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Real Women in Tech: Nancy Sabino Is a Business Owner, Not a Female 'Figurehead'

Diversity and inclusion are top priorities for most tech company owners, but not everyone welcomes the ongoing conversation.

Last year at CompTIA’s annual ChannelCon conference, president and CEO Todd Thibodeaux gave a thoughtful, emphatic keynote speech about the need to bring more women into the channel and technology in general. Among the statistics he and CompTIA often cite:

  • Women occupy only 20 percent of executive-level roles in the national technology sector.
  • Women who leave their work in tech fields do so at a 45 percent higher rate than men due to corporate culture issues, lack of inclusion, pay inequity or other forms of individual or institutional bias.
  • While half of respondents to a CompTIA diversity study say they place a high priority on hiring women, nearly just as many said the high-tech industry has not been welcoming to women in tech-specific jobs.

The keynote shined a spotlight on the issue, and once again sparked conversation and controversy among the channel community, which is often still described as an “old boys club” despite the almost complete disappearance of blatantly sexist behavior such as staffing expos with “booth babes” and holding networking events at strip clubs. There’s a general consensus in the channel that having more women in the workforce is a good thing and that long-established community behavior should be addressed to increase diversity.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled about the continuing conversation around inclusion. Nancy Sabino is co-founder and co-owner of SabinoCompTech, a managed service provider (MSP) based in Katy, Texas. As she walked through the ballroom to the coffee stations in the hall after the keynote, she overheard some frustrating conversations. Sabino, a Latina, millennial and woman, has a three-front battle to fight and deals with her fair share of institutional bias. Here she recounts what she overheard, how women contribute to the problem and what it’s like being seen as a “figurehead.”

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Kris Blackmon: Tell me about your experience at last year’s ChannelCon.

Nancy Sabino: I think it was funny that you emailed me with this topic because after the conference, diversity and equality and all of these things were definitely hot topic[s] for [my husband and business partner] Angel, and I as we were leaving the conference, including something we experienced ourselves.

 

Nancy Sabino

KB: Will you share the story with me?

NS: The keynote speaker’s topic was about diversity and the tech industry. It was a great speech. Afterward, walking out into the hallway, I heard several voices saying, “Why is diversity talked about so much? Why is it still such a large topic?” Like they’re tired of hearing about it. Well, you’re tired of hearing about it because it keeps being a problem because of your attitude.

KB: What do you think the disconnect stems from?

NS: I have two opinions, two different sides of it I see. One side is seeing the treatment of women in the tech industry, and I’ve experienced it myself in multiple ways. But then, quite frankly, the other side of it is how women in the tech industry … treat men that are attached to a female in the tech industry. It’s something I see throughout any kind of discrimination.

[Women] are angry and treating everyone else the way they have been treated. To me, that’s obviously unfair and not right within itself. What I mean by this is there are people that have been discriminated against, and because of that, their feelings are now more in the sense of, “Everyone is discriminating against me and everyone will treat me this way, so therefore I’ll backlash.” It’s simply not true that everyone is like that, and it’s unfair for the men that are literally helping the cause to be treated the same as everyone else. Women aren’t supporting other women in a lot of cases I see. It’s creating a whole other cycle.

KB: You and I have talked about how sometimes you’re labeled as just a “figurehead” of your business, a female at the helm for political purposes. How do you and Angel deal with that?

NS: [At the conference], it was Angel that actually had a conversation with a gentleman who met both of us and said, “I’m assuming you guys are a women-owned business and your wife owns 51 percent of that.” Angel was like, “No, we actually own 50-50 and she’s in the position she’s in because she’s earned it, she deserves it. That’s what she’s good at, and I’m good at the other part of it.” He was astonished if anything else, and it started the conversation of how often that happens.

KB: Do you think you face additional discrimination for being a Latina millennial?

NS: I feel like I’m all the things that could be discriminated against, so that’s definitely a difficult question. It’s very hard to say. Angel and I have sat in a meeting where a person has talked about Hispanics in a derogatory way and we’ve been sitting there like, “Um, do you not see our color?”

We come from up North and are of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent. It’s very different from the typical Hispanic community down here in Texas, which tends to come from southern countries like Mexico, El Salvador, places like that. [We’re an anomaly], so people don’t really know what to do with us. When people see Angel, they don’t know if he’s Hispanic, they don’t know if he’s Egyptian, they don’t know if he’s black. Because they can’t place us, they don’t know where we lie, so we have to sit through derogatory comments about people of our culture.

KB: What are your personal next steps, if any, for trying to combat this kind of discrimination? Do you plan on becoming more active in committees like CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology or just try to kick butt at your everyday stuff and prove yourself through grit?

NS:wrote an article [partial text pasted below] that I’ve been sitting on and don’t know whether to publish or not because I’m just not sure how it’s going to be taken. I have the feelings that I’d like to be more public and more active in combating this … I know what it’s like to be treated as an equal and with respect, so I’d like to help other [women], but at the same time I know I have responsibilities [to the business]. I know I can fight it on my own, in my own way, in the sense of continuing to do business the way that I want and need to, and guide it in that direction, little by little chipping away at it. But I also know that in order for change to happen, a bigger impact has to happen.

KB: As if you needed an additional burden on having to make your business a success, not put your full attention on the company.

NS: Exactly. You go to an event thinking you’re there to learn and gain perspectives for your business, and in the end, you wind up concentrating on what’s being said and how you’re being looked at.

KB: I appreciate your candor today. I know there’s not really a road map on how to have this conversation.

NS: Like I said, it’s definitely something that’s been a hot topic for us, so talking about it, as awkward and weird as it may get and as difficult as a topic as it is, I’m glad to do it.

Nancy Sabino to the tech industry:

I am a female leader in a tech company that my husband and I founded when we were 22 years old. Over the years, I have been discriminated against, assumptions made, doubted, questioned and yes, sometimes even overlooked because I am a woman in the tech industry (one example is that my employee was addressed before I was because they thought he was the boss …). I have fought against this stigma that women don’t know or aren’t interested in anything about technology AND business on both fronts. As I have become more and more involved in the industry and in business in general trying to grow my company the more I realize how different I am …  a unicorn of sorts — or that’s how I feel from time to time. I have been OK, fighting this uphill battle in my own way, on my own time because it’s what’s right.

As the conversations of equality and diversification have been more prevalent across many industries (and growing), there’s a side to this that I hadn’t realized was beginning to bother me. It has always been in the back of my mind but now, it’s something that I’m thinking more about. If I am thought of as a “less than” by my peers in the industry, what do they think of my husband when they realize I sit at the same table as he? I don’t hold the title that I do, just for certificates and perks. I hold the title that I do, because I do the job and have earned it. When others begin to see and understand that, the judgments flip to “he (my husband) must be a pushover if he allowed me to be EQUAL to him.” Very much aligned with the “Bro” mentality that leads to so many sexual harassment cases.

But this doesn’t come from just men but from women as well. This is the most baffling part to me because we as women, who have experienced these gender judgments, assumptions and biases should be the LAST people to assume that.

It enrages and frustrates me to realize this, to feel and see this. My husband listens, empathizes, shares the “spotlight,” teaches, motivates, cares and respects me and others. Attributes that make him a strong leader, not a pushover. If he didn’t have those qualities along with others like his stubbornness, strong convictions, honest, straight-forward, opinionated, and a strong personality, he probably wouldn’t be my husband. Because I am a strong woman, I need a partner that is strong enough to tell me the truth about important and non-important things just the same. I need a partner that isn’t afraid to confront me or challenge me because that’s when I experience the most growth. I need a partner who isn’t afraid to call me out on my bullsh** AND can also cheer me on, push me to the spotlight, trust me to be able to do the job and not give a damn when he hears others whisper about his character because he is doing these things. I need a partner whose view on our positions is that I should stand next to him, not behind him.

I have always hated the phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Why should one be behind the other? Why not  —  next to a great man is a great woman? We talk about equality so much nowadays that isn’t that what equality is actually about? Not one gender under, over or behind another. Why does the conversation always have to be, “Which one of you is the more dominant one?”

I HATE the commercials, jokes, ads and conversations that are starting up about women treating men the way women have been treated for so long. That is not the way to win equality. We cannot let the teeter totter the other way. That is not being equal. We as women should not be shaming men either, especially those who are helping to pave the way for equal treatment of all women by setting the right examples. We need the status quo to change but shaming, assuming and judging negatively is not the way to do that.

This is why it infuriates us when gender biases happen to both genders from the opposite and the same gender. I hope that as equality becomes a true norm, that the teeter does not totter the other way. I hope that everyone is treated fairly and we can finally put all the assumptions and judgments to rest and actually have fair and equal treatment for all.

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