Women Leaders in Tech Are Challenged to Find BalanceWomen Leaders in Tech Are Challenged to Find Balance
Can women really have it all? And if so, how do they do it? Gilli Aliotti has the answers.
October 3, 2023
For women leaders in tech, multitasking isn’t a skill, it’s a way of life. A survival trait. They deal with myriad responsibilities on the job and in the home. As women work to create new roles for themselves in society, they find themselves being pulled in multiple directions. And as more and more women step into leadership positions in tech, they are being confronted with issues of aligning technological and human resources.
Transformational strategic leader Gilli Aliotti knows what it’s like — and has some great insights and advice on how to deal with it all. Currently a strategy consultant for leading corporations, including recently for the office of the CIO at PayPal, Aliotti has served in similar roles at Google, Paramount and others.
And, oh, she’s also the mother of twins.
Aliotti is spearheading three sessions at the Channel Futures Women’s Leadership Summit. In her keynote on Monday, Oct. 30, 1:15-1:40 p.m., she will present “The EntreprenHER Zone: Step Into Your Leadership Zone as a Woman in Technology,” sharing lessons learned as a female entrepreneur in male-dominated arenas. From 2:55-3:15 p.m., she will be joined onstage by Amber Bardon, CEO of Parasol Alliance, and Pamela Miranda, CEO and president of Triella, for “Achieving Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Women in Tech Channels.” The trio will share insights, strategies and best practices for excelling in the communications and IT channel.
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, 1:30 p.m.-2:05 p.m., Aliotti looks at “Operational Leadership: The Speed-Stability Paradox in the Age of Digital Transformation,” and the multiple considerations of technological transformation.
Get in on The New Style of Leadership. Register now for the No. 1 channel event for current and future leaders. Hear industry experts and meet with more than 150 sponsors and exhibitors serving the channel at the Channel Futures Leadership Summit, Oct. 30-Nov. 2, in Miami Beach.
Channel Futures caught up with Aliotti and got her take on some of the most pressing issues facing women leaders in the channel.
Channel Futures: It seems logical to start with your first two presentations, in which you examine the obstacles that women can encounter as entrepreneurs or leaders in male-dominated businesses. Can you identify one or two root causes of impostor identity, or is it different for everyone?
Gilli Aliotti: There are many reasons why anyone may experience imposter syndrome and it’s more prevalent than we think. Most people do not talk about it and often don’t even know they have it. Gender or age aside, two common causes can be either low confidence, or overconfidence. Let me explain.
People who lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem may doubt their abilities and feel like they are not as good as their peers. They may feel like everyone else will call them out on their (assumed) lack of abilities. This is the key part of the “syndrome,” the idea that they will be “found out.”
The second cause involves perfectionism. Someone may feel they are so talented that they must set a high bar for themselves and therefore never feel good enough. All of this comes down to personal expectations or, more to the point, the idea that someone will discover they are a “fraud” and rat them out. They feel they are not hitting their self-imposed expectations and are “not good enough,” which can destroy their ability to achieve or be successful.
Anyone can experience imposter syndrome, but women are more likely to than men. This is a researched fact. This may be because we are often underrepresented in leadership positions and may face discrimination in the workplace. Also, women are often socialized to be more modest and to minimize their accomplishments. This is why I spend a lot of time focusing on women entrepreneurship and harnessing their superpowers and soft skills to be successful in the workplace and in life. But anyone can feel imposter syndrome.
CF: In your opinion, is the impostor syndrome as prevalent among younger generations, those women who don’t know life without the internet?
GA: Yes, imposter syndrome is just as prevalent among younger generations. A 2019 study found that 75% of millennials and 85% of Gen Z have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Consider that the younger generation, from teens into their 20s, are spending copious amounts of time on social, more than ever before. Increasingly, they feel that they can’t keep up, or they hold unrealistic expectations of what success looks like. This leads to feelings of self-doubt and not measuring up.
CF: If a woman is trying to break through in a male-dominated environment, do you think she would do better with a male mentor, a female mentor or both? Or does it even matter?
GA: This is a tricky question but a good one. While either gender is equally fine as a mentor, obviously the right mentor, no matter gender, needs to understand the circumstances and needs of the mentee. From personal experience, a female mentor can provide specific support on not only similar roles, but also shared examples for learning purposes. I’ve mentored many women in their careers, whether I played the official mentor or was their manager. Sometimes women feel more supported with other women and can confide more to help their confidence. In other aspects, having women mentor women in leadership skills is extremely valuable if the mentor has a proven track record of overcoming obstacles and achieving success in a male-dominated environment. It’s always nice to learn from someone who has learned similar lessons.
However, having a male mentor can be uniquely fruitful as you can receive valuable insights into what makes male leaders tick. I’ve learned from the best of my male supervisors and mentors. They’ve made me stronger, more tenacious and fearless.
Ultimately, it’s all about comfort level. We want to avoid imposter syndrome and be empowered to be our best selves and achieve our best success. Having a mentor — or several — is indeed a great thing.
CF: As a working mother (of twins!) what’s your opinion of the “women can have it all” ideology? Isn’t that just a recipe for burnout?
GA: I have a saying, “You can have it all … just not at the same time.” I’m a dream catcher. That means that not only do I want to feel like I can achieve anything in my life, but I want everyone else to feel that way about themselves as well. Too many times we are asked to limit our wants and desires, and to accept what “is.” I challenge this notion. I believe you can be who you want to be and pursue what you want in this life. The catch is, you have to operate within the parameters of time, so time management is everything. That means making decisions and taking action now, rather than later, on what you will seek and do. Make a decision, make it the right decision and do your best with that decision. That’s my motto.
CF: Along those lines, there is currently some polarization on the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it.” What’s your advice?
GA: My advice is to be as authentic as you possibly can. People can spot a fake from a mile away. If you are trying too hard to be someone you’re not, it will show.
However, there is something to be said about faking it until you make it with regards to attitude. For example, if you are in a highly responsible leadership position, but you’re feeling the imposter syndrome or worried or not as confident as you think you should be, then pull yourself together and fake your confidence Ms EntreprenHER! Forcing a smile can lead to a real one. Pretending to be confident shows everyone else you are a force to be reckoned with. The more you practice, the more quickly it becomes natural for you.
Ultimately, being authentic and humble wins. But there is no reason why you can’t add a little assertiveness even if you feel like running back into your safe place. The number one thing that holds us back is fear. Face it, force yourself to work through it and you will overcome it.
CF: What’s the biggest mistake you see women making when trying to establish a work-life balance?
GA: The biggest mistake I see women making is trying to be everything to everyone. It’s back to my saying that you can have everything, but not all at the same time.
When I had my twins, I was a senior product manager for Yahoo, working on the biggest search product for the company. The pressure was on! But I knew that I couldn’t be a good mom as well as a good worker. I had to take the time for my family — and not just during maternity leave. So when I went back to work, I was diligent about working only the hours I was supposed to. I get passionate about my job, so I throw myself into the work, but I had learned the lesson that trying to please everyone is exhausting. It’s really important to set boundaries for others and limits for ourselves.
CF: In your third presentation, you look at what leaders need to consider in managing change — basically, how to temper the need for speed. Digital transformation seems to be moving at the speed of light these days. Do you think leaders spend too much time focused on technology and not on the people using it?
GA: Absolutely correct. Glad you picked up on that in your question. Leaders and companies are so focused on the bottom line and picking up the pace to improve their market position or please their shareholders that they forget that the essence of productivity comes from teams — teams of real people. It is of the utmost importance that we re-shift our focus to people in the workplace. I believe that to build the best products and businesses, it is imperative to empower people to work well together, with a positive and inclusive culture to build high-performing teams. That’s the secret sauce to successfully achieving the highest ROI.
CF: Baby boomers have a wealth of talent and experience, but they’re often portrayed as being resistant to change and technologically inept. What has your observation been?
GA: Famous and successful baby boomers who were champions of change and technology include Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page and Serrgey Brin (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX). There are countless more. Baby Boomers invented the internet, social media, and tech and media Fortune 500 companies, transforming and revolutionizing the way we live, work and interact.
My father, a Baby Boomer, taught me how to use a computer. He also taught me about business. Baby Boomers are the largest generation in American history, and they have had a major impact on society. The younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) might be more tech savvy, but there are aspects of the workplace where they might not do so well, such as task avoidance (they may love to explore multiple projects that bring variety or like to pick and choose) or experiencing burnout (they may love to do multiple things). Members of the younger generation are strong candidates for entrepreneurship.
As a Gen Xer I have much gratitude to the Baby Boomer generation. They started what my generation has expanded on. They taught me about leadership and patience. And my children, about to be Gen Z, live and breathe tech. So, I cannot wait to see what they create in the future.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what age you are, as long as you have a mind and passion for what you want!
CF: Artificial intelligence (AI) is the shiny new thing in technology and is causing all sorts of commotion. How do you think its adoption is being handled? Too quickly? Too slowly?
GA: I am incredibly excited by the advent of the AI era. We are living in times of rapid change, and it’s wide open for solutions to make our lives and businesses more efficient, to keep up with the change.
But we must be aware of just what it will change — and how — and ensure we use it for good. While I am a big believer of entrepreneurship and free enterprise, we want to ensure we are not harming anyone and that we protect copyrights, IPs and original authorship. This requires education, safeguards and understanding as we use it, and always for the moral good.
I spend a lot of time transforming internal operations for companies, who are asking to go faster and more efficiently. AI can increase efficiency and productivity, automate many repetitive and time-consuming tasks and free up employees to focus on more strategic and value-added work. It can offer stronger analysis of data for improved decision-making. And ultimately that all reduces costs and increases ROI.
As a leader in product development organizations, I see a lot of positive changes for customer satisfaction, like providing personalized experiences. AI can also be a great ingredient in onboarding flows, customer surveys or customer support for launched products.
Going too fast? I say, where have you been for the last 20 years! Bring it on!
BF: What’s one process businesses are using today that you think is totally outdated and should be replaced?
Over and over again my team and I are asked to prepare a presentation, then another presentation, then another to share with different stakeholders how well we are progressing on initiatives and projects. Manual status reports in companies are outdated. They are time-consuming, inefficient, and prone to errors. They can also be difficult to track and analyze.
Automated reporting and data solutions can help companies overcome these inefficiencies and provide more accurate, up-to-the-minute performance reporting. Consider electronic document management (EDM) systems and project portfolio management (PPM), tools that can help businesses replace their paper-based workflows, reporting and copious amounts of manually written presentations. I recently transformed a 3,000+ employee organization to one tool that allowed everyone, from a team member to the head of the organization, to see exactly what we were working on, when we would deliver it and all the features and bugs along the way.
Transparency and alignment are the keys to organizational efficiency, speed and success.
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