”Through my work at Tech Data I get to educate partners on cutting-edge technology and I also get to mentor young talent, helping to guide them and prepare them as they work to bring new technology products, services and solutions to the world.”
CHERYL NEAL, VP, STRATEGY & VENDOR ACQUISITION, TECH DATA
When I was a young girl trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, technology – which at that time was a profession completely dominated by men – wasn’t even a glimmer of a consideration. Having been influenced by an incredibly special teacher, I wanted to pursue a career in education.
That dream was put on hold, however, when I found myself as a single mother of a young daughter and looking for a way to make ends meet. I began working as an administrative assistant for a company that sold fax machines – which was pretty cutting-edge technology at the time, more than 25 years ago. After a short time there, I proactively went to the sales manager, who happened to be female, and shared with her my successful experience selling women’s clothing in college and told her I felt I had what it takes to be a strong contributor to the sales team. Thankfully she gave me that opportunity and provided mentoring and coaching along the way. Pretty soon, I realized I could leverage my skills as a teacher to help customers understand how fax machines could radically change the way they did business.
I’ve continued using my passion for teaching in my career in technology ever since. Not only do I have the opportunity to teach channel partners about how technology can enhance the way they do business, but I’m able to serve as a coach and mentor to many young people getting started in the industry. That aspect of my job – helping to guide and enable others, women in particular, to succeed in their careers – is a passion of mine.
One person I always admired was Maya Angelou, American autobiographer and poet, because of the inspiration she gave to women of all ages. She didn’t let the many obstacles in her life dissuade her from pursuing her passion and giving back. Angelou unselfishly shared her learnings with women around the world. Through her words, she continues to provide the lessons and encouragement for achieving our aspirations. The passion she had for life was contagious and something to emulate. I’ve always thought that if, in some small way, I could also encourage women, that I’ll have made a difference.
I’m fortunate to work for a company, Tech Data, that allows me to do just that. Tech Data encourages mentorship and education and espouses a servant leadership culture, in which management team members are encouraged to empower and enable their employees to find new ways to continuously improve and get results. Tech Data also cultivates a culture of diversity and inclusion and supports the creation of business resource groups that allow employees with similar backgrounds or affinities to gather together as a support system for each other and as an educational resource for the rest of the business.
One of these business resource groups, Elevate, is dedicated to empowering women to thrive in their careers through development, education and networking. Elevate recently started a new initiative called E3 that encourages men and women to devote 36 minutes a month to network with and support each other through engagement and encouragement and ultimately elevating each other. Mentors share experiences, insights and advice to help mentees grow and succeed. Because of groups like this – unlike when I was growing up – more young girls can and will give serious consideration to a career in technology.
I’m excited to be signed up as a mentor for this program and look forward to working with young women who, like me, are passionate about technology and want to advance their careers at Tech Data. I’m also thrilled that my dream of being a teacher, while it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned, has come true. Through my work at Tech Data I get to educate partners on cutting-edge technology and I also get to mentor young talent, helping to guide them and prepare them as they work to bring new technology products, services and solutions to the world.
The mentoring of young people and the support of a diverse and inclusive culture are two of the many topics we’ll be discussing during the Women in IT Virtual Summit panel discussion “Ethical Tech for the Future: Make Responsible Mainstream,” that I’m honored to have been asked to moderate on Oct 28. I will share the virtual stage with four incredible women – panelists Tina Finelli of SeeWhatSheCanDo and Etal Marketing; Jenn Bennett of Google; Kim Arcand of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and the Smithsonian; and Ifeoma Ogbunugafor of Robotical. These women also have a passion for educating others and will share their experiences and insights with the audience. Along with me, they’ll discuss what they wanted to be when they grew up, how those dreams shaped their career goals and their lives in general, and how we can all – as a society – help other young people achieve their goals and dreams.