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Women Of The Channel: When It Comes To Mentoring, We All Have A Role To Play

Lindsey O'Donnell
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From constantly grappling with phrases like "You can't be a good mother and a full-time worker" to facing prejudices in workplace strategies, women are still dealing with gender challenges in the technology industry.

The Channel Company's Women of the Channel West event in San Francisco on Wednesday gathered more than 150 female executives to discuss the obstacles they face and how to overcome them.

Margaret Dawson, chief marketing officer at Rival IQ, a Seattle-based analysis firm for digital marketers, discussed the prejudices women face. "The reality is, it's not just impacting technology, its impacting businesses and our lives," she said.

[Related: Power 100: The Most Powerful Women Of The Channel 2015 (Part 1)]

Women make up a startlingly low fraction of the technology industry, according to data released in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

Only 7.5 percent of computer network architects are women, while 28.6 percent of women are computer and information system managers, 23 percent are computer programmers and 17.3 percent are network and computer systems administrators.

And when The Channel Company surveyed Women of the Channel West attendees on their opinions of gender balance in the workforce, 50 percent of women surveyed said they believe that their male counterparts have a better opportunity for advancement.

Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute and the lead researcher in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead," stressed that women today lack confidence due to a mind-set perpetuated by society.

"The broader point is that if you're given the message your whole life that you're competent, that you should take risks, that you have what it takes, then you will have a more confident orientation to the world than if you're getting another message, which is watch out, don't reach too far, don't push too hard," she said. "We internalize these negative messages that circulate about women … and this gets reflected in how we think and feel about ourselves."

Attendees, however, said they have seen progress over the past few decades and hope to continue that progress through mentoring the upcoming generation of young females who are interested in technology.

Janet Hendrickson, field channel account manager at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Ruckus Wireless, said when she began her first technology job as a sales engineer in 1992, there were few other female sales engineers in the industry.

"In one way it's been very liberating [being a woman], but it has also been challenging because you'd see a lot of men when you walk in the door as a sales engineer who would say, 'Where's the guy who will deploy our software?' " she said. "That's completely changed, and now I feel that I get that respect. [Mentorship] has been very important and I've actually made great strides in that when I find young women, I'll mentor them. And it has worked really well."

The importance of mentoring in the workplace and its significance for women in technology also rings true for Brooke Cunningham, vice president of global partner marketing at Qlik, a software company based in Radnor, Pa., who said that she has received support from both men and women during her career.

"I have had a fantastic set of mentors today and a lot of them have been women," said Cunningham. "I hear a lot of stories of women not having a lot of mentorship from other women, and I'm happy to say I had a lot of great women lead the way for me. Because of that, I've taken the time to give back and mentor young women coming up in the channel or marketing."

Amy Kardel, co-founder of San Louis Obisbo, Calif.-based IT consulting firm Clever Ducks, said that her advice for young women in the technology industry is that they shouldn't shy away from asking questions.

"Learn a little bit every day and be excited about keeping up," she stressed. "That curiosity and that basic skill is not easy to master. It's important just making a little bit of progress in keeping yourself technologically fresh every day."

Looking forward, Qlik's Cunningham said that she hopes Women of the Channel executives will continue their mentoring efforts to help young women get into the technology industry.

"As women in our own communities, and for women who are mothers, we all have a role to play in helping encourage young women to follow trajectories in their education and careers, because there are wonderful careers to be had and women should absolutely feel that they should be able to seize those opportunities," she said.


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