Lessons Learned From The IT Channel’s Top Female Business Leaders

From making bold moves despite the fear of failure, to advocating for yourself and others, here are lessons learned from some of the channel’s leading executives who spoke at Women of the Channel 2021 event in New York City.

Fixing Each Other’s Crowns

Being a leader involves knowing your own strengths and when to ask for help. It also involves supporting and advocating for other women who may be excelling but are not being recognized. The COVID-19 pandemic was a blow to women in the workplace. Many were forced to leave to handle their new normal, which may include children learning from home. But companies need strong female voices and viewpoints arguably now more than ever.

The Channel Company’s State of the Women Of The Channel research found that 52 percent of women under 40 and 71 percent of women under 30 are interested in pursuing the C-Suite. The time for women in leadership is now, according to speakers and panelists at The Channel Company‘s Women of the Channel (WOTC) East event in New York City this week.

Attendees at the event heard stories from vendor and solution provider executives about taking chances and stretch positions, standing up for themselves, and paying it forward through mentorship and sponsorship to help others on their own growth journeys.

Here are lessons learned from IT channel leaders who spoke at WOTC and the takeaways that women of all ranks and points in their career can apply to their own professional lives.

On The Moment For Women In Leadership Is Now

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never more important for leaders to bring emotional intelligence to corporate environments, a talent that women excel at, said Carola Cazenave, vice president, global partner ecosystem, at Cambridge, Mass.-based Pegasystems.

“In this moment, companies need you,” Cazenave said to the audience of approximately 800 female leaders from across the channel. “People need to feel that they are embraced. People need to feel that their managers know how to help them, not only to thrive at work, but to balance [home life,] to find security. They have to be able to prioritize. Who does better than women?”

Cazenave cited research from Harvard Business Review that shows female leaders are outpacing their male counterparts during the pandemic across multiple areas, including taking initiative, inspiring and motivating others and building relationships.

Cazenave said that today’s workplace leadership needs contradict advice given to female executives decades ago that they needed to act more like men.

“I worked 20 years to get harder. And now I realize it was wrong. I needed to be me,” she said.

On Paying It Forward

Many of the attendees at the Women of the Channel East 2021 expressed how important they feel it is to help other women succeed. For Maureen Gaumer, senior director, global partner ecosystem and program marketing at Dell Technologies, the desire to pay it forward and help others is a central part of her professional philosophy.

“It starts with me, so I just make it a priority to give my time when people ask for it, to be a mentor for them to be a fan of them when they‘re not in the room, to make sure that people understand who they are and that they do what they can bring,” Gaumer said onstage during a panel discussion.

For Gaumer the desire to help others stems from an experience she had at the beginning of her career when one woman gave her the gift of time and advice.

“I wanted to make the switch to high tech PR and I was informational interviewing around. She spent 30 minutes on the phone with me and said, ‘You need to rewrite your cover letter. It‘s not going to do it.’ She took the time to help me rewrite my cover letter and change my pitch, and the next time I sent out that cover letter, I got the interview and I got the job. That’s such an example for me of just what [comes from] taking the time to spending 30 minutes with somebody answering their questions and helping them. It’s just set the tone for my career and what I’ve wanted to do with other people.”

On Being An Advocate For Yourself

Senior Vice President, Small Business and Channel Chief for Verizon, Wendy Taccetta, wears many hats. She‘s also an employ advocate and champion for women and people of color for the service provider. She realized early on in her career that she was going to be different than the executives that came before her, and it wouldn’t work unless she came to the table as genuinely as she could.

“My success was going to come differently than theirs,” she said.

Finding your “superpower,” or your strengths and the factors that set you apart from others is critical in knowing yourself and advocating for what you need at work, Taccetta said.

“We are not as big as advocates for ourselves as we are for others, and part of what we all have to understand that we don‘t need everyone to like us. Everyone does not need to be on your team. If you’re trying to try to persuade the world, give up. You do need the right team and the first person on our team better be you. It has taken me years to get to the point where I’ve come to a work event in blingy shoes and polka dot pants just because they make me feel good. If I could go back and say anything at the beginning, it would be to believe in who I already was.”

Diversity, Equity And Inclusion No Longer A ‘Nice To Have’

Companies across the channel—whether technology vendors, solution providers, or end-user customers—need to increase their efforts into their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives in what is quickly becoming a “need to have” strategy instead of a “nice to have,” said Lori Cornmesser, vice president of worldwide channel sales at CyCognito.

“What we’re seeing is that partners are looking to your websites to understand [your] diversity strategy before they’re making decisions about how they purchase,” Cornmesser said. “The other thing we’ve found is that CIOs are consulting with their DE&I leaders [to ask,] ‘Is this a company that I want to make a purchase with, and so that is really important to understand, to have a position and a voice on DE&I because that‘s top of mind for partners, customers and all of us.”

CyCognito, for example, has started a number of different DE&I initiatives with channel partners, including routing some MDF for that purpose, Cornmesser said.

“I think that will continue for sure,” she said.

On Building Relationships And Bringing Ideas To The Table

Relationships are key, according to Carla Pineyro Sublett, SVP and CMO at IBM.

“Quite frankly, I wouldn‘t be sitting here on this stage if it wasn’t for my predecessor, Michelle Peluso,” she said. “It was that relationship that got me to this point right now, and I have a myriad of relationships like that that I continue to nurture and foster.”

There’s a common theme of competition and coopetition in the channel, she said. But women in particular can use that to their advantage.

“Women in particular bring such a unique skill set to the table in bringing people together,” she said. “What if we had a mindset that there is no competition and that we are trying to solve for the same things and if we pick the best parts of each of us that we can actually take the business to a whole new level together.”

On The Importance Of Mentorships And Sponsorships

Leslie Maher, vice president of North America channels & ecosystems for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, believes there were three roles that were guides for her in her career–sponsorships, mentorships and role models.

“A role model is someone you look to see behavior you want to emulate or maybe behavior you want to avoid,” she said. “I‘ve been fortunate to work with a lot of really talented women, as well as men, that I use as role models.”

Sponsors and mentors are as important to. Before her first executive role, she had her first child and wasn‘t sure if she should go for the position.

“I wasn‘t the first choice by any stretch but my sponsor really felt strongly about it,” she said. “He had probably more confidence in me than maybe I even had in myself. He used to describe me as having a lot of runway.”

She got the role and it started her on her way. Now that she has an executive position, she believes it’s also important to pay it forward.

“You also have to know what you want before you can even ask for a sponsor,” she said. “You have look into the mirror, know what you‘re good at kind, figure out what your brand is and then it helps the sponsor really look for the right opportunities to support you.”

On Life In Your Business Over The Last 18 Months

“Give yourself grace,” said Dangvy Keller, vice president of Americas channel sales for Veeam. Many women in the channel are doing multiple jobs, sometimes all in one day jobs. And then after work they are moms, spouses, support systems for other folks in their lives. It all piles on, but Keller said it’s important, and okay, to pause and say, ‘No’ sometimes and just give yourself some grace.

A lot has changed since the start of the pandemic. For Keller, who has been in the IT industry for 20 years, she has never seen so much change in such a short amount of time. And change is challenging.

“If you think about yourself and how you consume as a customer, that has completely changed and b2b customers have also changed the way that they procure their IT needs,” she said. Being in the backup software industry, we saw this huge shift from perpetual to subscription. Working with my alliance partners like HPE and Cisco, we saw them move to hardware-as-a-service and everything-as-a-service.”

She said customers are no longer looking for large contracts upfront, they want to move from a capex to opex model.

“At Veeam one of the things that remained constant was our go to markets and our strategy to put the channel at the heart of that.”

On Feeling Scared And Taking On The Challenge Anyway

Kristin Russell, president of global enterprise computing solutions for Arrow’s first job after college wasn’t what she necessarily expected. She graduated with a degree in International Affairs and Spanish and after struggling to find work during a time of economic downturn in the U.S., she took a job working for the railroad working with customers in Mexico. After three months, she took on a new role in management.

“My first management job was managing a team of ex-yardmen, who were in the sunset of their career in a desk job. I was the only female and the youngest person was 20 years my senior. So, 20 to 40 years my senior, and I was the only woman. And again, I thought I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I was so scared. I was like: “I cannot do this job. I have no idea how to do this.”

But luckily, Russell realized that fear and excitement actually have the same biological response.

“If you think about when you‘re afraid, and you try to turn that into a mind-fake and say: ‘I’m actually excited about this’ and having that courage to try something new and gain curious about it.”

On Making Bold Moves

Jas Sood, senior vice president of enterprise sales for Palo Alto Networks, had spent nearly 26 years at her prior company, HP and later, HPE, so she‘s no stranger to feeling the fear of moving into a new position for a new company -- with the added complication of making a move into the unknown during a global pandemic.

“It is a big deal. To leave and to make the move. And I think, you know, we were talking about, we heard about this a little bit yesterday as well, you kind of know, Shall I do it? What if I fail? What if I hate the experience you know, all these doubts that kind of come in your mind, but I think you just have to think through and I have to kind of, you know, think about that my own self was So what if I fail? so what if it doesn‘t pan out to be you know, what I expected it to be? I think just you have to take some chances.

Taking chances is the way people learn and grow, she said. And the decision has paid off. She very much enjoys her new team, who have made the transition very smooth.

“I think it‘s important that we as women in particular, are risk takers, because many of us are not. I really encourage you if you are thinking about it -- I think times when things like a pandemic or when things are just not the same, that’s probably the best time to make a bold move. The great thing about it is everyone, your mentors, coaches, friends, family, they’re all going to love you no matter what and you’ll figure it out,” she said.