Guest Column | December 8, 2016

Women In The Channel: Can Women Make It To The Top?

By Dede Haas, CA-AM, Channel Sales Strategist, DLH Services, LLC

Dede Haas, CA-AM, Channel Sales Strategist, DLH Services, LLC

This is the second of a four-part series; click here for part one.

Like most women who have been in the channel for many years, Theresa Caragol, Principal at TCC Consulting & AchieveUnite, began her career at the first link of the channel food chain and worked her way up. Her story is a familiar one for numerous women in the channel.

As Theresa tells it, “I got started in the channel by accident. I was applying through my alma mater, Virginia Tech, to jobs because I was living in New Jersey and wanted to move to the Midwest. And I applied for a job that ended up being on a contract with IBM, working in a channel program. And so fast forward, I worked with IBM on a contract selling software, and calling on channel partners in Wisconsin and Illinois, and was their number one rep out of 200 within the first two years.’”

After IBM and jobs at Bay Networks and Channel Leadership roles at Nortel, Theresa became Global Channel Chief at Ciena, followed by the same role at Extreme. She now has her own consulting and learning company working on and in the channel.

For Part II of my four-part Women in the Channel series (click here for part I), I couldn’t think of a better person to ask if women have successfully made it to the top of the channel food chain, their challenges getting there, and what can be done to help the young women and girls who follow. With insightful answers and a perspective borne from her vast channel experience, Theresa did not disappoint.

Q: Is the vendor Channel Chief position a good role for women?

Caragol: Yes. I think the channel is a great role for anybody who is strategic, values long-term partnerships and relationships, and is able to bring business acumen and technology acumen — specifically strategy, marketing, operations, sales, and finance. I think it’s a great opportunity for anyone who values those elements. Some women tend to be nurturers and values-oriented — and it works well for individuals with those characteristics and perspective.

Q: What qualities contribute to women having success in this role?

Caragol: I think women can be successful in individual contributor channel sales roles — channel strategy, channel marketing, the channel program, and up through the ranks into the Channel Chief roles — because they can often develop strong leadership by influence qualities. I firmly believe in the channel — it is leadership by influence. Channel partners choose who and how they do business so we must lead by influence and value.

Q: Is it different for women to be in positions such as Channel Account Manager (CAM) or Channel Chief versus men?

Caragol: The difference for women in individual contributor roles versus senior roles, and I would even add versus the channel marketing, is in the individual contributor CAM roles we have seen more women in channel marketing and channel program roles than in sales roles. However, with millennials and SaaS companies, that’s starting to change. In addition, the higher you go in the organization, the fewer women you will still likely see at the executive table. There are more women Channel Chiefs than there has ever been, which is fantastic to see. However, women still hold a very small percentage of C level executive roles, CEO roles in Fortune 1000 companies, and corporate board seats in the world. There is an initiative in America right now that I’m thrilled to be a part of called 20 by 2020. It’s a U.S. endeavor to get 20 percent of our Fortune board seats filled by women by 2020.

Q: You’ve been both CAM and Channel Chief — what advice would you give women aspiring to do the same?

Caragol: In some of my early channel leadership roles, I had to negotiate for my title and the associated compensation, from Senior Director to Vice President. Making sure you’re on par with your peers (regardless of gender) is sometimes something you have to negotiate. Sometimes that’s a hard thing for women; but it’s our responsibility to manage our careers and achieve satisfaction. Then play that part well; preparation always helps. Doing your homework beforehand with your teams is really important. Internally and externally, often your clients and colleagues are still men. Ensuring you are able to develop rapport and establish trust and bring value to those individuals in different organizations is critical.

The channel is no longer the stepchild to the technology companies. Strategic partnerships will be one of the top company growth enablers for businesses in the coming years. So if you like forming partnerships and value that type of a go-to-market model, then this is an amazing opportunity because we’re going to undergo significant forward momentum in this industry and partnering will be critical to peoples’ success.

Q: What would you say to millennial women with an interest in the channel?

Caragol: I would say explore it, find a mentor or a sponsor; learn as much as you can. Go to CompTIA and other industry communities, and really, really dive in.

Q: Is mentoring young girls important?

Caragol: I believe it’s critical, and it is all of our responsibilities. Studies and the research show that, if we don’t interest girls in technology by middle school — to not fear the science of technology and math but rather embrace it — they’re not likely to come into the field later. So it’s really important we take that on as a mission. That is what other women have given to me; and it’s my responsibility to pass it on and to help others. One of my mentors asks only that I pass it to the next person and I truly feel that’s the right thing to do.

Yes, women definitely can make it to the top — and it’s a significant challenge that requires hard work. We must persevere to overcome obstacles thrown in our way. So how do we get there? Establish goals, forge ahead to accomplish those goals through strategic connections and partnerships, find sponsors and mentors for support, and stay true to our vision and mission. Successful channels require nurturing mutually beneficial and profitable relationships, something women do very well.

Don’t miss Part III, which focuses on women business owners in the partner channel, in early February. If you want to join the conversation and add your two cents, please contact me directly at Dede@DLHServices.com.

Dede Haas is an award-winning, high-tech sales professional and founder of DLH Services where she creates innovative and successful channel sales solutions for the vendor and the partner. She has developed and managed channel partner programs for enterprise and cloud based products and services for SMB, and for industry leaders such as Intel Corp. For the partner, Dede has managed the vendor relationship, created business opportunities, and developed and conducted product training. She has her Certification of Achievement-Alliance Management (CA-AM) from the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals.