In between finishing her undergraduate degree and going to chiropractic school, Amanda Fisher showed up for her first day as a bench chemist expecting to follow in the footsteps of her favorite science idol, and children's television legend, Mr. Wizard.
"I hoped it'd be like his show. He's in a lab, he's pouring things together, exciting things are happening," says Amanda. "The reality was I was taking little samples, then putting them in a machine, then taking the readout from the machine, then putting that in Excel spreadsheets, then compiling the data, then producing a report… Every single day was the same. And it was awful."
That experience taught her one of the most important lessons of her career: to only take jobs that aligned with her values.
First, of course, she had to figure out exactly what those values were, which is also why that not-so-great job was useful. It was a hands-on experiment in recognizing what she didn't value: repetitive, task-driven work with little opportunity to solve problems or implement change. "I think with everything in life, the best way to know what you like to do is to have a bad job and realize, 'Okay, I never want to do that again,'" she says. "It was not something where I just filled out a form or went to a conference. It was based on my experiences, and looking back and saying...the reason why I didn't like those things is because they were in conflict with my core values."
Amanda, who is now VP of Delivery Management at the software company Workiva, now has a career she loves that lets her live out her values every day. But the path to get there wasn't quite linear. We sat down with Amanda to learn about how she's found authentic growth in a work environment that lines up with what she most cares about, how she built a career around her values at Workiva, and what advice she has for others looking to do the same.
Before she decided on chiropractic school, Amanda was sure she'd be a doctor. "From the minute I knew what a job was, there was no question in my mind," she says. Her innate desire to practice medicine is rooted in the first personal value she identified in life: a desire to help people.
"I thought being a doctor was the easiest path for me to help as many people as possible," she says. But after a few years working as a chiropractor, she had two young children and was feeling burnt out in her career. She transitioned to a software company focused on health care records, where she worked first in QA and then in product management. When a job opening for a scrum master at a new tech start up called Workiva (then Webfilings) came to her attention, she took a chance and sent in her resume..
Through all of those transitions, she found new ways to help people, whether by showing up for her teammates, mentoring women trying to break into her field, or paving a path for other "onlys," who found themselves the odd one out in a meeting or group of people. "When an opportunity came up, if I felt like I could do it, even if it was scary or even if I didn't know what I was doing, I would say yes, because I felt like if somebody was putting that opportunity in front of me, they thought I was capable and they needed help," she says.
Amanda can keep all of those balls in the air at once because another value of hers is a love for getting things done. "I want to be a needle mover," she explains. "And I really love getting things done. I'm a self-driven person and I like accomplishing things." She credits a lot of her career growth to the work ethic that goes along with that value. "There's something about being seen as someone who just works their butt off," she says. "That's been part of my brand."
Amanda's experience as a chemist and in the more monotonous parts of other jobs made another value clear to her: a deep appreciation for change.
"I'm a very change-oriented person, and I love moving people towards change." she says. "There's a spectrum of people from really change averse to spontaneous to the point of too much change, and I'm a little bit more on the spontaneous side of things."
There's been no shortage of change in her roles at Workiva. Though she's been at the company for over eight years, each role has kept her on her toes, whether by taking on additional responsibility, working more cross-functionally, or evolving how work is done.
Amanda cites Workiva's culture as one of the main reasons why she's stayed at the company so long and grown her career alongside it. "The people here genuinely care about you as a person and not just what you contribute to the company," says Amanda. "I get text messages on occasion from Marty, our CEO, asking me, 'Hey, how's the family, how are you doing?' When I was going through really hard times, he reached out to me even before my direct manager did. That starts from the top."
With every step she's taken to grow her impact, Amanda's coworkers have been there to support and cheer her on. "I recently got promoted and I can't tell you how many emails and Slack messages I got that were like, 'well deserved!' 'it's about time!' It feels really good," she says.
Even before COVID, Workiva had remote employees and took care to communicate inclusively, but Amanda has found that the whole team has leveled up their empathy during this extended period of remote work. "It's made us better at communicating," she says. "It's really helped with our inclusion."
That makes sense, says Amanda: "We provide collaborative editing software for customers who need to work remotely and work with their colleagues. So it's pretty well in line with our philosophy!"
3 tips for other high-potential women building their own growth paths
Amanda has three key pieces of advice for anyone looking to live out their own career in line with their values:
- Find advocates. Amanda is proud of her work ethic, but recognizes that she alone can't get herself 100% of the way to her next role. "Pick someone that is in a meeting you wish you were in and have a conversation with them. 'Hey, I'd like to be there, but I can't—can you advocate for me?'" she says.
- Build relationships. "If people don't know who you are or what makes you tick, they're not going to think of you when the opportunity comes up," says Amanda. But that doesn't mean introducing yourself willy-nilly, either: "You can't form those relationships and speak about yourself all day long," she adds. Instead, says Amanda, "show them what you can do through your work." For her, for example, that has looked like signing up to lead department-wide all-hands meetings, from setting the agenda to MCing the conversation. "It's definitely increased my visibility. People have a connection with me," she says.
- Seek out peers for advice. Amanda's biggest piece of advice? Find people who are dealing with the same kinds of things that you are. She realized that as she moved up in her career and often found herself to be the only woman in the room. She wanted someone to talk through that experience with—which is exactly what she found with the Women of Workiva leadership development program. "It helped quite a bit, connecting with people who have something in common. I was part of a core team of women leaders at Workiva. I felt like I belonged," she says of the group, which included Amanda's peers from across the company and gave each participant an executive coach to work with. She's also on the committee of the Women in Tech employee resource group, where she's a sponsor and is helping to mentor one of her employees who is a co-lead.
Above all, Amanda encourages women to be open to what could be next for them, whether that's personally or professionally. She just bought a motorhome and is dreaming of the day when she and her husband can take off and drive around the country. "I think in a previous life, I was a nomad," she says. "I love to see new things. A couple of years into [something], I'm like, 'Okay, what's next?'"