May 28, 2014
This blog was originally posted on CompTIA.org as part of CompTIA’s Advancing Women in IT Community.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This was never a hard question for me. I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a doctor. However, when it came time to decide on a college major, I chose marketing to pursue a creative career in advertising — or so I thought.
What you think you want and where life actually leads you can sometimes be very different. My 18-year-old self would not recognize me today: I’m channel engagement manager for Datto and have been working in the IT channel for two years. I spend the majority of my life on the road at industry events. I never expected it, but I’ve found an overwhelming passion for what I do. I’ve made thousands of connections and friends through the MSP and vendor communities, all of which fuels my passion.
Growing up, a career in technology was completely off my radar. As we all know, technology is still a male-dominated industry. While there’s nothing tangible holding women back from pursuing technology careers, there’s still a gender gap — something we could all be doing a better job of bridging through advocacy and recruitment.
However, I cannot take away the struggles of being a young woman in an industry so flooded by men. It’s very intimidating! I’d love to share why. Here are my six pivotal moments that make up a woman’s experience at an IT industry event.
The Double Take is a classic delayed reaction to something unexpected, i.e.: a woman found anywhere near an IT conference. Imagine this woman is standing in a vendor booth — the double take can develop into whiplash!
The Handshake is the first impression a person makes in a business setting and can dictate the whole tone of the conversation to come. Attendees expecting a feminine and delicate handshake from me instead get eye contact, a nice smile and a confident introduction. The attendee can sometimes be taken aback and, in my experience, comment on what a firm handshake the woman has offered.
The Booth Babe conversation comes next. If you’re unfamiliar, a “booth babe” is trade show slang for young women hired to dress provocatively, stand in a vendor’s booth and attract traffic. This was more common before my time — thankfully — yet, for some reason it still surfaces in conversation. Sorry to disappoint guys: I’m in a pencil skirt and blazer, and I know how to do my job.
The Aha Moment is the best part. I’ve gotten their attention, introduced myself and now it’s time to present the technology, solutions and services that I am so passionate about. I ask questions and position my company’s benefits to meet their needs. This is my favorite time in the conversation because, at this point, the gender barrier has evaporated. We’ve moved past the question of whether I belong, and now it’s about adding value.
The Grin is the moment when he thinks, ”Wow, she really knows what she’s talking about.” I seize this moment to add as much value as I possibly can. I’m always waiting for the grin: It signifies a true and mutually beneficial connection.
The Close is when we decide on an action plan. The close may eventually translate into a sale, but that’s not the only thing I’m looking for. The key for me is fostering long-term relationships in an equally respectable arena. More so, I’ve made another connection with someone that I will continue to learn from.
I have been in situations before where an attendee will approach our booth and completely bypass me for a perceived as more senior male coworker. Disheartening, sure, but then I look around at the landscape and see some of the more experienced women that I’m surrounded by. No one bypasses these women because they are established, visible and respected in the industry. These women — and others — give me hope. I know that as I grow in the IT industry, people will look at me with the same level of respect.
I love the mentorship I get in this industry. I’ve had the privilege of surrounding myself with some of the most influential people anyone could ever meet, including unlimited channel chiefs.
At a recent event, I had a great conversation with a prospect who took me seriously out of the gate, listened to me and actually asked me if I had a background in technology. This incident is what inspired me to write this blog. This gentleman made me feel what I’ve believed all along, which is that I am in the right place, I do belong here, and I can — and do — add value.
I attended a presentation last month where the presenter tasked the employers in the room (vendors and solution providers alike), to look at and promote women within their organizations. Although I agree with this, I would almost suggest that it’s our responsibility, as a community of women, to share with each other and all the young women in our lives why we love our jobs.
We can break down these barriers ourselves by shedding our own intimidation and fears and by making the conscious choice to build up our self-confidence and self-worth. By radiating our love for the IT industry, only then, can we look to the next generation of women and inspire them to get involved.
Samantha Ciaccia has been working at Datto Inc. for over two years. Recently promoted into the channel engagement manager role, her responsibilities include working with solution providers from all over the world on their business continuity solutions, and overseeing the annual Datto Partner Conference. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.