In his article “Management Today” published in Forbes, Chander Chawla, Co-Founder Ever App, notes “…as
a mid-level manager (Director/VP) in a big company, you have to manage how your
peers and your superiors perceive you. It is really important because decisions
about you and your team are made in your absence and based on how the others
perceive you.”  

To this end I interviewed three women leaders in technology regarding perception management and the importance of soft skills in gaining a seat at the table

Get out of your own way!

I first connected with Neelu Sethi SVP, Chief Information Officer, Reddy Ice on LinkedIn after reading her in-depth interview with Steve Rovniak for the February 2018 issue of the Martha Heller Report. Rovniak titled his interview “A CIO Job She Didn’t Know She Was Interviewing For.”

When I asked Sethi, Transformation, Change & Digital Enabler, what she has identified as the greatest challenge in women’s assessment of their soft skills she replied, “Get out of your own way as you could be your worst enemy. Don’t allow others to create your brand for you, you be the CEO of YOU.” 

Sethi stated,

“Your authenticity and your branding must be aligned – not forcibly but through your own heart. For that very action and intent must be aligned. And for that to happen, every interaction whether it be in person, via email or on social media must align to your brand and your authentic true self. People are constantly judging you through your actions, your words, your responses in hardships, and your outlook to other’s problems.”

“So being a CEO of YOU means you should constantly invest in yourself. You need to own your own agenda rather than your employer owning it for you. Ask for mentoring, coaching, leverage networking and other’s enriched experiences to shape up your own brand through choice of words, actions, responses and most importantly your attitude. Go to conferences, learn from others, meet others and build those priceless connections. Question is not about asking your employer to reimburse or fund these investments, question is how YOU are investing in YOURSELF and being intentional about your own BRANDING!”

A week later I caught up with Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist, Office of the CTO at F5 Networks as she started her day. She expressed, mornings are reserved for research and writing uninterrupted in the Midwest before connecting with colleagues in the Pacific Northwest.”

I asked MacVittie’s advice for women gaining a seat at the table, especially when there is transformation of leadership. She expressed, “Employees (men and women) make a mistake when they think soft skills don’t count. They are troubleshooting in the trenches. They need to estimate end-to-end challenges and communicate effectively in order to flip things right. Understanding  processes and clearly communicating through those processes are critical skills.”  

MacVittie has  worked remotely for F5 Networks the past 18 years. She observed there can be disconnects with virtual teams whose interactions have dramatically changed over the past few  years.  Her leadership style focuses on inclusion, making sure everyone is heard. MacVittie noted,

“There are different dynamics in various departments.  For example, marketing is where women are more willing to showcase their knowledge.  MacVittie noted that cultivated soft skills are essential in the primary communication of email across departments, across the globe. “Digital experiences leave lasting impressions”, she emphasizes.”  

MacVittie has valued the opportunity to work with several mentors through the years, most of them men.  She reflected, “Having a mentor outside the company relieves pressure, allows you the opportunity to ask questions without judgment.” MacVittie noted that F5 Networks has a set of groups that foster inclusion. “Mentoring in this environment might sound like, ‘What can I do to help your workload? Let’s go through this, make you feel more comfortable and create an opportunity.’  “Earning a certificate validates your knowledge of learning processes. However, it is the confidence a mentor can provide when applying that knowledge  after certification that makes a difference in sustaining a career.”

Attesting to the value of soft skills, Erica “Chriss” Wheeler, Communications Analyst, GSS Change Management & Communications at Whirlpool Corporation says, “You have to know what to unpack.”  Wheeler said she has committed to personally stretch goals when she felt she was not on the right track to developing skills.  She encourages women to claim their soft skills, acknowledging insecurities along the way but owning what you have to offer at different levels of development. 

Wheeler remarked, 

“Core skills can easily overshadow your soft skills, so you have to make the most of those [soft] skills that are applicable in your current role”

Wheeler has heard many women become defensive when their total skills are  assessed, thinking they have reached the pinnacle of their careers because of applicable hard skills and therefore underplay otherwise unrealized capabilities.  She suggests, when in seeking new adventures, unpacking your soft skills is a necessity.  She notes that using a personal development tool like the Gallup StrengthsFinder has been a catalyst to her being empowered to succeed.

Her biggest challenge today is keeping her brand fresh in a rapidly changing global work-scape. Also, managing change processes among new and evolving teams is a constant challenge.  There are times when she misses the human factor working in a global environment and has found that by applying interpersonal skills and flexibility are crucial to meet desired outcomes. Taking on the challenge to virtually meet with team members in different time zones has required both creativity and patience, sometimes interacting with colleagues as early as 5:00 AM to as late as 10:00 pm. 

Wheeler says, “What is really worthwhile is having the opportunity to hone soft skills when breaking through boundaries, such as time zones, or balancing work-life balance and family caregiving needs.”

I invite you to connect with me to elevate and align your soft skills to gain and maintain a seat at the table.  Thank you for sharing this article with someone you care about who might benefit from its contents and an uplifting conversation.

Evelyn Asher, Strategic Communication Coach, thrives by reading with kindergarten children who teach her more about emotional intelligence than a thousand webinars.