Building self-belief, maintaining core values, embracing authenticity and acting on both personal and professional ambitions rank as standout attributes of successful female leaders in Australia, as outlined by an executive line-up of inspiring women of influence in the channel.
Whether climbing the corporate ladder to run large multinational corporations - or starting out from scratch with no pay day on the horizon - these high-flying executives and daring entrepreneurs epitomise inspiration, determination and acumen.
In Australia, female leaders currently run the channel at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Google Cloud, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and HP, alongside Telstra, Salesforce, IBM, Veeam and Sophos. This is in addition to Huawei, Cohesity, Rackspace Technology and 8x8, as well as Imperva and DocuSign among select others.
While encouraging - and supported by female executives holding country leadership roles at Dell Technologies, ESET, Kaspersky and again, IBM and Salesforce to name but a few - diversity in the channel has a long road ahead to reach levels of true equality.
To mark International Women's Day, this in-depth ARN analysis features career guidance for aspiring female leaders from executives of AWS; Araza; Cognizant; ESET; Google Cloud; HPE; HP; The Missing Link; Oreta; Rackspace; Telstra and Veeam.
Start with self-belief
Aside from being a mother, Janet Docherty’s greatest career achievement is centred around an ability to draw on past experiences to help develop and support channel sales teams, aligned to the aim of building a winning strategy.
Speaking as leader of Channel Sales across Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ) at Veeam Software, Docherty has overcome a myriad of industry challenges during a career of more than 25 years, spanning partner, vendor and distributor organisations.
The standout? Working with closed minds and attempting to change ways of thinking, cited as a “challenging but rewarding” experience.
“I was told by my mum many years ago that I could be whatever I wanted to be, I only had to believe in myself,” she recalled. “It took many years but I eventually got there. One of my managers in my earlier days in distribution advised to always think one role ahead and do that job while doing the best in your current role which is very sound advice.
“My advice is to believe in yourself, be strong and willing to challenge the so called norm. Engage a mentor and be willing to listen to constructive criticism. Build a circle of influence and recognise your weaknesses as well as your strengths.”
Building on the importance of self-belief, Emma Pudney - speaking as CTO of Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at Rackspace - acknowledged that one of the key reasons why men receive promotions at a faster rate than women is simply because they hold the confidence to apply despite only meeting 60 per cent of the criteria. For women, that number has to reach 100 per cent before consideration.
“Even if you don’t hit the entire criteria for a promotion or new role, still apply because you can be sure that your male counterpart will,” she advised. “Concentrate on your own personal career highlights and celebrate the small achievements along the way. Then develop the nerve to put yourself forward for a promotion or apply for a technical role.”
As a case in point, Pudney ideated and evangelised a modernised managed services model for public cloud in the form of Service Blocks, which now runs as a global offering for Rackspace.
“It was a challenge to get an idea that originated out of Australia recognised and implemented in an organisation that is headquartered in the US,” Pudney outlined. “What made it more challenging was managing my responsibilities to my family whilst also leading early morning and late evening calls to get global stakeholders across the line.”
Speaking from experience, Pudney accepted that while balancing competing priorities of work and motherhood is hard at the best of times, managing a key initiative with a career-defining impact seriously tested the boundaries of family and career.
“I’ve recently returned from maternity leave into a new role and those same boundaries are being tested again,” she said. “Navigating those boundaries and succeeding in both worlds is a major achievement in itself. My greatest challenge has been adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of returning to work after my second child’s birth while also navigating the workplace ‘new normal’ and leading a team through times of ambiguity.”
Despite present challenges - especially in relation to white-boarding to solve problems and drive innovation - Pudney said remote working has provided a space for working mums (and dads) to better balance home life with careers.
“This is a major win in the fight for gender equality,” she added. “My advice is to not let negative imposter syndrome thoughts win and become your own mental cheerleader. Put yourself out there, the worst that can happen is you get feedback on how to improve.”
In rising through the ranks to assume director of Commercial Channel responsibilities at HP in Australia, Chelsea Rossney has also pursued a standout executive-level career while building a family.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome was the ongoing question of whether I was enough for my two children and husband, while trying to have it all,” Rossney outlined. “My advice is to build on your own confidence, be open to continued learning and most importantly, believe in yourself.
“Have a sincere respect for your worth and what you can bring to the table but ultimately you need to know that you are the driver of your own destiny. Don’t be afraid to #choosetochallenge.”
In addition, Rossney advised aspiring female leaders to map out future roles before declaring intentions to management and sponsors who will help scout out opportunities to aid progression towards such goals.
Stick to your values
In running the channel for an Australian titan of telecommunications and technology, Nevash Pillay considers leadership as a privilege, offered on the condition of helping individuals and teams also achieve success and develop into future leaders.
“It’s incredibly fulfilling to nurture a team that is built on collaboration and backing each other whilst demonstrating diversity of thought so we can make considered decisions based less on subjectivity and more on data and taking different perspectives into account,” said Pillay, speaking as executive of Indirect Partner Channel at Telstra Enterprise. “Diversity of thought and collaboration are critical in growing our vibrant partner ecosystem.”
Pillay first assumed a leadership role in her mid-20s, during a time in which the thought process was to work harder to earn respect, trust and a seat at the table.
“I later recognised that demonstrating strength in collaboration and thought leadership are really important and this helped overcome unconscious biases that related to my age, gender and diverse cultural background,” she added.
In short, Pillay is aligned to the view that “good people make good leaders”, recommending that when making difficult decisions, individuals must consider the facts at hand and always go back to core values. This is in addition to maintaining a reflective mindset to always evolve, be curious and learn from past mistakes.
“My advice is to know what you stand for, know what you want to achieve and plan your career,” Pillay stated. “Importantly, invest in your presence and check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk if you haven’t already.
"Then seek the right mentors to help you along the way. Ultimately, back yourself and don’t shy away from opportunities that may be outside your comfort zone. I’ve grown the most in roles that were outside my comfort zone.”
With extensive knowledge of US, Australia and New Zealand markets, Kelly Johnson ranks driving a supply chain redesign project - in addition to successfully pivoting from product management to logistics - as standout career achievements.
Alongside pioneering change as a woman in a male-dominated sector, Johnson also worked with Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and the operations team at Apple during a “pivotal time” within the industry.
From the early days at Apple, to the managing the iconic vendor’s logistics at Ingram Micro, Johnson now holds the position of country manager of Australia at ESET, embracing cyber security armed with more than three decades of channel expertise.
“I’ve had a few mentors over the years and one thing that comes to the forefront when making a tough decision is, does this decision this align with your core values and goals?” she asked. “When I reflect on this, I always come out with the best decision even when it’s a tough call.”
Offering a word of caution however, Johnson also accepted the “infuriating” feeling of being undervalued and unheard in an organisation, recognising that rising up and changing path requires “great courage, tenacity and resilience”.
“My advice is keep going,” she added. “When things get hard, put your head down and drive through. Given that the only constant is change, I also advise enjoying yourself and having fun. When you look back on all the hard work, you want to remember the fun times and the friends you made along the way.”
For Julie Barbieri - speaking as director of Channel and Alliances across A/NZ at HPE - success as a leader can be defined as having the ability to evolve both personally and professionally.
Backed by strong relationships, teamwork and accountability, Barbieri operates within the executive framework of providing clarity, consistency and inspiration by "infusing positive energy, trust and a sense of stability and belonging".
“This industry moves so quickly meaning we must remain ahead of the curve,” she accepted. “This requires agility, creative thinking and a mindset that embraces change at every opportunity. Having a team that is collaborative and diverse has been a key success factor to overcome this challenge.”
In starting out as one of only a handful of female engineers in the 1980s, Barbieri never shied away from a challenge. Fast forward to 2021 - and following management roles at NTT, Frontline Systems, Avnet and Digital Equipment Corporation - and the now-HPE executive has progressed in alignment with three core principles.
“Firstly, if you want something in life or in a career go after it and don’t hold back,” she advised. “Get a seat at the table and always be your authentic self, speak out and speak up.
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