Women in Leadership #3: Astha Malik, Growth COO at VTEX
At VTEX, we take pride in our female leadership. That’s why we kicked off our Women in Leadership content series: to celebrate the powerful journeys of the women that inspire and push us to grow. This time, we are incredibly delighted to bring into the spotlight a key leader in our organization: Astha Malik, our Chief Operating Officer.
Astha Malik is the Global Chief Operating Officer (COO) at VTEX (NYSE: VTEX) and a senior technology executive with over 20 years of industry experience in growing global, premier technology companies by driving innovation in strategy, marketing, sales, customer experience and building top-performing teams with a focus on culture.
Astha is a seasoned industry veteran and has worked at companies including Zendesk (NYSE: ZEN), Citrix (NASDAQ: CTXS), Prudential (NSE: ICICIPRULI), PagerDuty (NYSE: PD) and Sumo Logic (NASDAQ: SUMO). She is a board member and advisor in the tech community. She currently serves on the board of Greenhouse — the fastest-growing provider of enterprise talent acquisition software, and Everlaw — an ediscovery platform.
Astha is an active advocate for diversity and leadership. She is recognized with awards by organizations committed to the cause including Female Executive of the Year — Stevie Awards for Women in Business, and Business Leadership Award by the National Diversity Council.
Looking back at your incredible career, what do you consider to be its most important milestones?
Astha: I’d say many important milestones that shaped my career were part of my formative years in India.
While growing up in India, it was common for parents and your community to have an expectation that if you’re doing well in school, you’ll choose careers that are associated with financial security such as medicine or engineering.
In the 10th grade, you have the chance to select your stream/major. I had an affinity to both science and art and I intuitively knew that those traditional paths were not for me.
In the end, I opted for a field called commerce, which deals with the various aspects of business, mathematics, strategy, trade, accounting, financial planning and economics. It gave me a broader perspective and also fulfilled my desire to learn more about business, strategy and planning. Most importantly, it was a decision that paid off immensely, giving me confidence that I could take risks, and decide what’s best for me.
And how do you view the idea of career milestones? What’s a milestone from your perspective?
Astha: I think it all goes back to how we think about ambition and satisfaction in general. A lot of people have goals, myself included. And many of us think to ourselves “I’m going to become a Manager, then a Director, then a Vice-President.” However, I’ve learned over the years that setting and accomplishing goals are both great, but if you’re an ambitious person, the satisfaction of having achieved something can be short lived and you quickly think about what’s next.
One way to enjoy your milestones and accomplishments is to remind yourself that this is a journey and view each one of these milestones as a learning opportunity and relish it a bit more. I’m all about goals and measurable outcomes, but that’s not the destination. Instead, milestones help me stay intellectually curious, enjoy the present and prepare me for what’s next.
You’ve been at VTEX for almost one year now! Please tell us more about your role and responsibilities.
Astha: All the risks I’ve taken over the years and all the learnings I’ve accumulated came together in this role as COO. Before, I’ve done sales, marketing and strategy across different industries and scales of businesses. At times, I was questioning whether I was making the right move, but I reminded myself that the best outcome was getting exactly what I wanted, whereas the worst outcome was learning something new which could help me in the future.
That mindset paid off with this position, because I now need to manage global marketing, strategy, growth operations, alliances and business development, enablement and people operations — basically a collection of all my previous experiences in a single role, which is fantastic.
With so many teams under your guidance, what would you say are the highlights of being a leader at VTEX?
Astha: I truly believe that, as a leader, your highlights are your team’s highlights. So from that perspective, it was great to see firsthand how the team carried us through a successful IPO last year, in my first few months at VTEX. When I joined we had to quickly prepare for all the go-to-market and IPO readiness. Supporting the team throughout the process was a great experience and I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved since then.
And what are the biggest learnings you’ve accumulated in your leadership positions?
Astha: I’ve come to the conclusion that even most “bad” bosses are not bad people; they’re just people struggling in situations they either haven’t handled before or haven’t had a chance to learn about from somebody else. So my biggest learning is that, as a leader, your self development is never done. You have to keep an open mind, to communicate, to be there for your team.
My second learning is that you should stop trying to please everybody and make sure you’re not being held to different standards because of gender or color. Women leaders are expected to behave differently than men and even the words used to describe us are different — for instance, firm vs. aggressive. We have to stand up in those key moments, because if one of us does it, it will inspire a lot of women to do the same whilst making others rethink their ways and choices.
Indeed, you’re known for standing up for what you believe in, especially when it comes to your leadership style. What is non-negotiable there?
Astha: I really believe in radical candor and transparent communication. It’s sometimes hard to abide by these two elements due to the cultural context in a new company or team, but I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my team if I’m not being honest and upfront. They should always know exactly where things stand and what the expectations are, because I don’t like surprises and assume most people don’t. And it goes both ways: being vulnerable, listening to your team’s feedback, working on areas of opportunities — they all build trust, and without trust you cannot call yourself a team.
Another element I hold dear is my zero tolerance for any ethical violation or disrespect. And that’s the ironic thing about radical candor: some people mistake it for a pass to be disrespectful — there’s a fine line between being direct and being a jerk. Try not to not cross that line.
What about “balancing” work and personal life?
Astha: I don’t think I have a good answer for how to balance work-life. I’m aiming towards work-life harmony. That means that, if my son or husband calls me for something important or if my puppy needs me, I’ll drop everything, because family is a priority. At the same time, some days I may need to prioritize work and I think that’s ok. Every day is different and there will be days when your family demands more attention and others when work takes precedence.
Also, I am becoming more and more mindful about keeping my personal commitments and even small things like doctor’s appointments. We usually do everything possible to keep a professional commitment or appointment so why not do the same for yourself?
And how do you embrace the unknown?
Astha: Risk-taking has been the hallmark of my career. I’ve jumped into the unknown so many times. And this is not to say that I haven’t been anxious or unsure, but I think in most situations I’ve always had somebody support me and give me confidence that I can say “yes” to more opportunities.
Talking about support, do you have any role models or even mentors that you feel have shaped you?
Astha: I believe in diversity in mentors, because there are different aspects of your work that you might need somebody’s opinion on. So in my view everyone needs a close circle of support and mine includes my husband. He’s my go-to person for everything and gives me the best advice.
I also consult and confide in some amazing female leaders whenever I find myself in a situation where I think a female voice and their experience would be most helpful. I am grateful to have had many industry veterans be both mentors and sponsors.
Lastly, I have a wonderful professional coach who gives me unbiased and unfiltered feedback, and helps me find my way in tough situations. Bottomline, I’m grateful to have the support of so many people who are investing in me — it takes a village.
Let’s say you’re the professional coach for a minute then. What’s your advice to women that are just starting their careers?
Astha: This question gets asked a lot, so I don’t know if I have something relatively unique to add, but I’d suggest women to say “yes” to new opportunities more often.
Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. But nobody’s perfect, nobody has it 100% figured out. Everyone’s learning, everyone’s making mistakes, even the most senior leaders. So go ahead and take the risk.
Well, that’s the perfect ending note. Thank you for sharing everything with us, we’ll make sure to keep your advice in mind!
Stay tuned for even more inspiring stories from our women in leadership.