By Dede Haas, CA-AM, Channel Sales Strategist, DLH Services, LLC
They may be few in numbers but they share a common trait — persevering as women business owners in the channel partner community. For this installment of my Women in the Channel series, I interviewed two veteran women solution provider business owners for insight and stories of what life is like in this male-dominated industry.
Lynn Souza, President and CEO of CONNECT Computer, went from working in a call center in 1997 to becoming majority owner of CONNECT in 2013. Her company’s website presents six core values, two of which — WE before ME and Passion Is At The Heart Of Our Company — sum up how Souza runs the organization, manages her employees, and treats her customers. Says Souza, “I believe life is too short to not be doing something you’re passionate about.”
Donna Nalls, Founder/Principal Consultant of Wisteria IT, started her business in 2003 after working in professional services for a large software company. She and her partner chose the name Wisteria to represent a feminine leadership that provides a softer consulting experience. The name of the company immediately distinguished Wisteria IT from any consulting company clients may have previously worked with. Nalls, who is now sole owner, says, “Regardless of dollars, you’ve got to deliver the best consulting experience you can to the client and that is how we have tried to build the business and live every day.”
On Running A Woman-Owned Partner Company In The Channel
Souza: Sometimes I do feel it’s a bit of a boy’s club out there. I do have a larger client, all men at the helm that are the man’s man type. There have been times in the past where I feel like they didn’t necessarily take my recommendations seriously. That might just be because I was a consultant, not one of their staff, but we had been their IT Provider and then MSP for 10 to 15 years. A couple years ago they hired their own CTO, a male, and he’s a man’s man too, and they sure did listen to him on many of the same suggestions I had made.
Nalls: While I often feel like I am in the midst of a boys’ club, especially when attending conferences or other large gatherings, it doesn’t necessarily infer exclusivity. Just when I find myself being the only female in a gathering of men and not sure my voice will be heard, I dig deep to speak up and engage in conversations . When I do this, I am always surprised to find one or more of the guys will support me whole-heartedly. It’s analogous to being a hitter on a baseball team: I have to have the courage to step up to the plate and take a couple swings; my teammates will be there to cheer me on.
On How They Shape Their Company Culture
Souza: When we talk about the differences of being a male CEO and a female CEO, I honestly think I put more energy and time into my employees. I focus a lot on my CONNECT family, keeping them happy and having them know and feel like they all have a direct impact on the success of CONNECT. I’ve hired several employees who have come from male-run MSPs that were treated more like a commodity than a human.
Nalls: At Wisteria IT, we don’t call people resources. It’s an important distinction because I want everyone to feel valued and that we’re all team members and contributors to the same success. I’m often working in the trenches on a client engagement and don’t want anyone to think there is a hierarchy such that they can’t express their thoughts; this includes everything from application solutions to the holiday dinner venue.
On How Many Women They Have Seen As A CEO Or In A High-Level Executive Position Within The Partner Community
Souza: Most of the time when you see a woman at the head of a Channel Partner or solution provider, her background is more in sales and marketing. Unfortunately, IT is still very much a male-dominated industry. In all my travels, I really only know of one other MSP led by a woman who is technical. Everybody else I have met, all the other owners and presidents, have been male.
Nalls: While there are several companies I know that claim to be woman owned, it is really a husband/wife arrangement and the husband is managing the company. On paper, the woman has 51 percent ownership to enable them to obtain government contracts. Otherwise, I am only aware of one other company truly owned and managed by a woman.
On Women Participating And Presenting At Technology Trade Shows
Souza: Usually if there’s a woman on stage, she’s in marketing or sales. She’s not a tech by trade, and that’s been the case for as long as I’ve been in IT. I haven’t seen any big changes in the last almost 20 years.
Nalls: I have never seen a female keynote speaker. I have rarely seen a female presenter of a technology session. I’m not sure why, but I make a point to mention it on conference feedback surveys.
On Women Starting Businesses In The Tech Sector Partner Channel
Souza: It’s still very much a man’s world here, but I don’t think that’s any reason why women shouldn’t try to enter it — in fact I think that’s even more reason to go into tech. We need more women in this industry, not less and that can only happen if more women go out take the chance.
Nalls: I would absolutely encourage women to start a technology business. We need more woman-owned businesses and we need more women that own businesses to provide mentorship. I always enjoy the moment when I do meet another female business owner and we can sit down and collaborate and share ideas. To paraphrase Hillary Rodham Clinton, we are stronger together.
First Steps Towards Increasing Opportunities For Women
So what can be done to increase the opportunities for women interested in starting or heading a solution provider company? Also, what can other partner companies do to welcome women business owners as one of their own? To start, consider:
These are just a few ideas, some new and others that were implemented over the years and are still important. But what really is needed is the ability to go directly to the vendors and partners and show the profitable benefits of accepting women and women-owned companies into their world. According to The Huffington Post, “Women-owned businesses represent 30 percent of all new businesses in the U.S. each year and they are growing at twice the rate of male owned businesses.” I think the time is right to recognize women-owned businesses are a good bet. They are technology customers and should be technology partners as well.
When I asked Souza her thoughts on mentoring young girls, she said, “It’s important. I donate money to a robotics team in our area that has an all-girls team. I feel it’s very important to show young girls out there this can be them if they want it to be; it doesn’t have to just be ‘boys play with computers and girls play with dolls.”
CONNECT Computer is a group of forward thinking, IT professionals who are obsessed with personalized service that drives companies to succeed. We pride ourselves on real and measurable proactive management that creates organizational efficiencies and minimizes downtime. By keeping your systems secure and optimized, we put more time back into your day to focus on successfully growing your business.
Wisteria IT was established in 2003 as a boutique consulting services group with a 100 percent focus on OpenText products. Comprised of an award-winning team of OpenText certified developers and business consultants, Wisteria IT is committed to excellence and our clients’ success with their OpenText ECM implementations. We operate in many vertical markets and have a depth of experience in U.S. Federal Government & Public Sector, Life Sciences and Energy.
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.