How to gain a successful edge in technology

How do women find success in technology? That was the major topic of discussion at Tampa Bay Business & Wealth’s first “Women in Technology” Tech Connect panel, held at Five Labs in Tampa. Presenting sponsors for the event were Acuity and ThreeBridge Solutions. The host sponsor was Five Labs and TBBW’s event partner is DCE Productions.

The Panelists

• Charlotte Baker, CEO of Digital Hands

• Tammy Gardner, vice president of agile delivery and customer experience, Tech Data

• Cheryl Kleiman, regional vice president of sales, Flexential

Here are some excerpts from that discussion, which was moderated by TBBW publisher Bridgette Bello.

What do women in technology need in order to be successful in the industry?

Cheryl Kleiman: You truly have to work a little bit harder than your male counterparts. You have to have a passion, you have to have endurance, and most important, you have to want to. What I mean by that is that no matter what you do in life, if you don’t want to do it, you’re probably not going to exceed your skills or your capabilities.

Charlotte Baker: There is a supply and demand opportunity for women to rise through the ranks in cybersecurity. I will tell you that there are some role models that young women can emulate, and where are they coming from? A lot of them are coming from TV shows like Arrow where they are showing women in power roles, doing things to catch criminals and super villains.

The second thing I think women need in technology to be successful are Sherpas. I don’t like to say “mentor,” because mentor is such an old-school term.

I’m talking about Sherpas who say to people, these are the ropes to skip and these are the ropes to know. To the women in the room that can look to other women, especially younger women and say, “Here, let me be your Sherpa and tell you the mistakes that I’ve made and the things that you might watch for”—again, the ropes to skip, the ropes to know, being a Sherpa in a nonformal way. The third thing that women need in order to be successful in technology would really be an investment in their own education beyond their current careers.

Start out with volunteer boards. Start out with opportunities to stretch your imagination about what you can do and to put yourself in a very uncomfortable position of doing what you don’t normally do. Diversifying beyond your normal career is very important and that really can take a number of unofficial tracks, in terms of board seats.

Tammy Gardner: What I believe is really important is that you go outside of your comfort zone. I mean, technology is intimidating. Just the technology itself is intimidating. But to be a woman in such a male-dominated field is incredibly intimidating. We’ve all heard about how women don’t apply for jobs unless they’ve checked every single thing on the list. And you know, men will apply if they’re 30-percent qualified because they just have that confidence.

The other part is finding your community and your tribe. At work and in your professional life finding your tribe, but then going outside and investing in yourself and making sure that you take the time to go to these types of events and network and meet people because it’s so easy to be so internally focused. And then, you know, you need to build relationships before you need them.

There’s a very heated topic that I hear a lot about that relates to women in technology not getting funding and not being able to raise capital the way that men can. How do you feel about that?

Baker: Capital raising is an ongoing opportunity. And as you had said earlier Tammy, it’s about cultivating the relationships that you need in advance of needing them. There’s a lot of talk about women not being funded in the venture community to date. My fundraising activities have totaled $170 million under my belt for my startups. And with the last one being a minority round in the $15 million range, I can tell you that I don’t find discrimination. I truly don’t.

Kleiman: We want to get out of companies trying to fill their equal employer opportunity numbers. Truly create that environment for your organization. It’s proven that women-led organizations have a 30-percent higher return on investment than male-led companies. So why in the world is this taking so long? Don’t you want to make 30 percent more profit every day?

Baker: Cheryl’s exactly right. The question is why is it taking so long? What I’m going to do is  put it back on us. We’re not exposing ourselves to the opportunity. That’s one of the mistakes that women make. They’re waiting to be found. We’re not going to be accidentally discovered. We have to be bold enough and embrace the moment of discomfort of doing something that might not normally have been a taught skill.

Can you guys each rapid-fire the top three mistakes that you see women making in this industry?

Kleiman: The three mistakes that I think a women make, and I’m talking about a long-term career and from an executive perspective, is we don’t take our seat at the table. We have earned it. We have proven it. Take your seat at the table, lead the discussion, tell the men to go sit in the corner.

Second thing is, don’t settle. The last thing I’ll say is that we hang on too long. You’ve got to cut bait. If it’s not going to work, move on, get out there and take some risk. The worst thing that’s going to happen is you might have to start over again. It’s OK. I never lose. “I either learn, or I win” is my mantra. And I have taught that to my entire corporate staff. We never lose. We learn or we win.

Baker: Tooting your own horn is important. I think women are generally uncomfortable with tooting their own horn. And I do agree with Cheryl on that, and all the other points she brought up.

Gardner: One thing women need to stop doing is apologizing. That’s another thing that’s getting a lot of social media attention, but it’s true. I find myself starting emails, “Sorry for …” or “I’m sorry, but …” so it’s definitely a woman thing and it just creates a different type of feel in the conversation. That’s something that I think women, not just in technology, but in general do. My mantra is if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space. You need to take risks and ask for projects and ask for assignments that you don’t think you’re qualified for or have all the skills to do, then they don’t expect it. Take the opportunity to learn. ♦

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