February 28, 2020
The founding mission of the Alliance of Channel Women (formerly Women in the Channel) – to advance career and leadership roles for women at the highest levels in the technology channel by providing education, community, advocacy, and opportunities for personal growth – established 10 years ago, continues to be as relevant today as it was then, empowering and advancing women’s careers in telecom and IT.
TPx’s Hilary Gadda
The nonprofit ACW will celebrate its 10-year anniversary at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo – the same event where, a decade ago, the organization’s three co-founders, Bita Milanian, senior vice president global marketing at Ribbon Communications; Hilary Gadda, director national channel development at TPx; and Nancy Ridge, founder and president Ridge Innovative – recognized the need for this type of organization. ACW will kick off the four-day conference at ACWConnect Live, March 9, in Las Vegas.
The theme at this year’s ACW networking event is “Embracing Diversity: Leveraging Unique Talents.” it will feature keynoter Kelli Masters, a respected sports agent working in a traditionally male environment. Attendees also will get to meet ACW’s new president – Amy Bailey, vice president of marketing at Telarus – and new vice president, Cassie Jeppson, director of North America channel programs at Lenovo. The new leadership roles were announced in October.
To find out what continues to fuel the growth and success of ACW, Channel Partners caught up with Milanian, Gadda and Ridge.
Channel Partners: Let’s start at the beginning. How did ACW come about?
Hilary Gadda: We were all at the Channel Partners show in D.C.; it was the evening and we were gathered around talking about the agenda and we saw there just weren’t any women being represented on the panels, in any discussions or in any keynote. And, we said, “we need to change this. We can do better. We’re smart, strong women that have something to say. How can we go about joining women together to make a difference?”
Ribbon’s Bita Milanian
When we came back from the show, we had a call that was Nancy and Bita and I, and we said, “we can do something; let’s not leave this on the show floor.” That’s when we reached out to Channel Partners and asked if we could do something at the show in Vegas.
Bita Milanian: I was lucky enough to be at that first gathering in Las Vegas, and thereafter we recognized that there was definitely a need, and the interest and excitement to bring women with these backgrounds together to help each other personally and professionally, and to be there for one another.
It’s been really inspiring to see how it’s grown from there and how we were able to structure the organization, form a nonprofit, etc.
ACW has certainly evolved since it began, and one of the most beautiful elements that I personally enjoy seeing is the diversity of individuals who have joined since.
CP: What has sustained ACW for a decade?
Ridge Innovative’s Nancy Ridge
Nancy Ridge: There’s still a lot of what our original charter was still about that needs to be done. There have been some changes [in the industry] but not everything that we would have liked to see accomplished for women in the channel or women in technology has been over these 10 years.
Our foundational principles still stand. Everywhere I go I continue to meet women; in fact, I met one at an industry event two days ago. She’s an entrepreneur business owner and she’s been isolated running her business and taking care of her family. She said, “I know there’s this women’s group that you’ve been involved with and I should get involved myself. Tell me about it.”
When I first got the idea [for ACW] it was around this premise that women continue to be …
… a minority — that hasn’t changed a lot. There are more women, yes, but as far as overall — I walked into another event yesterday and there were 20 guys and me. There’s still a tremendous lack of female representation across the board in tech.
I look back at the founding principles, which were, let’s find each other and come together so that we can collaborate to grow our businesses. And that is still huge because, after all, we’re still businesspeople and we’re here to be profitable and to grow.
Another founding principle is to support each other as women in a male-dominated industry. That hasn’t gone away and there’s more work to do, to get that strength and to keep going wearing all the different hats knowing I am not the only one that’s doing this. And, that I’m not the only having the experience I had yesterday, walking into an event being the only female.
CP: What were some milestones for ACW and what’s next?
HG: In the beginning we met at the Channel Partners venues, gathering together and having an opportunity to listen to one another. The next phase was a school outreach program, a program we borrowed from CompTIA, where we went into grade and high schools to talk to women. The response was amazing. Remember, we don’t have a payroll; we’re all volunteers, so between trying to grow Women in the Channel (WiC) at that time and the outreach program, that was a lot.
We expanded to local chapters, and about four years ago, we opened our event to men and the response was overwhelming and still resonates among our members. It was everybody coming together to say just how important women in our companies.
Last year, we had the opportunity to go to Channel Evolution Europe in London. When I talked to women there and what was going on in their organizations, they were where we were 10 years ago. We shared our stories, and those women said, “we get what you’re doing, and we want to do that here.”
The organization is at a very exciting time and I think there’s going to be a lot of growth. There’s a diverse group of powerful women on the board that have far reach within organizations — I believe we can double or triple our reach and also grow our local meetings.
BM: There are a lot of smart girls out there that want to be techies and to be able to talk to a woman who has been doing this for many years, who understands the industry, to be able to learn from them, get guidance — that’s one of the biggest values we can offer young women who want to join this industry.
On the other side of that is career development. How do you ask for a raise, ask for a promotion, battle the challenges you have in this industry being a woman? Retention is also something ACW addresses as well.
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