International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves, “How did I get where I am in my career and where do I want to go?” Let’s be frank; we work in a male-dominated industry. However, that doesn’t mean there are not high-impact opportunities for women in technology and real estate. I’m proud to say that CoreSite is a company with women in many leadership roles and on the board of directors.
However, today my focus is not on the company, but instead on the International Women’s Day theme for 2021: #ChooseToChallenge. We thought it could be inspiring to ask some colleagues three questions about their career and how they can help others take on the challenges we all face, regardless of gender.
With that said, I’ll let them speak for themselves.
I have been blessed with many mentors. First and foremost, my parents instilled a strong belief in higher education. They also taught me humility. In a world where everyone constantly competes for the “I Know the Most” trophy, it is so refreshing when someone says, “I don’t understand that. Can you explain it to me?” I’ve learned so much more throughout my career because I strive to be honest about what I do not know and seek out that knowledge accordingly.
Two other mentors I attribute my success to are Susan Dobbs and Jeff Finnin, CoreSite’s CFO. I joined USWest (now CenturyLink/Lumen Technologies) as a space and power engineer, straight out of college. I worked in that position for several years and, after completing my Master’s Degree, wanted to see a different side of the business – procurement. Susan was my first manager at USWest. She believed in my potential, and taught me the importance of concepts such as competitive bidding and negotiation. She was patient and kind and always a source of support. Long after I left CenturyLink, we would meet for lunch or catch up over the phone. She never stopped believing in me and frequently told me how proud she was of me. Susan passed away in 2019. I think of her unwavering support frequently and keep our last text string on my phone to remind myself daily of the leader she was, and the one I will always strive to be.
Jeff hired me in 2014 and gave me the Herculean task of establishing and growing the Procurement Department. Jeff has fostered my growth within the company (I started as a manager and grew into a VP role in six years) and has always been a source of support – and candor. He always gives it to me straight, even if he thinks I may not like to hear it. It’s something I find myself seeking in others. Jeff taught me the power of data and analytics, and how to build my case/position with supporting data as opposed to rhetoric. Jeff always reminds me how important it is to prioritize what is most important in life: family. Despite the demands of being a CFO, he prioritizes his responsibilities as a husband, father and now as a grandfather, above all else. He often reminds me to do the same and frequently tells me, “You will regret it if you don’t.”
Trust your instincts and intuition! Our intuition speaks to us and we often tune it out. Lean into it and trust where your heart and head are guiding you.
Don’t be intimidated by others. Know that you contribute something unique and believe in your power and skillset. As a leader, I can help someone meet that challenge by encouraging them to raise their hand and volunteer for opportunities they are excited about. Don’t wait for the coach to put you in the game…just walk onto the field.
My mother, Bernadette Arnold, was a mentor to me. A career woman and single parent of seven children, she taught me that anything is possible with hard work, determination – and a lot of caffeine. Inspired by her example, I’ve successfully navigated my career while raising four sons (with the help of my husband).
I think the face of B2B tech is starting to shift, however it is still predominately male and largely conservative in thinking. Henry Ford’s famous quote rings true: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So, the advice I offer is don’t be afraid to have a differing opinion, be an agent of change and ensure your voice is heard.
My challenge for the women of CoreSite is to challenge themselves. How do you want to grow? What trajectory do you want your career to take? Who can help get you there? What action do you need to take? For someone who has worked in predominantly male organizations for many years, it is refreshing to see the number of women in leadership roles here at CoreSite. I think the recent introduction of CoreSite’s women’s group, CoreSite’s Resource Exchange for Women presents an incredible opportunity for the women here to learn from and support each other in pursuing their goals. I know I’m looking forward to getting involved.
I knew very early on in my career that I wanted to be a manager of people, and that was largely due to having a fantastic manager myself. His name was Dan and there was something he always said to us that still sticks with me today and has been a guiding principle for me personally. “You don’t work for me, I work for you. You are my customer, it is my job as your manager to make sure that you have the proper training, tools and support to do your job to the highest level.” Once I received my own team to manage I’ve always used that as my charter. There is nothing that makes me more proud than to see my teammates grow in their careers and get promoted within the company.
Keep your mind open to ALL roles within tech industries. Even though women have become more integrated into the tech industry, I worry that many of us are staying in the “safe zone,” choosing roles in departments where there already are higher numbers of women. We still have a limited number of woman who enter into sales roles or more technical positions like sales engineer or solution architect. For instance when I need to hire a new sales development representative (the ideal starting place for someone wanting to follow the sales career path) only 5-10% of applicants are women. Why is this? Whether it’s a lack of confidence in their abilities, concern that sales is a “man’s world,” or maybe old misconceptions about the lack of work/life balance that come with such jobs, I challenge women to consider any and all roles they feel drawn to and I would be honored to mentor and support anyone who is interested. The few women that I know who followed these paths were not only successful, but leaders on their teams who regularly overachieve their targets and find ways to balance their work and their lives.
Andrea, my boss at my first professional, career-focused position, was a significant mentor. She was a 25-year HR veteran, taught me most of what I know, and that above all else, integrity is paramount. She also taught me that it doesn’t really matter what role you are in, you are always selling something, and people “buy from people they trust.” If you want the “sale,” you better work damn hard to make sure that the “customer” really, truly trusts you. She modeled that with authenticity and honesty. When she couldn’t do something or we didn’t have what a customer needed – she owned it, almost as proudly as when we did. It was incredible to watch.
My advice is to reach out! There are so many of us who want to help other women join this industry. We want you here and we need you here! Reach out and we’ll help open doors that you can’t possibly even see from the outside, looking in on job boards and LinkedIn posts.
Our challenge, every day, as women, is to work hard – not that men don’t have to do the same. But, sometimes you have to invite yourself to the meeting. Sometimes (a lot of times, really) you’ll be the only woman in the meeting – so invite another! Use your voice and if you can’t in that particular circle/meeting for whatever reason, offer the opportunity to another woman who can. Speak up and share the truth as you see it – it’s your truth, so it’s already valid – and don’t let being the only woman in the room stop you. Think about the legacy you want to leave for the next woman at the door, getting her badge, and starting a new job in this industry today!
While there wasn’t one particular person who influenced me within the industry on the direction of my career, my inspiration was my father, who was an entrepreneur, and I had my own expectations to be financially independent and successful in my career. Also, I went to an all-girls high school and I think that gave me the confidence to believe that women have the power to accomplish whatever they set out to do. Throughout my journey, I had the drive and ambition to always look for career advancement and to challenge myself to get to the next level. Today, I’m inspired by friends that I went to high school or college with that have been very successful in a variety of industries. One is CEO at Gucci America, another started her own fashion brand in Milan. They inspire me to be a strong leader in my industry, and to not be complacent.
I can’t narrow my advice down to a single point, really, but here’s what has been successful for me. Become a subject matter expert and by doing so make yourself invaluable to your organization, the person people come to when looking to solve a problem. And learn more than just your piece, learn how you fit into the overall organization. Finally, be resilient. You are going to have obstacles and things won’t always go your way. Learn from them and don’t give up.
Build your brand. Be the best at what you do and set yourself apart from your peers not just by your metrics and performance but also by your willingness to be a team player and help others. Get to know others across the organization and be reliable and accountable. This will help you create your value and the confidence to champion yourself as an asset to the organization. That’s my challenge to everyone, not just the women, at CoreSite.
I had two distinct meaningful periods of mentorship in my life. The first was when I was a child growing up in Eastern Europe and looking to my parents for inspiration. They were both great leaders, mentors to others, with extremely strong work ethics and always pushing boundaries, be it societal or personal. My mother was a business owner, which for that time and part of the world was extremely unusual and brave. Seeing the courage she had to rise above the perceived limitations of our culture and society then, and watching her push even harder to break down those norms, inspired me to take chances, both personally and professionally.
The second influential phase in my life has been my 13-year career at CoreSite. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing leaders, mentors and colleagues, who have supported and encouraged my career growth and provided me with plenty of coaching, advice and helpful feedback.
My advice? Be confident. Know your strengths and use them, but know your weaknesses, too, and learn to overcome them! Step out of your comfort zone and do one thing that scares you at least once a month. When you challenge yourself, experience that discomfort, and get past it, growth is inevitable!
It’s a huge honor to have collaborated with many capable and committed people throughout my career. When I think of mentors, I think of three people: my dad, who taught me the value of hard work and giving back to others; Diana, a leader early in my professional career who gave me some tough feedback that shifted how I looked at perceptions and the impact – either positive or negative – you make on others; and a mentor named Grover. As a developing HR leader, Grover believed in me and opened up new contribution opportunities. He also challenged me about my motivation for why I wanted to grow my career. I have always been both ambitious and hard-working, but over time I shifted my “why” to be less about personal achievement and more about making a positive impact on others’ lives. My “why” for doing what I do at CoreSite, and when I volunteer, is about helping others identify their goals and laying out a path to those goals.
My advice is to define your goals and your why for wanting that path, and to spend time building relationships and support networks with other women (and men) in the organization. It’s important to find others who will mentor and coach you and advocate for you and your growth. I’ve found that the key to getting others to help you is to help others and to ensure you create value through hard work and willingness to take on additional responsibilities for your organization.
My challenge to the women of CoreSite is to get involved in CoreSite’s Resource Exchange for Women, to refer other women to join us and to reach out to me or any one of the awesome women on my team if we can support you in any way!
I wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day! I hope what you’ve read will remind you of someone who has made a difference in your career or life, and compels you to do the same for a family member, friend or colleague. Together, by example and action, we can positively impact diversity and inclusion at CoreSite and across our industry.
VP of Human Resources
Leslie is Vice President of Human Resources and brings more than 25 years of experience defining and driving innovative human resources strategy.Read more from this author