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Blog post By Paula Chiocchi on 2022-03-23

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I got to thinking about the women who really inspire me, day in and day out. They’re not in the history books yet. They are the ones making their way right now -- the modern-day pioneers who are breaking the glass ceiling and making room at the table for women everywhere to take a seat.


It’s inspiring to see more women stepping into leadership positions today. But there are still challenges—a recent McKinsey “Women in the Workplace” report states that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. Delayed or overlooked initial promotions have a negative ripple effect. McKinsey calls it the “broken rung” at the first step up to manager that results in significant underrepresentation at all levels of management.


As a woman in a tech-driven business, I’ve learned a lot over the years. I spent the first part of my career working for a large business data and analytics company, learning the ins and outs of the industry during those 11 years. Rising through the ranks of the male-dominated environment was rewarding and something of which I’m proud, but eventually it became clear: corporate America wasn’t for me. I wanted more freedom and more control over my own fate. I knew I wanted to set out on my own.


I started my business in 1998, literally at my dining room table. It was far from glamorous. It took hard work, drive, confidence and commitment. But I was determined: nobody was going to get in my way. I’m proud to say that my “dining room table” business is now a leading provider of multi-channel marketing data with one of the world’s largest SMB databases.


It’s important to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in business, especially in the predominantly male-led tech industry. As much as I learned from my own first-hand experience, I also gained tremendous knowledge from mentors, colleagues and other women sharing their stories. Here are a few lessons that helped me along my way and some encouragement for my fellow women in tech.


Build your support team —and don’t listen to the naysayers.


Surround yourself with people who encourage and support you but can also tell it like it is. Don’t listen to the naysayers who don’t believe in you, your skills or your ability to succeed—or the ones who always have something negative to say. But do look for those that can give you their honest opinion and trusted advice.


Learn from those who have gone before you.


I can’t overstate the importance of finding a good mentor, especially when you’re a minority in an industry or business. I’ve learned so much from my mentors over the years, both men and women. Someone with more experience—especially someone with a similar background—has insight you can often apply directly to your own circumstances.


I was fortunate as I was starting out to have several people to guide me in big decisions and growing my business. Even now, I greatly value the insight and counsel from sessions with my Vistage business coach.


Pay it forward.

Sharing my experience as a mentor to others has been a source of both personal and professional growth. It’s also why I write for this blog, Forbes, ToolBox, Business2Community and other outlets.


I take every opportunity to mentor, especially women just getting started in their careers. I often share advice and encouragement but I also often learn from them and am inspired by their fresh perspectives.


Embrace your differences.

Draw upon your strength as a woman. You may see things differently from your male colleagues—that’s a good thing! No one else can offer exactly what you can.


An interesting example is noted in the McKinsey report. “Compared with men in similar positions, women managers are taking more consistent action to promote employee well-being—including checking in on their team members, helping them manage their workloads, and providing support for team members who are dealing with burnout or navigating work–life challenges.”


Focus on what’s ahead.


Whether you’re starting out or rising to new heights in the workplace, you are sure to face challenges. It’s important to focus on your goals and remember the power of “yet.” Let me explain.


If you don’t know how to do something, you just don’t know how to do it yet.

If you’ve never managed a team, you’ve never managed a team yet.

If there’s never been a female CEO at your company, there’s never been one yet.


A growth mindset—believing that your abilities will grow through dedication and hard work—is a powerful tool for women blazing trails in the tech industry.


Be confident.


When I started my business I was confident that I had the know-how and grit to run my own data business and be successful. That confidence was vital for my success. If you want others to believe in you and your work, you need to believe it yourself.


Making it in the male-dominated data and tech industry has been rewarding on so many levels. To keep growing, I keep looking for new ways to innovate both in our offerings for our clients and in how we run our business and train our team.


Whether you are a female leader or CEO, or just getting started in your career, how do you find inspiration – not just during Women’s History Month but all year long?


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