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Women Of The Channel: Diversity In Technology Channel Isn't Fixed Yet, But Making Progress

While the data for diversity in technology isn't that promising, Women of the Channel executives said they are optimistic for a turnaround.

Looking just at the numbers, the diversity of the tech industry isn't very promising.

In the technology industry as a whole, women make up 23 percent of computer programmers, 7.5 percent of computer network architects and 17.3 percent network and computer systems administrators, according to 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In Google's recent high-profile release of its diversity data, while, overall, the company's employees were 30 percent female, only 17 percent of technology roles were held by women as of January 2014.

However, Women of the Channel executives said that, while the data was still disappointing, the industry is leagues ahead of where it was a few years ago.

[Related: Women Of The Channel 2014: Power 50 Solution Providers ]

"I feel like we're headed on the right path, but there's always room for improvement," Alison Challman, Phoenix-based Avnet vice president, HP Marketing & Brand Strategy, said.

Not only is there room for improvement, having diversity in the workplace will become crucial, Challman said, as women are becoming decision-makers in end-user organizations, such as marketing and finance, where before [technology solutions] might have been sold primarily to professionals in male-dominated areas such as IT. It comes down to the age-old sales principle of knowing your customer, she said.

"We can't discount the influence women have in the decision-making role in B2B," Challman said. "The truth is you want to be able to embrace the strength of women and men, and when you do that the outcome is going to be so much better. I think companies realize that and are working towards that, and we are seeing progress. Are we there yet? No. But we're certainly on the path. I feel good about where we're headed and what I see," she continued.

Even within technology itself, women are stepping up into leadership roles. Many of the Women of the Channel executives specifically cited technology leaders such as Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty as role models pioneering the way for women in technology.

"The reality is that this marketplace tends to be very heavily male-dominated so there hasn't been a voice and role for women in the technology landscape. As you look over the last several years, I've seen a growth in new women in leadership roles but if you also think about it, you start to see women leading large technology [companies], such as Meg and Ginni," Nicole Enright, vice president, marketing and strategy acceleration, at Avnet, said. "That's a new era for the technology industry."

Denna Mensch, Fremont, Calif.-based Synnex vice president of technology solutions, agreed, saying she's seen a huge change since she started at the distributor 12 years ago.

"I think when I just started in this industry, it was a male-dominated industry. I don't feel like that anymore. I do feel like obviously there are a lot of males in the industry but there are a lot of women [too]," Mensch said.

"From an industry perspective, I think we sit in a great place," she continued.

NEXT: Diversity Dynamic Changing In Value-Added Resellers

Beyond leaders at the top, women are seen stepping up and getting stronger roles throughout channel organizations, Women of the Channel executives said. For example, Enright, who has been at Avnet for 12 years, said that when she started at the distributor she was one of the first female leaders in the Americas. Over the past several years, that dynamic has really changed, she said. Her colleague, Challman, said that she has seen the same thing, both within the company and in the industry at large.

"I don't know that I can comment on other industries, but I can say I've been in the technology industry for 20 years, and what I've observed and seen is a lot of movement with women, even just within Avnet. I've been here almost 10 years, and Avnet is focused on developing its leadership teams. Today we see more women represented in the organization and in decision-making roles," Challman said.

Distributor and vendor executives said that they have even seen that diversity extending into their reseller channels, a fact echoed by channel executives themselves. The channel's roots are often in engineering jobs, Avnet's Enright said, which frequently attract less women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey, only 26.1 percent of computer and mathematical jobs were held by women in 2013, compared to 57.1 percent of all professional occupations.

[Related: 2014 Women Of The Channel: Up-And-Comers ]

However, Enright said that she's seen that balance in the reseller business starting to change.

"It's been really nice to see how women have come to play a stronger role in the value added reseller," she said.

While all Women of the Channel executives said that the channel is improving, some said that certain areas aren't improving as fast as others. For example, Lana Akamine, program manager, global partner enablement at Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat, said that she has seen sales development, in particular, slow to improve in the channel.

"It's really nice to be able to see so much more diversity as women in the technology workplace, as well as other minority groups. In the partner ecosystem, I do a lot more of the sales development and whatnot, and I think that one is still not quite there yet," Akamine said. "There are some very successful, great women in these areas of the partner ecosystem, but the ratio is not great for women to men."

Development programs such as mentoring, peer groups and education are all helping change the dynamic in the channel and in the tech industry at large, Lisa Citron, director of channel sales at Seattle-based F5 Networks, said. The programs are incredibly helpful, Citron said, but she said she dreams of a day that they would no longer be needed to build diversity.

"There is a long-standing perception that the tech industry is a boys' club. But that's definitely changing, often due to companies supporting the mentorship programs. Companies like Cisco, Deloitte, Microsoft and others are helping the effort. And with a recent uptick in companies supporting STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] in elementary and high school, I'm hoping that a generation from now we won't need female-specific mentorship programs," Citron said.

NEXT: The Road To Diversity Doesn't End Here

While big steps have been made, Women of the Channel executives said the road to diversity isn't over yet.

"We'll continue to see this evolve because this is not a new market, and as we find that technology and work life evolve, we'll see that change," Red Hat's Akamine said.

The improvement has been strong, Avnet's Enright said, but there is still plenty of room for women to make strides in technology and take up leadership roles.

"I would hope to continue to see women rise in levels of leadership in suppliers, partners and in Avnet," Enright said. "I think that there is room for women to continue to rise in those leadership roles and, in fact, I know there is room for that to happen. I think that women bring a variety of different skills and capabilities to an organization."

"Women often don't believe that they can aspire to, or don’t believe they have the capacity to, take their career to the next level. A secondary goal would be to see that thinking start to change," she continued. "I'd love to see a secondary goal of great growth of women in the technology channel so that my daughter, who is only 9 today, when she desires to go into the workplace, that's not even a question that enters her mind."


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