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How Sharpening Emerging Tech Skills Can Boost Women Of The Channel

Keeping up with current trends and emerging technology is the No. 1 skill for women in IT to possess right now as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the IT landscape and the global workforce.

Staying up to date with emerging technology topped the list of all-important skills that women of the channel need in order to move up the ladder in today‘s IT market, according to new research.

The Channel Company, parent company of CRN, found that for the first time a focus on new platforms, features and concepts—including artificial intelligence and edge computing—is considered the most valuable skill women looking to boost their careers or move up the ranks can have right now in the IT arena, according to a recent survey of 116 women in the channel conducted by The Channel Company.

Keeping up with emerging technology, which 68 percent of respondents believe to be the No. 1 skill women should have at the moment, is a considerable deviation from the top skill that respondents have identified as the most valuable for the past five years: communication. The ability to articulate value propositions has always been No. 1, but communication dropped to the second-most important skill in the 2020 survey, said Lisa MacKenzie, partner and executive vice president at The Channel Company, during the State of Women in the Channel Webinar Tuesday.

“Staying up to date on emerging technologies has generally been fourth or fifth on the list,” MacKenzie said.

[Related: Women Of The Channel 2019: Recognizing The Unique Strengths Women Bring To The Table ]

The reason why a focus on technology is critical right now? It can’t be overlooked that the majority of companies around the globe had to become much more tech-savvy, in some cases, overnight, MacKenzie said.

Heather Margolis, founder of Channel Maven and CEO of Spark Your Channel, a channel marketing software firm, agreed.

“All of these partners, customers and vendors were thinking they had a great business and didn’t think they had to go virtual or use [new tools] like video just yet. But then in a matter of 24 hours, our lives were turned upside down,” said Margolis.

Cloud storage specialist NetApp has been adopting new technologies internally, including a new CRM system. New management workflows and approaches to data security have also been employed. For Monica Winders, NetApp’s worldwide channels marketing services manager, change management has been an important skill for her and her colleagues.

However, Winders believes that new technologies, trends and communication go hand in hand. “Communication is probably even more important now. If we have all these new programs and playbooks but we can’t get them out, then no one is going to see them so what’s the point?” she said.

That‘s why Winders and her team are “really embracing” social media and webinars to change the way they share and communicate about their new offerings.

“We’ve been doing joint webinars with our [technology partners] and we noticed that together, we get a lot more views and those are all about the hot topics, like cloud and AI,” Winders said.

Fifty-five percent of women surveyed by The Channel Company said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their company’s digital transformation and helped generate new ideas for revenue and customer satisfaction faster than ever. Still, there’s no denying that COVID-19 has had more of an impact on women in the labor force compared with men, MacKenzie said.

Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September—roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The trend is concerning, said Margolis, who was in attendance at the WOTC webinar. “But it’s not at all surprising,” she added.

Of Margolis’ 20-person company Channel Maven, 17 are women. About 10 of those employees are mothers. One employee so far has left the firm, Margolis said. While the company did everything it could to support her, including increasing her rate and lowering her hours, ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The employee had to make the difficult decision to leave the workforce, she said.

The Channel Company’s 2020 survey included women employed at technology suppliers, vendors, manufacturers and developers. Seventy percent of respondents were between the ages of 35 and 54 and 63 percent have children at home. The good news, MacKenzie said, is that 55 percent of respondents reported that their company has instituted new programs to support and advance women.

For NetApp’s part, the importance of supporting women in technology has become even more visible, said Winders. The vendor has a group for women in technology that offers coaching and mentoring, as well as volunteering efforts. Now that everyone is working from home, the group is even easier to join via Zoom, she said. “Everyone has their videos on and I’m getting to meet everyone, where before you may have had a conflict and couldn’t attend the meeting.”

The silver lining of COVID-19? Company culture has improved for many organizations, according to 53 percent of respondents, who noted that the global pandemic shifted the focus of management to the health, well-being and advancement of their employees.

Both of Margolis’ companies have always encouraged employees to take time away from work in the form of mental health days, or to just step out early for an appointment or to pick up their children. Employees can choose to be in the office, remote or a combination of both. During COVID-19, the companies have brought in life coaches and personal trainers during their monthly internal “chats” and Margolis gave employees the option to take their standing desks home from the office.

“We’ve always offered a flexible schedule for employees,” she said. “We want them to take what they need.”

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