Clarissa (she/her) is a Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google and Editor-in-Chief at Women of Silicon Valley. Prior to Google, she was an early member of the business development teams at Box and Optimizely. She is passionate about advancing the role of women in technology through education and storytelling. Before Women of Silicon Valley, her work in this field included serving as a committee member of the Box Women’s Network and as a mentor to female high school entrepreneurs through BUILD.org.
Outside of work, she can often be found reading, traveling, chasing around her two young kids, or sometimes trying to do all three at once.
1. When did you decide you wanted to be in the tech industry?
After graduating from college, my original intention was to work in journalism. I took a job with a company that produced “advertorial” reports (which are basically sponsored articles) for international newspapers. We got to live in a different country every 4 months, which was a dream, but the way that work got done at that company was very old-school. We faxed contracts back and forth and kept track of calls, contacts, and calendars on paper. A good percentage of our work day was spent managing these administrative tasks.
At the end of my first year there, we found ourselves in the middle of the recession, and the company was struggling. I came back to San Francisco and figured I’d do something short-term until I found a role that I was really passionate about, so I took an entry-level job at a startup. At that company, I was suddenly introduced to a whole new world of technology — CRMs to manage contacts, e-signature tools to manage contract signing, collaborative calendars, and shared drives. I realized how technology had the power to change the way that work gets done. From then on, I was hooked and have worked in tech ever since.
2. Who’s one person in your life you looked up to when you were younger?
My grandmother was a pretty phenomenal person. She grew up in the Philippines and came to the US in the 1950s to pursue her Masters degree in banking at Columbia University in New York. There weren’t many women pursuing advanced degrees in business at the time, and I imagine that there were still far less that were foreign/international students, but she did it.
She ended up meeting my grandfather during her time in New York and went on to raise 10 children. As someone who became a mom for the first time just two years ago, I can’t even fathom the physical and mental toll that carrying, birthing, and raising that many children must have taken on her, but she did it.
She was a wonderful mother and became the matriarch of our huge, crazy family. She passed away a couple of years ago, but every time this whole parenthood thing gets tough (which is often), I find inspiration in thinking of her.
3. Where’s your hometown?
San Francisco, CA.
4. What’s a time you faced a struggle?
One of the most challenging periods I’ve been through recently started in October 2015. My uncle Rocky, the youngest of my mom’s siblings, went in for a fairly standard surgery and unfortunately did not survive. A couple of weeks later, my aunt, uncle, and grandmother (from the same side of the family) were involved in a tragic car accident, which took my grandmother’s life. We lost 2 loved ones, unexpectedly, within a one month period. For a family as close as ours, this was a huge blow.
At the time, I also happened to be pregnant with my first child, working full-time, and attending my first year of business school at UC Berkeley’s evening/weekend program, so there was a lot going on. I was managing feelings of grief, on top of the physical (and emotional) discomforts of pregnancy, while trying to stay afloat at both work and school. As an introvert by nature, I tend to turn inward when I need to process things. I prefer to handle difficult situations on my own, rather than talking it out or asking for help. However, this time I literally could not manage alone.
I found comfort in leaning on my family, who were coping with the same experience of loss, but were still somehow able to bring some levity to those long days spent in ICU waiting rooms. At work, my manager and colleagues were supportive and gave me the flexibility to take as much time off as I needed. At school, my study group stepped up for me and made sure that our work was taken care of in my absence. As someone who doesn’t often ask for help, this experience reminded me of the importance of community, and of giving and accepting help from those around you.
5. What’s a time you did something you were immensely proud of?
I had a proud moment recently, while I was on maternity leave with my son. My husband and I were in the process of buying our first house and were hoping to get a specific type of loan. Ten minutes after filling out the preliminary paperwork, I received a call telling me in a very dismissive tone, “Yeah, that loan isn’t going to be an option for you.”
I was shocked and asked how they had come to that conclusion so quickly. The loan officer told me, “You’re on maternity leave. We can’t qualify you unless you go back to work before closing.” The closing was in 4 weeks and I still had 2 months of leave left with my son. I was floored. It was the first time that I had felt the sting of discrimination for being a parent. It felt wrong, so I instinctively pushed back.
Who were they to assume that I might not come back to work after maternity leave? Why was the fact that I had a baby preventing us from getting a loan that we were fully qualified for financially? Were they saying that if I’d had my son one month earlier, this wouldn’t have been an issue? How was that fair? Was this even legal?
It turns out, it wasn’t. I did some research and found the specific law that protects people from being discriminated against in real estate transactions due to familial status. I shared that with her and told her I wanted to speak with whomever the ultimate decision maker on the matter would be. After much back and forth, things ended up working out in our favor and we qualified for the loan.
I was proud of the fact that I had refused to accept that initial decision, had listened to that gut feeling that told me it was a biased outcome, and had held my ground. It seems like a small win, but honestly, a couple of years ago, I don’t know that I would have had the wherewithal to question a decision that seemed so final.
6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
I recently returned to work after my second maternity leave, and it’s prompted me to think a lot about how to lead a balanced life. There’s a lot of fodder about whether working moms can “have it all,” but I think that’s the wrong question. It’s not about being the ultimate PTA parent while climbing the career ladder to the very top, the real question is — what is the right balance *for me* to feel fulfillment in both my family life and my work life? The answer to that is nuanced and likely different for every working parent. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what that answer is for myself.
7. Favorite food?
Having grown up in San Francisco, I have to say that Dungeness crab is probably my all-time favorite food.
8. Favorite book?
Reading has long been my favorite hobby, so I have a lot of favorites! I love fiction and find myself particularly drawn to books with offbeat (often “unlikeable”) protagonists, so a few favorites are A Confederacy of Dunces, Ask the Dust, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Everything is Illuminated.
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
I’ve always wanted to be a journalist, so I would love to try that out for a day.
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
You don’t *always* have to make the smart, pragmatic choice. Some of your greatest adventures will come from decisions that you make on impulse, so embrace spontaneity and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.