Customer needs are changing, and businesses are quickly realizing that investing in a diverse workforce is the best answer to meet those needs. Over the years, the technology sector has struggled with diversifying, both in terms of their leadership and their general hiring practices. Despite being a key demographic in the sales of technology, women hold less than 26% of tech jobs in the U.S. and, on average, only 85% of what men in those same positions earn. Women in leadership roles are even more rare at a scarce 18%. Additionally, as of 2014 racial minorities only made up 10% of the IT sector in total.
A more diverse and dynamic workforce can provide companies with the innovation, problem solving, and insight into their customer desires that will drive success. Diversity is, in fact, good for business. And yet the struggle remains.
We recently spoke with a partner who has an intimate connection with that struggle. Sharon Chang, who is managing Strategic Channel Alliances & Business Development at AgilePoint, has overcome great adversity to achieve her success. This is her story.
The Challenge of Being a Minority in Tech
Sharon’s story begins at a point where she needed to focus on her development as a businesswoman with very little support in the U.S. “Because of my heritage and lack of native English skills, not to mention the validation that comes from a U.S.-based education, I was told time and again that I would struggle to find work in the U.S.” She faced the challenge of overcoming language barriers in the workplace and cultural barriers such as not knowing when to ask for help.
“As a woman from Taiwan, entering the U.S. business market was hard especially with my background. Expediency forced me to take the first job offer I received. I gave up a social life and lifelong hobbies, worked long hours and seized every opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it might have seemed like at the time. In the end, though, it all paid off.”
– Sharon Chang, AgilePoint
Sharon said that her situation forced her to act outside of her comfort zone. She found herself needing to adjust to the work culture in the U.S. by learning not to be afraid to speak up. She knew she had something important to bring to the table. When the CEO of the software company where she worked asked if she would like to manage channel alliances full-time, Sharon knew she needed to take the opportunity even if it was a leap of faith.
She explained, “It was an amazing opportunity but far beyond my experience. I had many questions and fears, not the least of which was this: Do I have the personality, temperament, and self-confidence to succeed in a sales and marketing role? Failure, at best, could mean demotion; at worst, it could mean unemployment. I consulted with friends from the industry in executive roles, gathered as many relevant opinions as I could, and took the leap.”
“Looking back, it was this act of faith, to venture from a comfortable place into the unknown, which was the transformative moment of my career.”
– Sharon Chang, AgilePoint
With that opportunity, Sharon jumped at the chance to make an impact in her company despite the difficulties she knew she would face as an Asian woman in the technology field. Here are a few pieces of advice she found to be helpful in making her way despite those challenges.
Find a Mentor
Sharon said that through various one-on-one mentoring sessions, she gained more confidence and developed the skills needed to forge ahead in her career. “Among those I have to thank is a visionary technology leader, Jesse Shiah, AgilePoint’s CEO & Co-Founder, who took a chance on me and gave me the internal support and resources I needed to progress to where I am today. Former IAMCP NorCal Chapter President, Ed Correia, and the Board have also been supportive and helpful in my career. IAMCP WIT Global Chair, Christine Bongard, is a great leader and mentor as well, and has enabled me to service our WIT members in a broader context. She also opened doors to better and more varied opportunities to extend my personal and career achievements.”
Be Active in the Tech Community
Sharon found support in groups such as the IAMCP and the Microsoft-sponsored E3 program. These groups and interactions provided networking and professional development opportunities she would not have had otherwise.
“One example of the personal growth that resulted from my new venture involved public speaking, which had always been one of my weaknesses. My new role, however, forced me to regularly stand before groups, make introductions, and even to address large audiences.” Sharon said that by connecting with other professionals, she was better able to learn new things and take on new challenges. The partner opportunities and staff interactions gave her the tools she needed to build confidence and succeed in her industry.
Never Give Up
Sharon firmly believes that women and minorities in the technical fields can rise above any limitations as she has done. She wants to encourage those who want to make the world a better place, for themselves and for the global community, through the great leaps we are currently experiencing in the tech industry.
She says it’s important for others not to lose sight of who they are for the sake of fitting in. “Be yourself and don’t give up because the tech industry needs that diversity to become better than it is today. If we change ourselves to fit in to the environment, it’s not going to help.”
“I’ve learned in my life to not give up easily. Seizing opportunities when they present themselves and not letting any current limitations keep us from chances for growth are key. It is important to be able to step outside our comfort zone and allow ourselves to be challenged by the unfamiliar. That challenge will allow us to see what we can do.”
– Sharon Chang, AgilePoint
How have you overcome personal and professional challenges of your own? What advice would you share with partners and individuals looking to achieve more? Share your thoughts with the partner community in the comments below.