By Abby Sorensen, Executive Editor
For nearly two months I’ve started to type a reflection about the diversity problem facing the IT channel. Then I’d delete it and start over. Admittedly, this issue is top of mind for me when I get frustrated by the release of CRN’s annual Women of the Channel list, then a few weeks go by and I forget about it. I’ve struggled to write about this topic because the lack of women and minorities in our space is such a complex problem. If you share my belief that the channel would be stronger if it was more diverse and inclusive, then you’ll agree we have a responsibility to address this. We can’t keep forgetting about diversifying the channel – it has to be an ongoing conversation. This problem will take many years and many intelligent minds to solve, but we need to have conversations about how our industry can find better ways to recruit talented women and minorities and help them advance to leadership positions.
Issuing press releases and promoting the Women of the Channel list on social media for a few days is not nearly enough to start solving this issue. Actually, I’d argue this annual list exacerbates this problem in some ways. The intent of the list is admirable (to highlight more women in the channel). But I take issue with the execution of the list for a few reasons:
- The definition of “deserving of recognition” is very vague. It’s highly unlikely a male with less than a year of experience in the channel would be deemed as having “expertise and vision” that is “deserving of recognition,” because it takes time to provide true value. Yet there are plenty of females brand new to the channel on this list (and ladies, the channel needs you to stick around, so please do!).
- The meaningfulness of being included on this list is watered down because of the size of it. A list of 600+ is too big to be meaningful. Granted, the list is meant to be an “exclusive” group of women. We need to make sure we cover women who are in leadership and ownership roles with VARs and MSPs and who are truly innovative leaders, not just any female who works for a solutions provider.
- For some inexplicable reason, the list can be sorted based on a “fun fact.” I can’t imagine asking a male channel expert if he ever wanted to be a teacher (instead he’s probably been asked if he wanted to be an astronaut, or a scientist, or a firefighter). And I doubt we’d classify men in the channel based on their love of Instagram or ability to ride a horse (instead males might be asked about their favorite business book or their favorite hobby in general). While these “fun facts” may be intended to provide innocent, entertaining color commentary to the list, to me they read as trivializing.
Problematic gender constructs – even subtle ones like the execution of this annual list – are not just a channel problem. For example, the gap between males and females entering STEM fields in the U.S. is continuing to widen. According to The Atlantic, only 18 percent of computer science degrees go to women. Countries like Algeria, Albania, Qatar, and Romania are outpacing the U.S. in terms of the percentage of STEM graduates who are female. I hear the software world talking a lot more about this than the channel world does. This makes sense – there is a labor crisis when it comes to software engineers. I think the channel should be just as deeply concerned by this trend because the channel is facing its own challenges beyond a labor shortage, including commodification, vendor consolidation, changing end-user buying habits, increased security threats, and a rapidly changing technology landscape. The channel needs more top-tier talent to fortify itself, and bringing more females in to the fold can help with this.
It’s easy to throw our hands up and say, “It’s just too hard to find females who want to work in the channel, and if they don’t apply then we can’t hire them.” If you had a vendor that wasn’t being responsive to your needs or was slashing your margins, or you if had a low-price competitor poaching your customers, would you just throw your hands up and go out of business because of it? No (hopefully no). I’m not saying the channel will cease to exist if we don’t recruit more women. What I am saying is that we have a responsibility to do what is best for the channel, and that includes diversifying it. The channel has overcome challenges in the past, and we can overcome this diversity challenge if we make a more conscious effort to address it.
Our editorial team at Channel Executive, VARinsights, and MSPinsights has struggled to find women to feature. Our chief editor Matt Pillar and I talk about this on a very regular basis, but that still doesn’t make it easy to diversify our coverage. We are going to do a better job of actively seeking out women who can contribute to, and be featured in, our editorial. But we can’t do this alone. I hope some women will read this and volunteer (and I hope men in the channel will funnel their female co-workers and peers to us). By this time next year, we hope women will make up at least 30 percent of Channel Executive’s editorial advisory board. It’s still not enough, but it’s a start.
We have to make the channel more female-friendly if we want to attract and retain more females to work in it. We – the channel media – have contributed to this conundrum: women are so infrequently credited for their good work that it could be assumed there just aren’t many women doing good work in the channel. It’s a fitting “fun fact” that 68 percent of the women on the list have climbed a mountain. The IT channel certainly has a figurative mountain to climb. Before we start our ascent, we first need to accept that an annual list is not enough to make real progress, nor is a “women in technology” panel at an event here and there, or occasionally featuring a female on the cover of a channel publication. I’ll say it again: Our industry needs to find better ways to recruit talented women and help them advance to leadership positions. We can start by shedding light on this problem and committing ourselves to an ongoing, uninterrupted conversation about it.