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The Channel: The Tech Track That Loves Women

The dearth of women in information technology is a hair-puller for businesses and womens' advocates. Women account for only about 21% of computer and information system managers, according to the National Science Foundation, though they're about half of all managers in the American workforce. Much of this angst is focused on the paltry proportion -- 12% -- of women in engineering.

All this caterwauling is drowning out some good news. There's a tech category that is based on what women do best: build long-term relationships, equip others for success, and define success in terms of teamwork.

It's "the channel" -- those advisers who help consultants and resellers pull together the right combination of hardware, software, and services for their clients, which include businesses of all sizes. Think of channel companies as the behind-the-scenes consultant who helps a general contractor assemble the right materials, installers and specialists for a complex kitchen remodeling job.

Hard numbers don't appear to exist -- the channel needs to take a chapter from other tech-driven industries and measure the progress of its women. But plenty of women are already swimming with the current, according to trade publisher ChannelWeb.
Toni Clayton-Hine isn't an engineer and is sure she never could be. That explains why she's head of global marketing for two business units of CA Technologies, which equips resellers with the right mix of software and hardware for companies that need management information systems. "The channel is about relationships. If you're very introverted and don't like dealing with people, this would be a hard job," says Clayton-Hine. "You're not dropping off a bunch of marketing materials and saying, 'go sell.' It's eighteen months to ramp up a partner from your first meeting until they are driving their own sales with your products."

Anne Wilcox is the vice president of customer and solutions marketing for Ingram Micro U.S., a major distributor in the channel. She says that women excel at breaking complex problems down into discrete tasks, training modules and communications tools. Business development skills are essential. "You have to be sure that clients have all the building blocks they need, because when they win, we win," she says.

The channel is a great place to get hands-on operational experience -- something that many women need to advance. How can you tell if you'd make waves in the channel? Here are three signs:

  1. You're able to jump into tech projects, even as a user, and quickly gain traction. Fearlessness is essential. You have to quickly assess problems and craft solutions to complex problems. It's less about having all the answers than pulling together teams who can come up with the answers.
  2. You have a track record of successful training. Clients need tons of training so that, in turn, they can train the businesses they serve. If you've done internal tech training or support, you might be able to apply that expertise to the bigger platform offered by channel business-to-business sales.
  3. You need to produce start-to-finish business results to qualify for a top spot in your industry. Tracy Balent-Hamrac is in charge of channel sales in the Americas for CA Technologies Recovery Management and Data Modeling products. She got there by building sales channels from scratch at a smaller company that was subsequently acquired by CA.
"Empathy, support -- we have to impart these skills to others, to build them up," says Wilcox says. "When we help a reseller land a deal because we gave them the tools, we're high-fiving as much as they are."

Flickr photo by **Maurice**, CC 2.0.

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