WOTC 2022: How To Turn Your Company Into A ‘Talent Magnet’

Gina Narcisi

‘We’re just scratching the surface. There are so many diamonds in the rough out there today and you don’t have to be a leader to pull someone up the ladder,’ one channel leader said during a panel at WOTC East 2022 this week.

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The Company People Want

The tech industry is facing an unprecedented IT skills and talent shortage, and it’s not playing favorites. Nearly every company, from the largest IT vendors to the smallest solution providers, are struggling to find and retain top talent.

At The Channel Company’s Woman of the Channel East 2022 this week, Aletha Noonan, senior vice president of product and partner management at solution provider CDW, led a discussion about building an attractive culture and talent retainment strategies with two leaders from CDW’s partner ecosystem. Shannon Sbar, vice president of channels for APC by Schneider Electric and Rachel Barger, senior vice president, Americas sales for Cisco, shared stories from their own leadership journeys and the lessons they learned along the way — like how it’s better to be respected than feared — when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

And it’s not just a role that leaders and upper management can play. The panel of channel leaders discussed the main things that candidates are looking for from their next companies and how everyone at every stage of their careers can “pull” other women up the ladder and help turn their own companies into “talent magnets” thanks to their strong cultures that are centered on empathy and equity.

Here’s what the channel leaders had to say.

On equity  

There’s a “war out there” for top talent and increasingly, people are looking for purpose when they are searching for a new job. It’s something that managers need to keep top of mind as they compete to build the best teams, said Barger.

“How does management embrace you? How do they support your learning goals, your creativity goals? Creating frictionless pathways? Showing empathy, and also balancing for wellbeing [when] we practically live and work in our offices and in our own homes?” she asked.

Barger joined Cisco in October 2020 and didn’t meet her team in-person for the first year. For her, it was about making everyone on her team feel like they had room to contribute and collaborate, even if they were working remotely like she was.

“How do you make sure the people at home have the same equitability of opportunity to make points and discussions and how do we make sure you can have those random sidebar conversations we used to have in the office and encourage people to turn on their videos to see their facial expressions to see what makes their eyes light up,” she said. “All of those things together, we can empower through technology.”

On sustainability and purpose 

For APC by Schneider, sustainability is a big part of the company’s purpose. It’s also an increasingly important factor for many job seekers, said Sbar.

“I’m lucky to be with a company that’s been working on this before it was ever cool to be sustainable,” she said. “It’s very different than when I started looking for jobs. I say that back then, people that were looking for green were looking for money. And now it’s a very different green that people care about and I think it’s really amazing. It’s good to be with the company that cares.”

On gaining and leaning into empathy

If the last three years has taught the industry anything, it’s that leaders need to care for and think about things that hadn’t been top of mind before. Empathy and “having each other’s backs” is critical, as is women helping women by encouraging them when they see something in another person to stick with it, Barger said.

“There’s probably no more important leadership characteristic than having empathy, especially as we’re all going through transformations in their own companies,” she said.

A recent study by Cisco found that employees that had their manager asked them frequently” “How are you doing and is there anything that I could do to help support you?” had 21 percent less attrition, Barger added.

“All of us leaders, we want genuine feedback. Well, if your employee base has confidence to give you feedback, you can show them that: ‘I do care. I do want your feedback. I want to understand it better.’ And on the flip side, it’s really hard for teams to trust and to listen to the strategy of a leader if they don’t think the leader understands or has been in their shoes,” she said.

On gaining respect without being ‘scary’

Leaders get it wrong a lot, Sbar said. She described a time when she felt that she had to hide parts of her personality and put her guard up in order to be respected by her colleagues and direct reports.

“About ten years ago, my right-hand man told me: ‘My team and the rest of the channel is scared of you. But you’re intelligent and really funny and I love hanging out with you. I wish they could see that side of you.’

She recalled: “Oh my gosh, I have spent my entire career trying to be a badass and trying to make sure I didn’t look weak and that I could be at the table, that I didn’t have any vulnerabilities. I worked so hard at it that I think I lost myself a little and what kind of leader I wanted to be,” she said.

For Sbar, she began listening more and making it about others, like her direct reports, and it changed her leadership style.

“If he didn’t say anything, I may not have noticed. But you don’t want to be feared, you want to be respected. And that’s a very big difference,” she said.

On bringing someone else to the table 

Barger worked in Asia for a time where there were amazing female leaders and distributors. She recalled working with one woman in Indonesia who was a “rock star” and the breadwinner for her family.

“She just needed somebody to see her and understand who she was, and I think that’s all of our job. To find those people and pull them up the ladder,” she said, noting that she, too, was pulled up the ladder by two different sponsors that saw something in her.

“We’re just scratching the surface. There are so many diamonds in the rough out there today and you don’t have to be a leader to pull someone up the ladder,” she added.

Gina Narcisi

Gina Narcisi is a senior editor covering the networking and telecom markets for Prior to joining CRN, she covered the networking, unified communications and cloud space for TechTarget. She can be reached at

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