, it was hard for me to speak up in the meetings. I used to have a sticky note on my computer to remind me to at least speak up once in every meeting.
Guard your time ferociously. Your time is the most scarce resource you have. Be deliberate on what you spend your time on. I spend Sunday evenings planning out what my priorities are and make sure my calendar reflects those priorities. Your priorities need to be holistic and inclusive of what’s important to you on a personal level too. Once you know what you’re focusing on, communicate it to people so they can support you on your priorities and respect your time. Earlier in my career, I let my calendar determine my priorities, and I have reversed the sequence now.
You always have options. Don’t let people tell you what is or isn’t possible. When I had my first child back in 1997, I was working for Exxon. I was told by everyone that I had two choices: come back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave or quit. I wanted to breastfeed my newborn for one year and could not see myself coming back to work after 12 weeks. Instead of taking one of the stated options, I asked my boss if I could work from home for a year and documented a very detailed plan on how we could make it happen. We did not have any precedence in the company of doing anything like this, but he was willing to advocate for me. We structured a role that allowed me to work from home for the year. That flexibility reinforced my loyalty for the company, and I worked harder than I ever had prior to that. Since then, I have made many unconventional career shifts and non-traditional work family structures. And for many of them I was advised it was not possible. My encouragement to women is don’t restrict your options yourself, just ask. If your employer can make those accommodations for you they will and if not, there is always a place that will.
Feeling ambitious? Learn how we empower women here at NextRoll and help them thrive in their careers.