DENVER -- Women in Comms -- Women hoping to succeed in technology need to be concerned about glass walls, not just glass ceilings, according to a panel of women speaking here at WiC's breakfast event.
Too often, women within an organization are given what are considered "supporting roles," including project management and human resources, and not business development jobs with profit-loss responsibility, said Wendy Hall Bohling, CEO of Corporate Cowgirl Up and author of Cowgirl Up: A Woman's Guide to Navigating the Corporate Frontier.
"If you look at women and where they are, it is often in support roles, and that's where they hit what I call a glass wall," she said. "They can't move across to P&L ownership -- and that is what you need to get into executive positions."
Kimberly Eubank, head of operations at Vodafone Americas , was quick to agree, and drew on her own personal experience in a previous job, where she was known to excel at cross-functional project management and was often given "the gnarliest projects," including big-budget items.
"I was more than that, and I knew I could be more than that," Eubank said. "But I finally had to leave my company to get that chance."
Making that leap meant sharpening her resume -- something she advised others to do -- to make sure it highlighted the skills she had for the type of job she wanted, at the executive level.
Bohling recommended building up skills around P&L to be able to prove capabilities, although she also told the audience that women too often try to accumulate degrees or certifications to get ahead. "Men don't have to do that," she noted. (See Syniverse CMO: Women Need P&L Roles.)
Much of the lively session focused on mentoring -- why it's important, how it works when it works well and what sometimes goes wrong with formal mentoring programs. The five panelists -- in addition to Bohling and Eubank, included Jenelle Champlin, director of customer experience at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK); Kristell Janusz, vice president of engineering for Atlantic Broadband ; and Jeni Panhorst, director of business strategy and planning for Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s Network Platforms Group -- have been both mentors and mentees.
In general, they seemed to favor more informal relationships, initiated by either party. Panhorst kicked off the discussion by noting that mentors come in all shapes and sizes but often work best when they are at a level to which the mentee aspires. As importantly, the mentor must provide "a place of trust" and a relationship that is authentic.
"It's all based on the relationship you have and the rapport -- that is critical," Panhorst said. Only then can a mentor share things that might be difficult to hear on the way to enabling the person being mentored "to be the best version of ourselves."
Champlin, who said she got her current job because a mentor who worked at Comcast brought her into the company, strongly affirmed the authenticity aspect. And that's what often goes wrong with formal mentoring programs, which assign mentors, she noted. Instead of authenticity, these can be awkward and forced, and ultimately unsuccessful.
Women don't have to focus solely on other women as mentors, however. Janusz has worked with only one other female engineer over her 20-year career, she said, but she has been mentored and does mentor male engineers. Her preference is for a mix of mentors, inside and outside the company at which she works, for a balanced view. "I keep up a relationship with past mentors [who've left her company] because that feedback is important," Janusz commented.
There are models for corporate mentoring programs that can work, such as organized circles, where group mentoring takes place. But these need to also be places of trust -- with guaranteed confidentiality.
Bohling commented -- and the others agreed -- that having a sponsor within the company is also important and that role is very different from that of a mentor. (See A Women in Comms Glossary.)
"You have to be able to be raw with your mentor," Eubank commented. "The mentor is the safe space where you can vent. With a sponsor, you are not that raw, but your sponsor is trying to get you the next job."
The next Women in Comms event will be a luncheon on May 15 in Austin, as part of Light Reading's Big Communications Event. You can get more information about that event here.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading