By Sarah Dant
Anyone who knows me would describe me as a “go-getter.” From being captain of my soccer team as a kid, to taking the lead with local government elections, to crisis management in my early wedding planning career, I’ve loved diving in and finding solutions that will benefit the people around me, and therefore myself.
This approach has gotten me far, and even fueled me to start two small businesses that advanced me into a leadership position in the hospitality industry. I loved working in hospitality, because it gave me a chance to pull off satisfying wins every day. As the weekend demands kept filling my calendar and the evenings grew longer, however, I sought a switch that would align with the life I truly wanted.
The tech world appealed to me because it is an ever-evolving, rapidly-growing industry. I knew it would allow me to continue to learn, stretch, and accomplish new things. I landed a position in sales at a multinational technology corporation, and initially felt like I had won the lottery. Going from running around restaurants at all hours of the day to sitting at a desk from 9-5 was a sweet relief I didn’t know I’d needed. But I could still use the smarts those jobs had given me. I found it easy to understand the product, and seemed to impress my superiors with my questions and determination to excel.
Getting a No-Go on Go-Getting
Though I was doing well in my new role, when it became apparent that I could (and wanted to) handle larger responsibilities, I was shocked to find that my new company had a “system” for promotions. Rather than rewarding vision and drive, they required me to stay in my position for a certain period of time before I could even be considered for the next step on the ladder. This, to me, sounded a lot like simply waiting it out, becoming buddy-buddy with the male C-suite, and hoping to be noticed.
Though my frustrations grew, I did my best to get myself into the rooms where important decisions were being made. Over and over, I was met with closed doors. I had no qualms about advocating for myself, but how could I appear as more than just a number when leadership didn’t include anyone who looked like me?
Ever the problem-solver, I made a switch to a smaller company that promised my voice would have an impact. The leadership there insisted they wanted to see me grow. After, again, quickly getting an understanding of my new environment, I was ready to give insights and had ideas to better the company.
Listening to The Right Voice
Sadly, yet again, I was thwarted. Though I was the one in the trenches with our clients, coming up with answers for their daily problems, over and over — in meetings with my “supportive” male superiors — any major changes I suggested were overlooked. And no one jumped in alongside me to help, either. Although initially promised that there was a growth plan for me, when leadership returned from their “Strategy Retreats,” they seemed unwilling to share their takeaways.
It began to feel like my leadership team didn’t actually want me to excel. And, briefly, I considered that perhaps I truly couldn’t. It would have been easy to believe my opinion wasn’t actually valid, as it was never met with anything other than dismissal.
But thanks to a retinue of motivational podcasts and affirmations, and a track record of leading well in so many other areas of my life, I didn’t let those false truths win. Instead, I called on the lessons from a client who had invested thousands of dollars in buying out her male business partner in order to shape her company into one that would build the software solutions she knew would benefit both her own business, and others. No matter what other voices told her, ultimately, she knew she had her own best answers.
Finding a Leader Who Listens to Your Leadership
When I listened to myself, I found 7Factor.
Or, rather, it was when others listened to me. I’d been complaining to a male friend about my work frustrations, and he suggested I come work with them. In even my earliest conversations with 7Factor founder Jeremy Duvall, I spoke up for myself to clarify and define the role I wanted and knew I could do. Instead of getting the push-back I was accustomed to, I was appreciated and encouraged. Now, I’m able to truly make a difference and drive change because I have a leader who trusts me to identify gaps and create solutions. And I’m not left to do it on my own, either.
Unfortunately, I know my previous experience is not rare. Though many seem “aware” of diversity issues in the workforce, in order to truly invert the bottom-heavy triangle of women in the tech industry, we have to promote women’s longevity in it. This means doing more than waiting for their knock; it’s keeping the door open, so they don’t have to in the first place.
Despite the challenges I faced to get here, I am thankful for my journey in tech. It’s revealed to me another problem I’m excited to help solve: the disparity of women in tech leadership. But even more than that, it’s strengthened the tools and the confidence required to go get the solutions we need in order to build a whole new table for leadership in tech: one at which women don’t have to fight to find a seat.