Women in the Channel is tackling the topic of gender diversity in channel leadership at it 11th Networking Event, March 15 at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo. We’ve invited a gender-diverse Keynote panel to discuss the payoff of women in leadership. To get the ball rolling, we’ve invited panelist Patrick Oborn, co-founder of master agency Telarus, to share his views on this important subject, including his company’s efforts to empower women and the benefits his company has realized. You can hear more from Patrick at the Women in the Channel event, 5-8 p.m., March 15, 2016, in Galileo 1001 at the Venetian Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas.
The Women in the Channel Networking Event is open to all women attending the Channel Partners Conference & Expo. Men will be admitted on an invitation-only basis. Admission is FREE to all WiC members and $20 for non-members. To register for the event, please click here. To become a member, visit www.womeninthechannel.com.
Yes. When we first started Telarus, we were 100% male. It took us over six years to hire our first female employee, which was a commissions analyst. Soon, back-office personal followed, and now, after several new hires and promotions, we have a much more balanced male-to-female ratio — nearly 50/50 — and five female VPs. As this transition occurred, we found that we benefited from additional skill sets that materialized from this more balanced leadership team. For example, our female leaders can have difficult conversations with their team members and with agents, where many of our male leaders struggle. With more subtly comes more loyalty and an added depth of communication. And with communication skills being so important to us as we service agents, it just makes sense to build a gender-diverse leadership team.
Does your company have specific initiatives to advance gender diversity among its leadership team?
Although we don’t have any concrete incentives, we are cognizant of where we stand with regards to gender diversity and the hiring stack. We don’t actively seek one gender or the other when looking to fill a role. We focus on looking for the best available candidates, which just happen to be women in so many of the cases. Having a broader pool of qualified female candidates (both inside the company and from without) is what has led to the gender diversity that we enjoy here at Telarus.
What benefits has your company realized in focusing on advancing and empowering women as leaders?
One great example of a woman who has advanced from the very bottom to the very top is Paula McKinnon. She came to Telarus as an entry-level partner support specialist. Today she is our VP of supplier management. Not only did she replace a man in that position, she also has vastly outperformed her predecessor in every way possible. Other women who work for Telarus see Paula as a shining example of what’s possible with hard work, ingenuity and uncompromising ethics. We look forward to others following in Paula’s footsteps and becoming dynamic role models to the other women in our organization.
As a male leader in the telecom industry, how have you personally advanced and/or empowered women as leaders?
One of the areas where I see women as leaders in our organization is Field Sales. Today, we have three regional vice presidents, who have P/L responsibility and direct reports that started out as either channel managers, relationship managers, or recruiting specialists. They were all great at relationships the day we hired them, but I (well, my management team, actually) coached them on strategy, lead gen, activity planning, budget allocation, and other “MBA” type of sales training (like Griffin Hill, for example). Once trained, we provided them each with a team of three back-office staff to assist with day-to-day calls, quotes and other logistics, so that they could focus on building our company in their market. This has paid huge dividends both for us and for them, as they continue to grow into strategic thinkers and leaders within our company and the industry.
As a male leader in the telecom industry, what advice can you offer other women about improving their opportunities for leadership?
Not to generalize, but most women come with the pre-installed software that makes them great hires in this industry: communication skills. As they learn the ins and out of this industry, most pick up very quickly on the strategy of supporting partners and convincing them that working with us is in their best interest. But a lot of trust and stock is placed on a person’s technical acumen. My recommendation to women in the channel is to educate themselves on the products they sell, the problems they solve and continually update their knowledge base (outside of work hours). Once a partner (or a manager) sees you’re not just a pretty face, that you know your stuff and know it well, a level of trust will quickly develop and success is yours for the taking. As more people, both inside and outside the company see your intellect, your work ethic, and your ability to communicate, leadership opportunities will come. And if they don’t (as may be the case with some companies are just “old fashioned” and have been under the same leadership for decades), learn as much you can and begin looking for another company to work for, where your skills will be appreciated. This industry has never been more full of companies who value your talents and leadership abilities. This is a new day in tech when the nerdy, predominately male, hardware, one-time payment business model is giving way to the residual managed services model. We will surely see women playing an increasingly central role in the evolution of this industry if they meet the product knowledge measuring stick.