At 37, Lindsey Newton is one of the youngest people to hold the title of Chief Financial Officer—and one of the few women in that position within the Bay Area.
Lindsey started her career at PriceWaterhouseCoopers before becoming the Vice President of Finance at Zozi and eventually making the move to Off the Grid as Chief Financial Officer. She’s now celebrating her fifth year at the company and has some advice to share about being one of the few women in a male-dominated field.
In honor of Women’s History Month, and as part of a new series taking a look at the people behind the scenes at Off the Grid, we asked Lindsey to dish it all. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you become involved in the food industry?
By chance, really. I was previously in tech, and prior to that, at a public accounting firm. I had a few food and wine clients (I was always into wine!) but it was mostly tech specific. It wasn’t until I met Matt through a VC friend that I made the move into food. It was 2015, and Matt was looking for a finance leader. I had been to Off the Grid multiple times, and the company was just shifting it’s business model to the intersection of tech and food. It got me hooked. I thought I could bring a different perspective. It has been a very steep learning curve since then with all the nuances around finance and food, but I absolutely love it.
What was that steep learning curve? What did you learn?
It took me too long to realize that so much of what we do has to be learned through actually experiencing it in person. Initially, I tried to pick up a lot from meeting with people and reading about the industry, but it wasn’t until I went out and shadowed a catering event or went to the commissary kitchens that I realized it was necessary to get a feel for what we do. Once I figured that out it became a regular part of my process.
Would you say that’s valuable advice in any industry?
Yes! But it’s tough if you’re coming from tech. It would be hard to sit behind a software developer and see how they’re coding to get a feel for the process! But I’m sure it’s applicable advice in many other industries.
What’s some of the best advice you ever received when building your career?
Go with your gut and tell the truth. And by tell the truth, I mean tell your truth. No matter what, come back to who you are, and be vulnerable about that—whether it’s a great day and you’re in a kickass mood, or you had one hour of sleep and are struggling. Leading with that always opens doors and creates an opportunity to learn things and teach things, too.
What’s your top advice on how to thrive as a leader?
Laugh! It can be very easy to get super serious super fast—or maybe that’s just me. But it’s a lot of responsibility to be in a leadership position. It is important and it is serious, but if you can find moments of laughter and levity, it just makes the job more fun.
Do you have specific advice for other women who want to be in executive roles?
I would give the same advice to anyone, regardless of gender, and that is to speak up and ask for opportunities—don’t wait. Find mentors and leaders that you respect that you want to emulate and make those connections. Typically, they want to teach, too, and they’ve been in the same position, so don’t be shy to ask. But women especially need those role models.
Can you name one woman who has inspired you the most?
That’s too tough! I have a ton of personal contacts and friends who have helped me. But the first person that came to mind is Oprah and almost every female leader she interviews. There truly are too many to list, but the point is that it ranges from the close friends who are female entrepreneurs that have inspired me, to Oprah to Sheryl Sandberg and other leaders at huge Fortune 500 companies.
How do you approach your role as a female advisor for other women now?
I have been able to hire and work with a lot of females, and I always try to lead with listening, being vulnerable and being open. I love being able to empower female leaders, both at Off the Grid and other companies throughout various levels of their careers.
Have you personally experienced biases as a woman in the workplace?
Oh yes. In both tech and food, demographically, there are more males in leadership roles across the board. I’ve been in a room with key decision makers and a question gets asked that I’m the best person to answer, but all eyes automatically go to the male partner. The great thing about working with Matt is that in those situations he redirects and says things like, “I don’t know, ask Lindsey—she’s the finance person.” I think that also comes with being a younger person in this role. They’ve been subtle things, but they’re obvious to me now.
How have you dealt with those subtleties?
Just by being very direct and catching it in the moment, even though it can be super hard. There’s a way to do it that doesn’t seem like a direct attack. And it really helps having someone like Matt who has your back and helps redirect. Sometimes you simply have to butt in and answer the question anyway.
In terms of getting ahead of it as a company, I just keep coming back to the data. We take a look at our demographics and look at the realities of gaps we have and try to approach solutions from a data-driven perspective. And we’re not just looking a female-male gaps, but also race, ethnicity, age.It starts with taking an honest look and seeing how you can improve.
Would you have done anything differently in your career if you knew what you know now?
I would like to go back to some situations where I knew I had an instinct that something felt biased or wrong, but I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to take a stand or be a leader against it.
It’s tricky when women get the message that they need to act or appear a certain way in order to get ahead—especially in male-dominated fields. Would you encourage young women to take a stand when encountering bias?
Yes. And it might sound cliche, but I think it’s always good to go with your instincts. Of course, there are realities around systematic inequality, and everyone has to learn how to navigate the system. What really helped for me is that I had the great fortune of having advisors who were female CFOs at various stages of their careers. Just having that outlet to talk to someone and get validation around what I was feeling, or bounce around an approach to a certain issue empowered me many times.
Where do you see the future for women in executive leadership? Are you encouraged by where we are, or feel like there’s still a lot of work to do?
I’m both encouraged and I feel like there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in the last five years, especially. It comes back to building awareness that these things exist. Let’s not deny them. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we need to keep asking ourselves how we actively create policy or make decisions focused on diversity in a way that empowers women within our own organizations.
Good stuff. On to Off the Grid! What’s one of your favorite moments from the past 5 years?
It’s bittersweet now, but we had an all-hands meeting in 2019 where everyone from the company was in attendance. It was my first time meeting or seeing everyone and it was so focused on celebrating the people in the room. It was basically just 2 hours of shouting out people and their accomplishments, and it was a very beautiful moment. We all went out and celebrated afterwards. It showed how much Off the Grid truly cares about its people.
What about the hardest moment?
The past year has been the toughest in my entire career. We’ve become a different company and faced challenges we never could have imagined. We’re such an in-person kind of company—we create experiences. So, it has been difficult to get to a place thriving in this new normal.
Are there any major silver linings that have come out of it?
Always. I keep coming back to how we treat our people. How can we say goodbye in the best and most thoughtful way possible? Coming back to that has helped through the transition. Also, Off the Grid has transformed into a much more focused company as a result of the pandemic. The ability to really develop people and start over with certain things that weren’t working is a gift—you don’t get that opportunity a lot in business.
Enough about work. How do you unplug?
Lots of things! I was huge into dining out in the Bay Area, so it has been fun recently to be able to do that again. I also like to dance. I’m a big dance party person—that’s where you’d typically find me on a weekend. And, because I live in Marin, I do all the outdoorsy biking and running and hiking things.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?
I’ve become obsessed with Baja-style fish tacos. You’ll find me at Hook Fish here in Mill Valley at least once a week!
What’s the best thing you learned to cook last year?
My friends know I’m not much of a cook, but I’ve definitely stepped up my game during the pandemic. I recently bought a deep fryer to make homemade french fries!
What’s the biggest thing you’re looking forward to this year?
Like everyone, being able to travel a little bit. If all the restrictions lift, I’d love to revisit my plans to travel in Central America, which I was supposed to do last year.