Beth Segovia knows a thing or two about being an ambitious woman in an historically male-dominated field. She has now spent nearly 30 years in the IT industry, working first in hardware for the iconic ThinkPad brand, and now focusing on e-commerce software as the COO at ChannelAdvisor.
As a C-level leader, Segovia often plays the role of mentor, sharing her story with similarly ambitious women in the tech space. Like many others, she has observed one glaring thing holding many women back in their careers: self-limitation.
“I’ve seen, especially women peers, tend to fear the unknown,” Segovia shared in a recent interview. “One of the lessons I’ve learned in all of my years is that self-limitation can destroy your career.”
But Segovia also recognizes the critical role leaders play in identifying and supporting promising talent. This is her top advice for ambitious women aiming higher in their careers, and for the leaders who can help them get there.
Get to know the unknown.
Fear of the unknown is at the core of most self-limiting behavior Segovia has seen. Taking the next step in your career, even if you know what that step should be, can be difficult when the outcome is uncertain. Segovia tells others to do what she has done and transform the unknown into what is known—by boldly taking that next step.
“Anyone who wants to grow their career, I to encourage them to take it on. Take that next step, and then if it’s too much, you can always back off,” Segovia counsels. “Take it on, make it known, and then limit yourself purposely based on your choices and what you want to do. Not what you didn’t think you could do, or you were afraid you couldn’t do.”
For leaders, Segovia encourages them to keep in mind that the women in their ranks may tend to make more career sacrifices for family, while men may make more sacrifices in their personal life for the sake of their careers. Building a culture where these societal norms are not expected can help bridge that gap.
“I love the way that work is moving, the flexibility, the work from home, the remote work,” Segovia enthuses. “It’s giving lots of our employees, and many women, more access to their families and to work when it makes sense. That’s helpful in supporting careers.”
Don’t forget, you were hired for this job.
Much has been said about diversity and inclusion, ensuring that not only is there a range of individuals represented in an organization, but that they also have a real seat at the table. It is the responsibility of senior leaders to “pull people forward”, according to Segovia. But it is also up to employees to contribute their best so it can actually be recognized.
“You were hired to do a job and it’s your responsibility to do that job,” Segovia says to many of the women she mentors. “No one should need to invite you to speak up and to do your job. You already have a seat at the table—you have the job. You were hired for your competence, for your voice. That means you need to actually speak up.”
Still, leaders must be self-aware enough to realize their seniority can be intimidating to even the most driven colleagues. Offering a little candid humanity can go a long way toward opening people up, Segovia says.
“Sometimes I forget that I’m COO, that when I chat with somebody that it might be a little intimidating,” she laughs. “I usually also break the ice by saying, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you. And I know that might be scary. I hope I’m not scary. I just have a question for you. And I think you’re the best person to answer.’”
Are you staying comfortable?
Change causes discomfort, no matter how prepared we are for it. Avoiding that inevitable discomfort can sometimes stagnate our careers, waiting for things to feel right to move forward. The truth is that change will always be uncomfortable, and Segovia suggests honest self-reflection to break the spell.
“When I transitioned to ChannelAdvisor after 25 years in hardware, I had a decision to make. I actually consulted my daughters, who were in high school and middle school at the time,” Segovia recounts. “They counseled me with all the things I counseled them with in their childhoods: What’s the worst thing that can happen? What do you want to make happen?”
Wise leaders will take the time to ask that last question in the next one-on-one they have with their rising stars.
Take it an hour at a time.
Balancing the demands of work, family, and life is overwhelming for everyone from time to time. Trying to take it on all at once, or on your own, is a mistake to avoid, says Segovia.
“I really think that my husband and I got this right,” she says about raising a young family while also building a career. “We recognized when we needed help. It literally takes a village. People helped us and we helped them in return. That ecosystem of support really made a difference. But I think the key thing was not to get ahead of myself. Sometimes I took it an hour at a time.”
Now as a leader, Segovia makes an effort to be verbal about the challenges of life while at work. You never know who might be able to lend you a helping hand unless you let them know you might need it.
“You don’t need to hide your kids from me,” Segovia says about her colleagues. “I want to hear all about it. I want to hear all the challenges, because I bet I’ve been there. I bet I can help with that.”
Remember, it takes two.
Whichever side of the equation you’re on, remember that it can’t be done alone, says Segovia. Speaking up and offering your best efforts will only go so far if there isn’t a leader to recognize and reward those efforts. And hounding promising young talent in an effort to get more from them won’t work if they aren’t seeking opportunities to do more.
“I try to think about: Who’s got the motivation, the drive, the interest, or a unique talent that might be helpful in this situation?” Segovia says. “And I try to draw them in. But I really want to encourage people to pull themselves forward, too. Make sure you’re noticed so I can pick up on it and do my half of the job. It takes two of us.”
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