There are dozens of organizations devoted to helping women succeed in technology, and a great number of them are comprised mostly of women. Usually, mentorship and sponsorship are included as one of the cornerstones of these associations’ missions, and many companies have human-resource initiatives that also promote mentorship as a critical factor in increasing workplace diversity.
But what exactly does that mean, and is all of this focus on women helping women hurting the cause?
Theresa Caragol has built a decades-long career in the channel. In 2015, she took the leap to start her own consultancy, Achieve Unite, to help global organizations optimize their partner communities. In order to get her business off the ground, she turned to the network she’d built since the start of her career for guidance, connections and referrals to clients. Yes, there were – and still are – a great number of women who were happy to support her, but there were men, too, that Caragol credits with some of her early success.
Here, Caragol opens up about how sponsorship and mentorship from all corners helped her build her business, why women need more training in how to negotiate, and how the contentious sociopolitical climate is actually benefiting the women-in-technology movement.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Channel Futures: In the conversations I’ve had both individually and with groups such as Alliance of Channel Women, we talk a lot about the importance of women helping women. What are some things specifically that you think we should be doing as women?
Theresa Caragol: This is a thing I feel passionate about, and this is one of the things I was hoping we would talk about today — women helping women. I’m a part of a female CEO network in D.C., and I so underestimated the power of this group. Remember how boys always scratch each other's backs on the golf course and all of these things? We can take care of each other, and us taking care of each other can build big businesses? Now that I'm an entrepreneur, I see that women helping women is a really good thing. And so Maria Izurietta, who invited me to become part of that group, she referred me to one of my first three clients that got me started as a consultant, and we still talk and are friends three years later. But we don't always do that. I can think of some negative things that have happened with women bosses that were very, very difficult where women weren't helping women.
When we are, we refer business to one another. We refer business to others that are helping. I was teaching the classes at CompTIA and ChannelCon, all of the channel management, and Carmen Sorice [of IT service provider Qlarity] said, "Hey, I'm not telling you that you should do business with her. I'm telling you that you should do business with somebody that wears the scars on their back and that's done the job before." How’s that for endorsing, sponsoring, referring, putting your name next to somebody you believe in?
CF: There’s a sense, still, of propriety in conversations among women, where we learned early not to talk about money. Well, men talk about it. We've got to start having some of these uncomfortable conversations.
TC: Absolutely. I always ask young women what they are making, and I think two of them would tell you when they told me I said, "That's not enough, you need to go for this." And absolutely, I do think we need to keep working on negotiating our value. And it's a journey. I think that would be a great topic to discuss openly.
CF: I think a lot of skills like negotiating start at the university level, but female enrollment in computer sciences is tanking. Women still gravitate in big numbers toward fields like human resources or marketing, but today these lines of business are essentially technical roles. Are we focusing too much on nurturing the engineers and coders when we talk about women in tech?
TC: We need more female engineers. We need more female scientists. We need more females coming into the technical field of technology. And then we also need more women in all the other parts of technology. We need more women just coming into the field, period. You're an editor, I was a sales and marketing front of the business, there [are] HR roles in tech. There [are] so many different roles in tech. You don't have to have an engineering degree to have any of these roles. In fact, I would tell you that a liberal-arts education can be fantastic for the tech world.
But no matter your field, no matter how many sponsors and guidance you get, you also have to build your credibility with that group. You can’t play it safe all the time. Otherwise, do you deserve to be at that table? I went from being a consultant a year ago to a year ago I said, "I am an entrepreneur. I am building a company. If boys can build companies, I can build a company."
Isabel Rimmer of Masterclass in the UK and I have come together on this ISO standard for collaboration. Collaboration is a science. And for me, this is mission-driven, because regardless of who they are, women and men have to learn to collaborate. The world is changing, and there are more people in the field. You’ve got to learn to work together, because that's what gets competitive advantage. And so we're actually building this program and taking it out to companies. I know the boys have to have the conversation, the girls have to have the conversation, we all have to have the conversation together. Collaboration leads to innovation. Effective collaboration is a culture. It takes gender out of the equation and gets people realizing what they have to do to work together.
CF: The current sociopolitical climate in this country is not helping promote the importance of collaboration. It's an “I’m right; you’re wrong” mentality everywhere you look.
TC: It is, but the thing that it is doing is forcing more conversations into the open, which I actually believe will drive progress. Look at all the stuff going on with women and VCs right now. Look at all the noise about how they're not getting funded and how these VCs are now paying more attention to it. I'm not saying we're there, but I'm definitely saying we're making progress. We're getting ready to work with a venture capitalist firm and their portfolio companies. But still, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes the same BS that we’ve all experienced still happens.