Despite many IT companies becoming increasingly more proactive from a diversity standpoint, minds don't change overnight—especially when it comes to women in the industry.
This is where "the veterans" can come in. Longtime women technology executives can be great allies and advocates for a younger generation looking to grow their own careers, said a number of executives in attendance at The Channel Company's Women Of The Channel Leadership Summit West event in Napa, Calif.
"Perceptions around women in IT are definitely changing, and I think that's really because of women uniting in a way that's never been done before," said Wendy Petty, executive director of global channels for Verizon Enterprise Solutions.
From STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs aimed at attracting young women and girls to careers in IT, to industry events geared toward women in technology to internal diversity initiatives at companies large and small, there's been a concerted effort to bring women into the field and encourage them to stay, Petty said.
"The support system, the knowledge, and the education is so much better than it ever was," she added.
Companies across the board are increasingly embracing flexible work hours and are becoming more open to employees working outside the office. These are perks that women, more so than men, have been hesitant to request, said a number of women at the Women Of The Channel Leadership Summit West event. But, they added, women should go after what they want professionally while not being afraid to make adjustments in order to make their lives work.
The executives who came before them can help by setting the example, said Dalyn Wertz, executive director of indirect channel management for Comcast Business.
"For us that have navigated through it, we want to share with younger women the good and the bad of what we learned so [the dynamic] can continue to change," she said.
Verizon's Petty recalls having her three children within five years early in her career, and how difficult it was to ask for time off or to be able to leave early to make an after-school event. "I definitely missed a lot," she said. "But as I've matured, and as companies mature, too, I've learned the importance of family in your life. If you don't [prioritize family], then you're not going to be good at what you do at work either because you'll be worried about other things."
Petty, for example, carves out time to watch her college-age son's lacrosse games, which are streamed live, regardless of whether she is attending a conference, at work or at home.
Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, also faced issues in balancing her personal and professional lives 14 years ago after she had her second child. Schuster, who was working for Microsoft at the time, said she felt overwhelmed by her personal responsibilities as a mother of two—and didn't feel that she could go back to work as she had before.
Schuster then transitioned to a part-time role. "There were people in the field in our sales teams who when they found out I was part time, they called me to tell me they were sorry … even my manager on our first review wasn't sure I was as committed to Microsoft anymore," she said.
"At that time if I wasn't honest with myself and listened to those other people, I wouldn't have done it," said Schuster. "I thought, this is important to me. I was really honest with myself."
Comcast's Wertz began her career working for former IT firm Access Graphics, now Avnet, at 24 before she had a spouse and children. Today, Wertz travels frequently for work while her husband works from home, but saying "no" when necessary at work didn't always come easy, she said.
"For a while, I used to almost hide the fact at work that I have kids," she said.
Like Petty and Schuster, Wertz's priority today is her family. "Earlier in my career I asked a lot, and now I just tell," she said. "You have to have the confidence to say, ‘This is the priority.'" Women similarly need to be honest with themselves and understand what they really want to gain from their career, said Schuster. "Careers are built because you've purposefully thought about what you want to get out of the time you spend working," she said. "You need to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing things I enjoy and building on my strengths?'"
Jessica Maria, marketing communications manager for master agent Intelisys, was working for a different company when she had her first child while living in New Zealand where maternity leave is paid for 14 weeks, after which women can stay out of work for up to year. Maria took advantage of the time off with "I wouldn't say that I have what I want yet; it's an ongoing process," Maria said.
In the meantime, Maria is pursuing higher levels of career achievement. "Without growth in my career, I don't know that the sacrifices would all be worth it," she said.
"Men are praised for working hard. Women can be, too," she said. "Don't be afraid to work really, really hard for the things that fall on your priority list, and know that they can, and will, change."
While technology has made it easier to get work done outside the confines of the office or the traditional 9 to 5 work hours, having a mentor or an advocate in your corner is also important in helping women plot out the kind of career they want, and where lines should be drawn between their personal and professional lives, Comcast's Wertz said.
Verizon's Petty agreed.
"You really have to think about what you want today, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there," Petty said. "Having that coaching piece is important because you can't do this on your own. Women in general should be supporting each other's career paths." Women also need to rise above gender perceptions by remembering their core skills and thinking about how they can contribute to their companies.
Angie McCourt, vice president of the Cisco Solutions Group at Tech Data, brought her own innovation to the company through polishing her skills and background. McCourt majored in fashion merchandising and worked in that field before coming to Tech Data—but this was an advantage because she built up skills around analytics that she then brought to the technology industry, she said.
"The great opportunity we have is to test out new disciplines. …it's important to think about what you enjoy doing, what are you good at, and where do you want to go," she said. "In the industry we're in there's tons of transformation, tons of change—we don't even know what kind of job opportunities will come out of that." If companies can change to enhance their perceptions of women in the workplace, they will ultimately reap the new and innovative ideas that women can bring to their teams—but the change needs to come from the top.
Comcast's Wertz said that unlike their male counterparts, many women end up stopping their career growth at a certain point. To combat this, Comcast has been making adjustments within its internal corporate structure to encourage its high-potential candidates to continue to move up in the ranks.
"Companies can't afford women stopping," she said.