International Women’s Day – A Q&A with the Women of Vector Solutions
In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with a few of the women trailblazers at Vector Solutions to get their thoughts on the strides women have made in the workplace and community as well as the issues that still remain; the things they do every day to stay successful; and, the women that inspire them to push forward and give back to other women.
What advice would you give to women who are starting their own careers and/or who have aspirations to lead in the workplace?
Victoria Zambito, SVP of Content & Communications: Everyone has a different leadership style, and you must find your own. However, my advice is threefold: (1) Listen more and ask a lot of questions. You don’t need to be the smartest one in the room or the one doing all the talking. It’s tempting to want to always assert yourself or prove you are valuable, but who ever learned anything while they were talking? Listen to others, watch body language, ask questions you may already know the answers to. Paying attention to others, their goals, and what may be going unsaid can often make the difference in your reactions, knowledge and success. (2) Communicate well and communicate often. Your ability to get across your thoughts, either written or verbally, is critical to not only how others perceive you, but to how effective any team you are leading (or even just a part of) can be. Most of the times in business when there is an issue, poor communication is a factor. (3) Do what you say you are going to do. Don’t be afraid to make commitments, but when you make them, keep them. I’m obsessed with how I take notes and track my to-do lists, because when I tell you I am going to do something, I do it. Period. It may not be sexy to be called “reliable” but it’s a characteristic that can certainly drive career growth.
Tammy Daigle, SVP of Customer Experience: Don’t try too hard to be like your male counterparts. It is your differences (the way you think and handle situations) that are valuable and separate you from others. Always be true to who you are; you will shine through.
Kimberly Foster, VP of Human Resources: My advice is to stop asking yourself if you can, and have the confidence to know you can. Bring an open mind to work every day. Say “yes” more than you say “no.” Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of mistakes or even an occasional failure. You don’t become a Director, VP, or a CEO without striving to try new things and doing them well, and even sometimes failing, but learning from that failure. Be open to trying different job positions and career paths until you find one that feels right for you. Surround yourself with those people who push you beyond your current capabilities. It can be uncomfortable at first, but that’s how we can truly grow and rise into top leadership positions.
Why it is important for young women to have mentors?
Kimberly: Mentors offer insight based on both professional and life experience. Finding a mentor that has “been there” or “done that” and is willing to share their knowledge helps with creating a strategy for success. I’ve benefited from mentors who have supported me as a student, a woman, and a professional. My mentors have changed over the years, but what I’ve learned is priceless. Look for a mentor that will support and teach you, but also one that will push you and give you clear and candid feedback. The best mentor I ever had sat me down and gently gave me a list of the things I could improve upon. No one up to that point had ever mentioned some of these things. At the time, it was hard to hear, but it helped me grow professionally, almost immediately. I still have that list today and it has served me very well over the years.
Tammy: Mentors are important, period. But for young women, it is very important because they need someone who can relate or has been there to share and coach them through a situation, good or bad. Additionally, studies show that women earn $0.80 for every dollar a man makes. This is a challenge we are still fighting today – having a mentor to help you with challenges such as this is critical to the growth of young women.
What has Vector Solutions done to set the tone regarding gender equality and supporting women in the workplace?
Victoria: In my 19 years of working at Vector, I have always been surrounded by a team that included strong, capable women, and that point alone shows that this company has built a culture that nurtures and supports gender equality. We have a track record of hiring the best team members, no matter male or female, and that often turns out to be women! In addition, many years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was nervous about being able to balance my growing career and motherhood, but Vector supported me right from the start with a flexible work schedule, affordable family medical benefits, and a career path that kept me engaged and excited. This type of support is the kind of support I now offer to our new team members; I feel that my executive role affords me the opportunity to pay it forward.
What are some of the challenges that women face in the technology industry?
Tammy: Women suffer from a lack of executives/mentors that look like them (ethnicity and gender); given this, many women turn to mentors that don’t have or haven’t had the same experiences, or often, their mentors can’t directly relate because they may not have had similar or same experiences.
Kimberly: Technology is a career field that has historically been dominated by men. While this has improved over the decades and years, women still hold less than 25% of technology jobs, even though they make up just a little less than half of the workforce. Companies realize that investing in young women and girls early on – sponsoring STEM and tech programs and camps for girls, offering scholarships – will increase the number of women seeking degrees in the technology field. This becomes a domino effect: more women will graduate with technology degrees and more women will enter the workforce seeking out technology jobs. Then, it is up to organizations to invest in the recruitment and retention of female employees, to provide good mentorship, and to ensure that women have a career path and see a future in technology.
What women inspire you, and why?
Tammy: There are a lot of known as well as unknown women who inspire me, but ultimately, it is women who break barriers, achieve dreams, and accomplish goals.
Victoria: I am sure this question is meant for me to choose a famous name like Lindsey Vonn or Audrey Hepburn, but I am fortunate to be surrounded every day by women who inspire me. I am inspired by my Aunt Ethel, who took a family business and made it a legacy for her children. I am inspired by our CFO Carla Luke, who is the first female to hold that role at Vector, and by our SVP of Customer Experience Tammy Daigle, who is incredibly intuitive and fierce. I am inspired by the women on my team – Ellen, Lauren, Kara, Amy, and countless others – who come to work every day and give it their all, with passion and purpose. I have no doubt I would not be where I am today if it were not for all of the women in my life.
Kimberly: There have been so many women who have inspired me and shaped my life in a positive way. My mentor Liz, who I referenced earlier, immediately comes to mind when I’m asked this question. She was not afraid to take calculated chances and not afraid to fail. She was incredibly strong but kind. Even when she came down with a terminal illness at a relatively young age, she began each day with a positive attitude and never had a “why me” or “life isn’t fair” attitude. She never lost her sense of humor. Even when I pushed her to slow down and put herself first, she did not. She continued to be my mentor until the end.
What’s an accomplishment you are proudest of?
Victoria: I am proud to be one of Vector’s first five employees. Nineteen years ago, I took a job with a dot-com that had no name. It was a risk and I had no idea where it was going to lead. I self-taught myself HTML and built our very own first two online courses by hand. It’s been an exhilarating ride every since, growing from 5 team members to over 400, from one industry to three, from 2 courses to over 8,000. I look around the company and I see my fingerprints all over it – from the platform functionality, to our webinar series, to our popular corporate events. My ability to succeed throughout this change and growth is also a point of pride. I love new challenges and learning new things. I’m always asking, “what else or what next?” I make a difference every day and that feels so rewarding.
What are three things you do every day to be successful?
Victoria: (1) I am a fanatic about my To Do list. Every day, I re-read it, often re-write it, prioritize it, and make goals for how many items I will get done based on what my schedule looks like. (2) I connect with the team. I always make sure to get out from behind my laptop and talk to people. Sometimes it is about work, sometimes it is about our personal lives. It’s amazing how many conversations turn into brainstorm sessions, or reveal ideas to solve a problem, or just build a bridge to common ground. (3) I run, I read, and I always kiss my kids “good morning” and “good night,” which means I take some time for myself. You can’t be your best “you” if you don’t do the things that fill your heart and make it all worth it.
Tammy: (1) I start everyday with prayer and meditation (2) I read. Right now – I am reading 4-5 different books. I read news, fiction, non-fiction, all different genres. (3) I make it a point to learn something new.
Kimberly: (1) I start every day with a good mindset when I walk into the office or into any place really. Some days this may be harder than others, but if you can start the day with a glass half full, anything that comes your way will be easier. (2) I have worked the hardest on this over the years – staying organized! I try to keep all of my tasks, projects, and initiatives in one place. So much is thrown our way every day that it can get overwhelming. I have a system: a future initiatives list, a weekly list, and a daily list. I look at my list in the morning and evening. It’s gratifying to check things off. Organization in any way that works for you should be a daily habit. (3) I’m not always successful, but I try to do something that is not tied to work every work day. This might seem like a no brainer, but it is harder to fit into your day than you’d think. It’s important to decompress for a bit. Take a walk, catch up on the news, or even listen to an audiobook for 15-20 minutes. I find that I start work again with a new energy and my head is clearer. Add this to your daily list so you don’t forget!