Written by Heather Zindel
VP of Operations for WECAN | Founder, Bloom Consulting & Project Management Group, Inc.
Heather is an entrepreneur, board member, angel investor, and high-tech transformation thought leader. She is passionate about innovation, cloud economics, enterprise channel strategy, and helping women and entrepreneurs succeed. She is considered a highly qualified business leader with more than 20 years of experience and proven success developing strategies and executing business plans that drive revenue growth and profitability for companies across enterprise, mid-market, and consumer segments. She has consulted and worked with some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the world to increase sales revenue and growth, including, but not limited to, Microsoft Enterprise & Commercial Groups, Microsoft Partner Group, Microsoft Product Groups, Microsoft Global Security, Hewlett Packard, Meta, Workplace from Facebook, VMware, Oculus, M12 Venture Capital, Vulcan Ventures, Red Hat, IBM, Cisco, and Citrix.
She has also successfully created, launched, and sold three businesses in her career in high-tech.
What I would say to my younger self today as a female channel executive in high-tech.
I’ve learned a lot during my career in high-tech. I’ve learned that I am never done learning because the channel (1) is complex. I’ve learned that there are no limits to what I can do as a woman in business despite working with people or organizations that might try to set my limits. I’ve learned that I control my destiny. I get to choose where to spend my energy and how I will react to challenging situations or people. I get to define what career happiness means to me.
Does this mean that being a woman leader in the channel is easy? No.
Every career journey has its hairpin turns, slow-going, meandering roads, and speedways to success. Women have the same experience as men in this regard. It’s just that on our journey, we may also encounter discrimination. We may encounter unequal compensation. We also may have our authority undermined or our efforts unrecognized because we are women. While none of these experiences are okay, I get to control how I will react to these situations. I get to control where I choose to spend my time. If I’m not satisfied with my employer, I can look to other organizations that better align with what’s important to me. McKinsey coined this phenomenon, the “Great Breakup.”
According to their recently published, Women in the Workplace, report “women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it. Women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen—and at higher rates than men in leadership.” (2)
“For years, fewer women have risen through the ranks because of the ‘broken rung’ at the first step up to management. Now, companies are struggling to hold onto the relatively few women leaders they have. And all of these dynamics are even more pronounced for women of color.” (2)
So how do women executives and women executives of color fair in the Channel?
If the latest 2022 Channel Chiefs list by CRN is any indication, only 26 percent of the Channel Chiefs are women and only 1 percent of those women are black. (3) Of those Channel Chiefs, CRN named the 50 most influential leaders on the list in their companion article, 2022 Channel Chiefs: The 50 Most Influential. Only 30% of the people on that list are women. (4)
According to a recent article in Fortune, “the share of woman-led Fortune 500 companies has hit a record high, with 44 female CEOs at the helm.” This is appallingly low, however, the author points out “that’s six times their share two decades ago, when women led just seven Fortune 500 businesses.” (5)
While women continue to be under-represented in leadership roles in the channel and across most large companies, the trend is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.
How can we accelerate and swell the ranks of women leaders in the channel? How can we help the next generation of executives? When I asked myself these questions, I then had to ask, what would I say to my younger self if I could?
I think I would say, “Hey you. Listen up! You need to focus on what’s important now. Don’t wait until you’re an executive to figure out what’s truly important to your wellbeing and your career happiness. Let me share my learnings at each stage in my career so that you can make stronger commitments to the things that will accelerate your career advancement and make you most happy.”
My Executive Journey to Learning What’s Truly Important
- Entry-Level: I Want My Basic Needs Met.
- Director-Level: I want a sense of belonging to my work community.
- VP-Level: I want to feel a stronger sense of accomplishment and prestige.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to achieving my full potential.
- Entry-Level: My happiness isn’t even a factor in my decision-making.
- Director-Level: I am not clear what makes me happy in my job.
- VP-Level: I know what makes me happy in my job.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to being happy in my job and I know how to make others happy e.g., how to treat my co-workers with respect, how to generate an inclusive work environment, and how to recognize good work.
MY EMPLOYMENT FOCUS
- Entry-Level: Get any job. Learn. Work hard.
- Director-Level: Get a high-paying job. Learn. Work Hard.
- VP-Level: Get a high-paying job. Learn. Work Hard. Have fun.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to making an impact.
MY EMPLOYER CRITERIA
- Entry-Level: Find a job opening at any organization aligned to my degree.
- Director-Level: Find an organization that has lots of opportunities for growth.
- VP-Level: Find an organization with a great culture aligned to what I value.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to finding an employer that invests in an equitable, supportive, and inclusive workplace.
MY IDEAL WORK LOCATION
- Entry-Level: Must be nearby.
- Director-Level: Must be in the U.S.
- VP-Level: Must be flexible to allow me to work from home from time to time.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to work for an organization with a hybrid work culture (from home/from office) to give me more flexibility in my personal life.
- Entry-Level: I will work under any leader, even if they are a poor leader.
- Director-Level: I will quit or find a new role in another group if I am reporting to a poor leader.
- VP-Level: I will find a mentor (preferably female) who will share their knowledge with me and show me the hard and soft skills needed to advance to the next level.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to expanding the number of mentors who can teach me how to be even better. And being the change I want to see in leadership; look for opportunities to mentor and coach other women.
- Entry-Level: I will not ask about advancement.
- Director-Level: I will advance organically; not because of a plan or defined career strategy.
- VP-Level: I will proactively ask about my hard and soft skill gaps; I will work to close those gaps.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to sharing best practices on skill building with other leaders, especially women, to accelerate their success.
- Entry-Level: I am devastated by any failure on the job.
- Director-Level: I am able to overcome my failures.
- VP-Level: I am focused on finding the lessons to learn in each failure.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to proactively working to turn lessons learned from failure into my new superpowers.
ME AS A LEADER
- Entry-Level: I will lead through influence because I don’t have a title.
- Director-Level: I will focus on driving outcomes and problem-solving.
- VP-Level: I will focus on creating and communicating a compelling mission and vision while delegating better and holding people accountable.
- As a CEO, Board Member, & Advisor: I am committed to fostering trust and making every interaction with every person at every level in my organization positive, even when I have to deliver tough messages.
In summary, if I could go back in time to share my hard-earned knowledge with myself, I would tell myself a story about a career made up of highlights and lowlights.
Being a woman executive in the channel will not be easy. You will have to work very hard. You will fail all the time. In fact, you will fail more than you will succeed. When you experience your biggest failures, you will feel broken and pretty miserable. People will underestimate you. The workplace will not always be equitable.
Failures will make you better because you will quickly learn how to improve. You will eventually figure out how to turn your failures into new superpowers.
My Best Advice?
Identifying what’s important and what’s non-negotiable to make you happier in your career is surprisingly easy. Look at the list above and make a conscious decision now to focus on making an impact. Don’t wait to find employers that really invest in raising up women to make a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Don’t delay in finding a female mentor who is awe-inspiring and can accelerate your path to success. You don’t need to wait to be a CEO to share your own sage advice with other women.
Most importantly, don’t focus too much on the statistics. If you are determined to shatter glass ceilings, then you will. I have faith in you. I have faith in the great humans, both men and women, who will help you succeed at each step along your career journey. They are there waiting to meet you, to know you, to mentor you, to help you. Go find them.
Source 1: Def. Channel: The channel is a term used to refer to partners or companies that sells products and services for a technology (hardware, traditional software, Software as a Service (SaaS), or cloud computing solutions) manufacturer or vendor. Channel partners are part of the vendor’s indirect sales force, which means that they sell the products and services on behalf of the vendor but they are independent companies.
Source 2: McKinsey. Women in the Workplace. October 18, 2022
Source 3: CRN. 2022 Channel Chiefs. 2022
Source 4: CRN. 2022 Channel Chiefs: The 50 Most Influential. February 7, 2022.
Source 5. Fortune. The number of women running Fortune 500 companies reaches a record high. Mary 23, 2022