When I met Danielle Sheer recently, she was exultant. “Last weekend was the first in nine months that I didn’t have to work.” What gives, I wondered. I learned a lot in my hour with her.
By Kathleen Stone
Danielle is the first General Counsel of Carbonite, a public cloud back-up company that caters to small businesses and individuals. In the six years Danielle has been there, Carbonite has acquired three other companies, gone public, fended off a hostile tender offer, and successfully defended against two proxy contests – all intense legal events. Plus, at Danielle’s urging, the company moved to Downtown Crossing, and she was responsible for outfitting the space in a hip yet comfortable style. On the personal front, she and her husband, also a lawyer, had a baby girl nearly a year ago. Her weekend off was well deserved.
And as if all this was not enough, Danielle also chairs the membership committee for The Boston Club. She’s keenly aware of the challenges women face when they juggle an upward trajectory at work with family responsibilities, and still make time for volunteer work. But she’s helping the Club recruit members, particularly women in her age group, and thinking of ways to make membership meaningful for them. The Club offers what she believes is important: an investment in other women’s climb.
Danielle’s career straddles tech and law, neither field known for encouraging women’s success, and I asked her about her experience of women’s climb in these industries. While law firms are challenging environments for a woman’s professional ascension, her experience in tech has only been positive. She had a mentor in the CEO, for one thing. She started at Carbonite six years ago, after working at a law firm in New York where she specialized in corporate and securities work. When she started at Carbonite, she knew the legal side of the issues, but the CEO wanted her to be a business person, too, and he mentored her as she grew into thinking more strategically, working toward executing on key business objectives. And when I asked her how investment in other women plays out at the company, she told me an interesting story.
When she first started, there were only a handful of women, and Danielle often found herself in meetings with many men and only one other woman. When an issue came up for discussion, she and her female colleague stated their opinions, often disagreeing with one another. But Danielle noticed a different dynamic with the men; one of the guys would give his opinion and the others would support him. Why are we women being so hard on each other, she wondered. She consulted her mentor and he told her: We talk to each other before the meeting, disagreements get worked out ahead of time and then the meeting goes smoothly.
Armed with that knowledge, Danielle went to her female colleague and suggested they do the same. If they hashed out differences beforehand, they could support each other with enthusiasm in meetings to great success. And by investing in their mutual success, the two women advanced, individually and together. Now, the executive team has five women—almost half—and that’s a big change from just a few years ago when Danielle was the only one. Ahead, she sees the challenge of helping the board of directors to diversify its membership.
If Danielle entered another realm entirely, what would she do? She imagines a room by the ocean, bright with sunlight. She’s at a desk, writing a novel, one with shifting points of view, similar in that way to The Sound and the Fury. Ambitious? Yes. A little crazy? Maybe, but she could be fulfilling her personal destiny. Family legend has it that she is related to William Faulkner, after all. But that day, if it ever comes, is not yet here.
For now, Danielle loves her job at Carbonite. She’s enthusiastic about the Club’s efforts to bring new members in to The Boston Club. And she has her own baby daughter to guide to become a future leader.
So now we know something about Carbonite the company. But what is carbonite the material? It’s a metal alloy, and in Star Wars it was used to freeze the character Hans Solo in perfect hibernation. You can’t forget the movie when you’re in the company’s offices. Allusions are sprinkled throughout, and the restrooms are labeled “Leia” and “Luke.” Perfectly fitting for the creative side of Danielle.
Thanks to Kathleen Stone for interviewing Danielle! Kathleen, a former President of The Boston Club, understands a busy life—she’s a practicing attorney, a writer, a sailor, a rower, and a mom, among many other adventures!