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Q&A with Claire Darley: Effective leadership for female entrepreneurs

In this interview, we speak with Claire Darley, Adobe SVP Digital Media Sales & Customer Support Worldwide.

7 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

Women small business owner.

Adobe Firefly

This post is sponsored by Adobe.

National Women’s Small Business Month in October is an opportunity to honor and empower women-owned enterprises and leaders. Claire Darley is an inspiring role model for women in leadership as Adobe SVP Digital Media Sales & Customer Support Worldwide, as well as interim President of Adobe Japan across all lines of business. In her role, she works and partners with many women entrepreneurs and business owners worldwide. Claire discusses how women entrepreneurs can achieve success in an exclusive Q&A and advises them to know their value and leverage relationships to build a strong network of mentors and role models.


Headshot of Claire Darley.

In your opinion, what are the key leadership qualities that all female small business owners should cultivate?

Understand the nuances of your industry or sector, and remember you don’t have to be perfect out the gate. Seek to understand. Be open to the experiences presented to you and the knowledge you’ll gain. You got into business because you had a great idea and the passion and conviction to back yourself. Harness that!

Know your value and purpose — you are amazing! The business world was not built for women, but that doesn’t mean we have to mold ourselves to fit into it. Use what makes you special to make special things happen. That starts with the power of relationships, so don’t underestimate them! As you develop relationships, start to consider a mentor who can help you grow. Relationships aren’t just about your professional network, it’s also about your customers. Trust them. Create a meaningful, two-way conversation with them. They will keep you on the right path, whether it’s creating the right content, or the right offering. Their immediate engagement will give you data on what works – if you listen.

What are some effective strategies female small business owners can use to build meaningful connections through networking?

To me, networks are about two simple things – connecting, and enabling. Connecting like-minded people, with shared interests. They’re where people can get together, tell stories, and importantly get help. That’s where the enabling piece comes in, be open to learn, share, and grow. Build a network and seek out allies through customers, partners, and industry peers. Finding different people to be in your network makes it stronger.  Each will give you something unique – and will help you see 360 degrees round a challenge or an opportunity. Not only is there a business advantage but it’s important for fostering inclusion and removing barriers.

I’m part of the Women at Adobe employee network, which seeks to attract and develop women and allies, creating an environment that empowers every woman to define and achieve her own success. You won’t believe the number of times that group of amazing women have helped me see beyond the immediate challenge and remind myself that I am enough — that I’m a badass! 

If there isn’t an obvious women’s network around you, think about setting up your own. We get so much feedback about how we’ve helped others. 

What are some barriers that female entrepreneurs face in leadership roles, and how can they overcome them?

First – despite being 51% of the population, there are fewer of us in business. The International Labor Organization reported that worldwide under 47% of women make up the labor force, compared to 72% of men. Even fewer women make up the C-Suite.  As for women entrepreneurs, well, this gets more interesting, according to the World Economic Forum (May 2023). Out of 580 million entrepreneurs, over 250 million are female entrepreneurs, that’s 43% of all entrepreneurs. Despite an increase of 114% in 20 years, females still lag behind their male counterparts.

So what gets in our way? Well, many things, but let’s start with how we can help ourselves.  In my experience, women tend to want and need to be perfect. Imposter syndrome is real — pleasing, performing, proving, and perfecting are things that plague women. Other barriers include Investment and equity backing, skills enablement, and growing women leaders through coaching and mentoring. We need to invest in programs that “pay it forward.” 

In a leadership role, what challenges do female small business owners face, and how can Adobe’s tools help?

Women entrepreneurs face double the challenges: Perhaps it’s an unfair share of the at-home or family roles, plus the simple fact that small business owners also have a lot of responsibilities. Often, they have to wear many hats from finance to marketing to customer experiences. 

Our role at Adobe is to simplify what we can to help business owners stand out and have real impact. So firstly – don’t be afraid of tech. It seems simple but not enough women take advantage of it. Simplify and use tools to take care of back-office tasks like managing invoices, allowing leaders to focus on growing their business. Adobe Acrobat is a must-have solution; it turns paper-based processes to streamlined digital experiences and takes the work of out managing documents.

For example, we’re currently working with standout women business + tech entrepreneurs Mallory Rowan and Jeein Youn who use Acrobat to streamline collaboration and reduce the busy work associated with back-office tasks to focus on more creative outputs. 

Second, focus on your brand and external positioning, the world is digital so work out the social networks that work for you and get creating content with a frequency that means you are getting good two-way engagement with your customers two or three times per week.

How do you do that if you are not a marketer? It’s pretty simple to get started. Adobe Express is a free and easy tool for anyone, even with no design skills, to create standout, professional-quality content. It’s template-based and has the power of generative AI, meaning you can get started with simple text prompts for beautiful images. Pair this over time with some analytics capabilities that allow you to track which content drives the most interaction and sales.

How can Adobe enhance branding and marketing strategies for female-led small businesses?

First know your brand, what it stands for and what resonates with your customers. Given this is your business, how aligned is this with your personal brand? My top tip – is make it personal. Make it about you – because this is your edge, and it starts the journey to creating a tribal following from your customers. 

Then create images, colors, logos, and content that support that. Not a marketing expert – don’t worry! Adobe Express can help you – we’ve taken out the hard work. Get started with templates and ideas for logos, video’s, social posts, flyers, anything! Adobe will recommend Fonts and colors, as well as providing amazing inclusive stock content and generative AI.

What should every woman small business owner do to enhance their leadership abilities?

Hire for diversity and inclusion. It’s not just the right thing to do, it makes business sense. This isn’t just about gender or race but also about background, education, and experiences. Whether you’re reaching hundreds, thousands, or millions of customers, it’s important to have a diverse workforce to appeal to everyone. And believe!


About Claire Darley: Claire Darley is a transformational leader. She has led large-scale change in IT and telecommunications for 30+ years through cooperation, pragmatism, and creating real “fellowship”. She led Adobe’s Digital Transformation in EMEA, transforming Creative Cloud from an off-the-shelf product to a subscription model. As a Senior Vice President at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif., Claire leads global field sales for Adobe’s Digital Media business and the leads the worldwide Customer Support team, which handles millions of calls and chats annually. Claire’s mantra: create something special, and unleash my team to have real, meaningful impact — in order to help our customers achieve their goals. Claire, a leading woman in technology, believes her career inspires others, especially girls from rural working-class communities, to keep pushing themselves and challenging the established status quo.