From Inside Sales to CEO
Becoming a CEO was never in the cards for Maryann Pagano when she began her career in IT. Like many other women working in tech, the profession found her; she hadn’t planned on working in that field. From working in a tech firm in the early 90s as a receptionist to spending her career supporting others as an Inside Sales Rep, she never imagined that she would someday become an entrepreneur and a tech CEO.
Maryann hosts the Women in Tech conference quarterly to shed light on women’s journeys in the tech channel.
On Sept. 26, five women shared their experiences working in the IT channel: Daria Kolonias, Maryann Pagano, Dawn Ringstaff, Ashley Johnson and Chris “Wolfie” Wolff.
Meet the Speakers
Maryann Pagano is the CEO of BlackHawk Data, a New York City-based company that’s a Solutions Provider, VAR and MSP. Chris “Wolfie” Wolff works for PTC, a publicly traded software company. She met Maryann years back while working for a Cisco partner.
Daria Kolonias works for the data center company Nutanix with New York City agencies, schools and colleges. Dawn Ringstaff is based in Texas and has worked in the tech channel for over 20 years. She recently worked as Channel Chief for Area 1 Security, which another company recently acquired. She’s now trying to rebuild the channel with the new company. Sales Director Ashley Johnson works for Five9 in New York City, a cloud contact center provider specializing in call center technology.
Beyond a “Hard Worker”
When Dawn was planting her career roots, she never saw technology as an option. She saw two possibilities for herself: be a lawyer or be a teacher. Dawn didn’t like attorneys, and the teaching wage wouldn’t be sufficient for her and her two children. The technology channel found her, like many of her female colleagues. Dawn quickly uprooted her life to work in tech after a male coworker told her he was leaving to invest in an internet startup.
In her experience working in tech, she often received the label of “hard worker,” while her male counterparts were “ambitious” or “confident.” She decided she didn’t want to be known as being helpful or a hard worker. She decided she wanted to promote herself and prove she was as confident and ambitious as the men in her field.
Wolfie told Maryann at the beginning of her journey through tech that she needed to create a niche for herself to stick out and avoid being swallowed up by the pack. As a female in the male-dominated tech channel, she was already halfway there.
Maryann didn’t call herself a CEO the first year starting BlackHawk Data. She felt like the title was always associated with men, and she didn’t feel she’d earn the same respect as a man with this title. She continues to overcome this obstacle, but at the end of the day, it’s her dedication to diversifying the tech channel and role as a female CEO that sets her apart from the masses.
Holding your Space
Wolfie isn’t scared to talk about money. Ask for the raise – society conditions women to think they should get whatever someone wants to pay, but learning how to promote yourself is essential. Ashley feels comfortable asking for the income she deserves, but she’s found many people don’t even ask for raises: especially women. More people, especially women in male-dominated fields, must sit at the table and ask for what they deserve.
Daria asks her male coworkers how much they make to create a ballpark for her salary. When she asks for a raise, she always asks for 20% more than she wants because the worst someone can do is say no – you just have to go for it.
If you’re entering a place where you feel intimidated, embrace it. Wolfie isn’t afraid to take up space and assert herself amongst male colleagues, which isn’t always easy for women taught to be submissive, polite and helpful.
Men Supporting Women
Tech being male-dominated doesn’t mean men in the field don’t support women. Ashley found a lot of male mentors when entering the tech industry that encouraged her to grow. Daria seeks advice from her male colleagues to get insight into the channel and where she stands in it. Diversity means everyone, women included, and many men in the field are happy to lift up female voices breaking through the industry.
Uniqueness as an Advantage
Daria isn’t afraid of sticking out amongst her male coworkers – instead, she uses her uniqueness as an advantage. She’s proud to be different and bring new ideas to the table as a female IT leader and thinks more women should consider joining the technology field.
According to Dawn, you don’t have to be a coding genius to work in IT. Everyone has different strengths they bring to a team, and she saw this firsthand through a previous CVS employee that joined her team. The new employee brought a marketing-forward perspective to the team, leaving Dawn inspired by her out-of-the-box ideas.
Stumbling Across Tech
The ongoing trend with women in tech seems to be that they don’t seek the industry out: Tech finds them.
Ashley worked in law for three years after graduating. She found herself in the unfortunate spot of a tanked economy post-graduation when everyone was looking for jobs, and salaries went down as hours worked increased, so she sought a new path. She spent five years working in healthcare sales before she was head-hunted for another new career: Call center technology, which she’s now been working in for five years.
Wolfie saw her female relatives work in banking, so she took this path for herself before realizing she could work in tech. She now holds an externship program for new career people with diverse backgrounds to learn about tech.
When Wolfie began her career, she credits much of her success to the help of female mentors and role models within the industry. Two of her mentors were Wendy Barr from Cisco and Linda Connly from Dell.
Daria had several mentors along the way during her tech career, but a female manager she had at Microsoft impacted her the most. Daria didn’t think much about being a woman in a male-dominated field, but this manager opened her eyes to the challenges they uniquely face as women in the channel.
Advice for Women from Women
Try to make as many connections as possible. Be confident in yourself and your abilities, and never sell yourself short. You don’t need executive presence, but you need to be present where the executives are, even if that means trying something out of your comfort zone. Watch the entire Women in Tech conference recording to hear more about women’s journeys in tech.
BlackHawk Data is proud to be a woman-owned small business. We’re committed to sharing the stories of women in our industry and opening doors for young professionals. We believe everyone should be able to make changes in the tech world. Learn more about our commitment to diversity.