In every industry, representation and inclusion matter. This is why the EDGE360 team is sharing profiles of women in the channel and in technology roles during Women’s History Month. Our latest profile features Sharon March, Director of Technical Support at SYNNEX Comstor, who believes that true inclusion requires recognition and action. She lends her insights and experience to the other female leaders, in an effort to highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion in the IT channel.
When March set out to tackle her future, her path didn’t lead straight into a technology-related job. In fact, she started with a degree in criminal justice with a specialization in juvenile justice. “My degree comes in handy more often than you’d think,” March joked. Soon after college, she found a path into a technology career by way of selling the very first iteration of IBM ThinkPads before entering the IT channel and finding her way to Cisco through distribution.
“I jumped at the chance to support Cisco, and the freshly minted leaders of the new division were gracious enough to give me a chance. My boss at the time, who happens to be my current boss, was gracious enough to support me in the transition. The rest, as they say, is history.”
While technology is often a male-dominated field, March didn’t see it as an obstacle. She told us that she often leads with, “Don’t give me a chance because I’m a woman, give me a chance because I’m good at what I do.” While she may be the only woman on the team, she focuses on “working hard and knowing my stuff so well that it takes them off guard a little.”
She has also learned along the way that being a woman in technology can often offer opportunities to support and bond with the other women in the field to create a tight community.
“I was working on a helpline when another woman put a caller on hold, almost in tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she said that the male caller was very condescending and demanding to speak to a supervisor. The caller believed that she was giving him the wrong answer. Yet, when she explained it, her answer was 100% correct,” according to March. March spoke to the customer and gave him the same answer, and closed the call. March recalled that the caller was surprised that a female “supervisor” was helping him, and his tone ended up being a little more courteous. It went a long way in breaking pre-conceived notions with that customer and in supporting the co-worker.
March also recalls the small advantages of being a woman in technology. “At a Windows launch, which was by invitation and for technical people, the line to the men’s room stretched through the convention lobby. The handful of us women in the ladies’ room had a great bonding moment over that situation. But as we chatted, there was a deep appreciation of how hard we all worked to get where we were.”
In fact, March noted that the women in IT are “smart, knowledgeable, confident, and embrace the fact that they are women. She doesn’t think there is a need to justify yourself if you are a female in the VP or C-suite. It is more generally accepted that you are there because you have delivered and are prepared for the next challenge, whatever it may be. You are here because you are qualified as a professional.”
This is where March sees a true sense of inclusiveness. When working in a group of engineers, she feels that “if you work with people honestly, directly, and supportively on a human level, your gender is forgotten. There is no need to say “guys, oh and gals” in the name of ‘inclusiveness.’” Instead of performative action, the true test of inclusion, according to March, is when people listen when she speaks, and her opinions feel honored and respected. That is where true inclusion takes hold.
For the next generation of women in the channel and in tech-related careers, March offered the following advice:
Do it. But understand that “tech career” doesn’t have to mean programming or taking robotics or going to MIT. If you enjoy technology and what it does, how it can make lives better, and you are fascinated by the Morse code found in the Mars Rover parachute, then a tech-related career may be for you.
Cultivate relationships with mentors. Yes, more than one. Seek people out, have coffee, and ask questions that matter to you. If a person agrees to be your mentor, that means they want to help and are interested in you. So, ask random, uncomfortable, politically incorrect questions. Your mentor should be a safe haven to run things by before you make an inadvertent, grave, possibly career-limiting error.
Be active in your career development. Expect to work and deliver results and don’t be afraid to ask for recognition if it is deserving. If you are uncomfortable with doing that or don’t know how this is where your mentors definitely come in handy.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Not only of your team, but up, down, and across the organization. Nearly everyone has an opinion and the greatest compliment you can pay is to ask for it, sincerely and with an open mind. The source of your answer may surprise you.