‘Never Give Up’ and Other In-the-Trenches Lessons from Women in Tech Leadership

Four women from St. Louis-based companies share tips for becoming better leaders in tech

One of the biggest hurdles on women in technology is the discomfort and inequity experienced in the workplace, which prevents them from tapping into their career development.

A recent study from Ensono shows that sixty percent of women in tech roles in the U.S. have been told by employers that the lack of skills or training is holding them back. Yet, these companies do not offer mentorship programs or paid courses.

However, these supports are out there! And there are female leaders in the technology sector who are rising in their careers. Our graduates from the second all-women’s cohort of the Technology Leadership Experience (TechLX) share their perspectives as leaders in the IT space, the importance of mentorship, and how the program has benefitted their careers.


Please briefly describe your career journey and your current role.

I received my MIS degree from SIUE in 2003. Up until that time, very few women were majoring in technology, but the year I declared my major, 50 percent of students majoring in MIS were women; likely because of the dot-com boom. Unfortunately, the dot-com crash happened right before my graduation. It took me about six months to finally get a job in IT support at a small local Talent Management and Executive Coaching company, Psychological Associates.

I joined Verizon Business as a Project Manager in 2005. After just over a year, Psychological Associates asked me to come back and lead their IT department as Director of Information Systems.

As Director of IT for a small company, I got to experience all different types of IT from web design, infrastructure, systems management, networking, and more. In 2012 I got the opportunity to be a Project Manager for Build-A-Bear. I’m still at Build-A-Bear today, but am now the Senior Manager, Enterprise Systems. I lead the team that is responsible for our ERP solutions and systems including product development, supply chain, warehousing, finance/accounting, POS, and more.

I lead both the team for tier 3 support and continuous improvement. This year I was also elected and joined the Board of Directors for Build-A-Bear Foundation that does amazing work sharing hugs across the world and helping those in need.

What advice do you have for other women either leading teams or trying to break into leadership roles?

Ask for it! Don’t wait for something to happen. Know your value, speak to how you can benefit your team and company, and ask for opportunities you want. I spent years waiting for someone to see my contributions and offer me an opportunity. Even if your value is obvious, many people in leadership are busy or don’t know what opportunities you are interested in.

Working with your leadership on a development plan is a great way to make it clear your goals and how to support you.

Find a mentor! Having someone to talk through your career and challenges will help you better understand your path. I never pushed for a mentor because I wasn’t sure what we would talk about and didn’t want to waste their time. I happened upon my first mentor, who recommended someone else as a mentor, and then got the benefit of connecting with an amazing mentor as part of TechLX. Every mentor helped me learn something new about myself, but also helped me see my value and gave me the confidence to push and build my career.

These conversations made me better in my role and empowered me in ways I never expected.

Support other women! Building others will help you build yourself and the feeling of helping other women find their potential is another big confidence builder.

What made you want to join the TechLX leadership program?

The opportunity to connect with peers and mentors in IT was the driving factor, but training and focus on understanding my strengths was an amazing bonus. When my CIO presented the opportunity to me, I was excited about the relationship building opportunity and better understanding myself as a leader and how I could grow.

What has the TechLX program done for you personally?

It gave me the opportunity to better understand myself and through my mentor, drive for new opportunities to build my career.

Who has had the biggest impact on your journey to this point?

My previous CIO, Mike Early, was a great mentor and one of my biggest supporters. I’ve learned so much from him as an example of a strong leader, but also because he gave me and others the opportunity to lead and make mistakes.

What is one important lesson you’ve learned throughout your time in leadership, and how has that made you more effective in IT overall?

People are more important than outcomes. Whether good for business or not, happiness is what is most important. Most of the time, focusing on people will result in business success. And if it doesn’t, at least you still have a happier team.


Please briefly describe your career journey and your current role.

After graduating college, I worked as a consultant for various companies. I joined Graybar as a consultant in 2003 during their ERP conversion and was quickly transitioned to a full-time employee. Graybar has provided me the opportunity to work in multiple IT roles, which has helped me gain expertise in many of the different technologies that help run our business. I moved into management a few years ago, which provides me opportunities to find ways to implement new technologies that help augment and improve many of our existing software. I work closely with our business teams to assess and recommend new technology and help develop strategies to increase overall efficiency and productivity of internal and external processes and systems.

I must continue to challenge myself every day.

Gaby Spalding / Graybar

What advice do you have for other women either leading teams or trying to break into leadership roles?

My advice for other women leaders or those pursuing leadership is that we can strive for perfection, but we can still have victories even if we encounter failures along the way. We must believe in ourselves and remember we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. Remember it’s not about failing, it’s about being resilient enough to get back up and carry on.

What made you want to join the TechLX leadership program?

I consistently look for opportunities in self-development. Taking advantage of insights from other leaders in the industry facing similar challenges as me is invaluable.

What has the TechLX program done for you personally?

I have learned that others are facing similar challenges as I am, and it’s beneficial to be open to discuss them with others. I have also learned that we do not all speak and think alike, so knowing your audience is a key part of communicating. This makes talking to leaders of all levels more productive and effective.

Who has had the biggest impact on your journey to this point?

I wouldn’t say it’s been one individual. I have learned so much from every manager I have had the opportunity to work with, some good, some bad and some amazing. All of them have taught me what kind of leader I want to be, and that I can never be complacent or content with the status quo. I must continue to challenge myself every day.

What is one important lesson you’ve learned throughout your time in leadership, and how has that made you more effective in IT overall?

Never give up. I have had many challenging situations that have made me question if I should continue to pursue a leadership role, however getting through them has made me a better leader. We need to reflect on the experiences we’ve had to identify and develop new skills and industry knowledge that we can use in our professional roles.


Please briefly describe your career journey and present role.

My professional journey started right out of college when I was hired by a pharmaceutical company where I had done an internship. I quickly discovered the power of data and especially turning data into insights, even though my degree was in Supply Chain Management and Physical Distribution. Two years later, I moved from the Netherlands to Seattle. The company that hired me was two weeks shy of going live with Oracle’s ERP system and Database. By then, this was right up my alley! I viewed every problem that cropped as an opportunity, and, working side-by-side with the CIO, learned just about every aspect of IT. I did all this without a formal job description or a work visa — meaning I also worked without pay. When my visa came through six months later, they could finally pay me and perhaps in the long run more importantly: By then I was the company’s Oracle guru.

Fast forward four years… I moved back to the Netherlands and took a job as an SAP Application and Business Intelligence specialist. I had two children in there, too. My (then) husband’s job took our family to Hong-Kong eight years later. I kept doing my SAP BI work and supported the business (a Canon company) remotely until… we had the chance to move to beautiful Saint Louis!

For eight years I was a stay-at-home mom. It doesn’t sound too exciting, but I am very grateful for that time with my children. Once they started driving, however, every inch of me longed for a new challenge. That’s when I joined an intense, six-month Data Analytics bootcamp at WashU.

I was happy to see that, despite my time away from the workforce, I was one of the top performers in my class and I soon after landed a job at Clayco. I was bursting with energy and ready to make up for lost time. With the support of Clayco’s new, forward-looking CIO, I started the difficult but necessary task of transforming the company into a truly data-driven organization.

Today, two-and-a-half years later, I manage our Data & Analytics team. We’ve implemented a large, coherent enterprise-data-hub, standardized our reporting tool, and now leverage data in many different areas. I’m on a constant quest to provide insights through data to the business.  I learn a lot in the process while working with our business partners and IT team members. My leadership skills continue to grow day-by-day.

What advice do you have for other women trying to break into leadership roles?

Have a positive, can-do attitude, know your strengths and, even more importantly, acknowledge your weaknesses. Be willing to seize every opportunity to learn and network.

What made you want to join the TechLX Leadership Program?

As part of my latest role, I was nominated for the Technology Leadership Experience (TechLX), which I gladly took on!

What has the TechLX program done for you personally?

The TechLX program made me think about how to influence others without authority. This was one of the first statements made in class after discussing: What is consultancy? Which really answers these questions… why would people come to you, what’s in it for them, how can you step into that leadership role? TechLX also helped me improve my listening, communication, and collaboration skills.

Who has had the biggest impact on your journey at this point?

My biggest influencers, and for the most part biggest supporters, have been my supervisors, my ‘bosses’ (I prefer to call them coaches). Learning from their strategic ways of thinking and managing, observing them lead by example and exercise their people skills while actively soliciting advice and feedback from them have had the biggest impact on how I function in teams, both vertically or horizontally.

What is one important lesson you have learned about leadership in IT, and how has it made you more effective in your role overall?

When it comes to solutioning IT requests/challenges, the most important lessons learned would have to be to listen, empathize and speak in a language the receiver understands. Striving to become a trusted advisor, build relationships, leverage my network and help others move forward. And, I’m happy to say I am still learning to be better every single day. That journey never stops!


Please briefly describe your career journey and your current role.

I have over 25 years of technology experience and have worked in various organizations. I began my career at Edward Jones over 13 years ago as a Senior Software Developer. After which I moved into leadership as a Product Delivery Manager, leading software development teams focusing on both internal and external, client-facing applications. I was recently promoted to Senior Product Delivery Manager, where I am responsible for the department that supports the technology for Compliance, Legal, Audit, and Risk. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and an MBA.

What advice do you have for other women either leading teams or trying to break into leadership roles?

I would tell them to build relationships. Building relationships and making key connections will help you in your leadership journey. Not only should you build relationships vertically, but also horizontally in your organization. Having a strong network and key connections will make collaboration and facilitating cross-team efforts easier. And if you are in a leadership role, develop a relationship with your direct reports. Having that relationship will help you to be a better leader. Since many of us are still working remotely, building relationships takes a little extra effort. So be intentional about building relationship by scheduling a coffee chat or lunch to catch up with key connections.

I’ve learned to be my authentic self.

Bridget Owens / Edward Jones

What made you want to join the TechLX leadership program?

I wanted to join TechLX to meet other technology professionals, to grow my networking and collaboration circle, and to learn specific skills that can help technology professionals succeed.

What has the TechLX program done for you personally?

I’ve been able to expand my network through TechLX. I met some amazing women from other local companies in my cohort. Also, my mentor has been great. I was promoted during the TechLX program and the insight I’ve gained from my mentor, during the transition into my new role, has been priceless.

Who has had the biggest impact on your journey to this point?

I’d say one of my past leaders has had the biggest impact on my journey. She encouraged me to pursue people leadership, a role that I didn’t think was right for me. Since then I’ve grown as a leader and have learned how much I can contribute to other people’s journey. And that has been greatly rewarding.

What is one important lesson you’ve learned throughout your time in leadership, and how has that made you more effective in IT overall?

I’ve learned to be my authentic self. In my first leadership role, I was trying to lead like other leaders I’ve seen in the past. I admired their style and wanted to be like them. And I can incorporate some of those traits in my leadership journey. However, I’ve learned over the years to trust in my strengths and what got me into a leadership role in the first place. I’ve learned to use my unique gifts, talents, and passion in my role. And that has made me more effective in my leadership role.

About Technology Partners

Technology Partners is an award-winning, St. Louis-based company that provides solutions through talent, technology, and leadership development. In business for nearly 30 years, the company has partnered with hundreds of corporate clients across a range of industries nationwide. It is a certified Women Business Enterprise and was built upon a revolutionary transparent-margin business model. Visit www.technologypartners.net.   

About TechLX

The TechLX program empowers, equips, and champions high-potential IT professionals as they grow into the next generation of CIOs and technology leadership of St. Louis. Visit https://technologypartners.net/solutions/tech-lx/.

We can help you gain the flexibility you desire in your career. See our current opportunities.

Featured Posts

Something Extra Podcast

Recent Posts

Search by Category