Devon Novotnak – The corporate athlete #IWD2023

March 8, 2023
Devon Novotnak, Senior Product Manager at The RealReal.

Devon Novotnak is currently in product management for The RealReal – bridging the gap between her loves for technology, fashion and re-commerce. At The RealReal she also leads the Women’s Employee Resource Group which was started out of her desire to create a community for women in technology – but grew into all women at the company! On the field she has been playing soccer for 30 years and field hockey for 20 years (and still plays both!) You can find her at center mid (probably not scoring any goals) or on the board for the NYC co-ed field hockey league. 

What have sports meant to you?

Sports have had a place in my life since I was four years old. At four I started playing soccer, at ten I started running, and at 12 I started field hockey – and I haven’t stopped since. It is a time where I step away from my keyboard and day-to-day stress and can be creative, playful, and test my limits. The field is where I developed relationships of trust with my teammates and learned first how to be a leader.

What characteristics do you think female athletes possess that translate well to leadership in a corporate environment?

Playing sports (especially ones that require endurance like field hockey and soccer) take incredible commitment and also resilience. Resilience appears first physically – sprinting that extra few yards, playing till the last few minutes of the game and pushing just a little bit harder. But then resilience can also come in other ways – picking yourself up after a tough loss or showing up to play again after having a bad game. You learn to show up, try again, and keep pushing. For women in the workforce it isn’t always the easiest. We consistently face bias, unequal pay, and underrepresentation. As a woman in tech, I could’ve thrown my hands up in the air and said “that’s it” after being harassed by a male engineer or being looked over because I was the only woman product manager. Instead, I kept pushing and kept doing my job – but better. 

What lesson have you learned the hard way?

How to be coachable. I used to think that not being “coachable” meant having an attitude and mouthing off to your coach – which could never apply to me. But in college, I was so hard on myself in my efforts to be the absolute best that I tended to push my field hockey coaches away. I would seek validation and beat myself up instead of allowing for feedback in a positive way and adapting to change. In many ways, I wasn’t “coachable” and couldn’t change my behavior. As an adult, I often think about being receptive to feedback and adapting and, if you are open to it, how much of an impact it can have on your life. 

What is the main lesson you have learned from the sporting world that has contributed to the success in your corporate life?

I’ve traditionally only played team sports and, for me, this has been to my benefit. Being part of a team allows you to recognize the strengths of those around you and how you can better serve your teammates. As I’ve gotten further in my career that sentiment remains the same. Doing your job means propping up those around you and also delegating when needed. You really can’t do everything on your own – but you can invest in and support those around you.

Do you have a go-to quote that gives you inspiration in your sports and/or professional life?

My four-year old nephew once told me:

Be brave, Devon

as we raced up a rope ladder in Disney World. It was the sweetest comment that I realized was less for me, and more for him – he was the nervous one! But I realized that it’s as simple as plucking up the courage, taking a risk, and truly believing in yourself. 

Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organization/company.

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