The Roadmap to Follow: A Reflection of Manhattan Associates’ Momentum 2022 Women in Technology Leadership Forum
A 2021 report revealed that the world’s five largest tech companies – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, only have a workforce of about 34% women. This statistic may come as a surprise, a disappointment, or even a hopeful promise depending on your perspective of tech, women leaders, and employment in general. But what can’t be perceived as one way or the other is that women in tech have come a long way over the last few decades.
In May of 2022, supply chain tech leader Manhattan Associates brought the conversation of women in technology to the forefront at their annual Momentum event. At a session dedicated to women in technology and supply chain, leaders from various retailers and Manhattan Associates shared stage to discuss their firsthand experiences of being women within a predominantly male industry and highlighted the importance of being an agent of change not just for themselves but for the industry at large.
Moderating this session was Liz Sophia, VP of Field Marketing at Manhattan Associates, and I was personally honored to interview Sophia and the panelists to expand on this dynamic discussion. What was my core takeaway? We need women counterparts and mentors to not just be role models but to be the change they want to see.
Without a doubt, I can confidently tell you that the women representing this discussion at Momentum – which included Shirley Gao, CIO, Pacsun, Julie Terry, Director Omni Technology & Development Systems at Victoria’s Secret & Co., Linney Young, Senior Director of Operations & Client Services at Veridian, Manhattan CMO Ann Sung Ruckstuhl and Heather Mahan, VP of Professional Services for Manhattan – are those women.
A Reflection of Roles
As I reflected on what Sophia and her impressive group of panelists had to share, one thing was repeated again and again. And that is – very simply – that change has happened. And just as importantly, change continues to happen.
A quick scan of the meeting rooms, hallways and sessions that made up Momentum also reminded me change still needs to happen. Yet, despite the conference being more heavily attended by men than women, the women that were there were all valued and welcomed.
Julie Terry of Victoria’s Secret explained that “overall, women are more accepted in the industry and especially in leadership roles. It is refreshing to see so many women leaders succeeding in an industry that has historically been predominantly men.”
Reinforcing this statement was Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, the SVP and CMO of Manhattan Associates, who explained that “there are now more career opportunities available to women across more functions than ever before. The technology industry has become so much more aware of the benefits that women bring to the business and as such, has become more proactive in recruiting, nurturing, and retaining women.”
Keeping this in mind, Linney Young offered some memorable insight. “My advice to young women entering the technology industry is to be persistent, be observant, and grow and foster your network. Define your goals and establish your plan for achieving them, and do not settle. Look for opportunities and accept more responsibilities that showcase your abilities to be dynamic and agile. Also, never burn a bridge. It’s a smaller industry than one might think so develop strong relationships with the people you work with and maintain them. And finally, look for leaders that lead by example and are passionate about mentoring; and work towards becoming one of those leaders for others.”
The industry – like Young said – really is small when you begin to work and get to know others within it. Retention is undoubtedly important to employers and employees alike. But as women, the elephant in the room always seems to be the balance of work and home.
Victoria’s Secret’s Terry explains that “the biggest challenge I have faced was how to balance my work life and personal life. As a mother of three, this was a difficult task and 25+ years ago trying to ensure you had work/life balance was often seen as not being dedicated to your career. It required some tough personal choices on my part and drawing some lines in the sand to support what was most important in my life. Choosing to support my family will always be number one and it just presented me with a different path. Those choices and challenges we all face have resulted in a career which I have greatly enjoyed while remaining true to my family values.”
Manhattan’s Ruckstuhl agreed. “Throughout my career, there were so many moments of discouragement that made me want to step off the fast track when I first became a mother. Having to return to work in less than 6 weeks after childbirth, figuring out how to continue to nurse while traveling for business, worrying about quality childcare… there were so many obstacles to overcome. My saving grace was having a supportive husband, a network of friends and trusted paid help who provided the necessary ‘infrastructure’ to make work and life possible,” she explained.
Hard working women leaders certainly have challenges when it comes to balancing motherhood and families. But what I admire is their perseverance to find solutions and continue to move ahead. Shirley Gao is a great example of this, in her balance of personal life and business. “I tried very hard to be a good wife and mother and not to bring work stress home. I used to constantly take conference calls while driving my children to school or weekend activities. My elementary school daughters learned many technology acronyms and business terms in the car rides at that time, which was a nice side effect I guess. I could only accompany my children by sitting with them and working on my laptop while they did homework or practiced instruments. But I’m happy that I demonstrated good work ethic to my children, and my girls have grown to be independent and hard-working young adults,” Gao explains.
Their experiences 25+ years ago seem like my own choices only 14+ years ago when I took on the role of a mom. Having leaders such as the ladies that I interacted with reinforces that decisions can – and most often will be – hard to make, but there are solutions, and companies are now supportive of these sometimes-difficult choices. In fact, in my own external partner role with Manhattan, I watched as a male employee of Manhattan went on a well-deserved paternity leave. This shows just how much change has taken place over the years and sentiment of years past offer valuable insight we can learn from.
A Working Roadmap
The roadmap of motherhood and professional life isn’t black and white. But there is a roadmap, and that was well understood from the ladies of Momentum. Not only have many of them helped to shape it, but women today speak more candidly about it than they did in the past.
As a working mom myself, I valued their insight and raw truth when it came to expressing how they “do it all”. The important question is, does “doing it all” really exist?
According to Manhattan’s Mahan, you need to take control of your own destination to achieve what you want.
For starters, Mahan encourages women to “ask for what you want.” Expanding on this, Mahan explained that “if you’re overwhelmed by work or family, outsource whatever you can (mowing the lawn, childcare, housekeeping, laundry) even if only temporarily. Take calculated risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Listen. Most importantly, work your tail off. Evolve.”
Reinforcing Mahan’s tips for a balanced roadmap are echoed by Manhattan’s Liz Sophia, who explains that Mahan is someone she admires for being “brilliant, transparent and humble.” Sophia also explains that in technology, many women get competitive. But for Mahan, Sophia explains she is the exact opposite.
“She’s kind, collaborative and encouraging. I gravitate to those qualities. For young women everywhere, this story goes to show just how imperative it is to find your mentor, study them, and try to emulate their energy. Those who take the time to teach you, often will make the greatest impact on your career.”
As we look ahead to technology as a collective business, Young says it best when she says, “I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see more gender equality in the technology industry as awareness continues to be an active topic of conversation, in media and within organizations.”
Gravitating to women you admire is another tip that collectively the ladies of the Women in Technology Leadership Forum shared. All of them agreed that having mentors is one of the keys to their success.
What now for me? I have six new mentors to look up to. My role in tech still has a long roadmap ahead, but I am thrilled to know the road has already been paved thanks to the tremendous perseverance of women like Liz Sophia, Shirley Gao, Julie Terry, Linney Young, Ann Sung Ruckstuhl and Heather Mahan.
Written by Nicole Leinbach, Founder of RetailMinded.com, who was in attendance at Momentum 2022.