For women starting out in technology, adopting a proactive stance to seek out mentors and create female connections ranks as standout career advice for one leading executive.
As acknowledged by Kathy Chen - vice president of Channel across Asia Pacific and Japan at Citrix - working within a male dominated industry can be a daunting experience for any woman, irrespective of age or experience, especially without the support required to grow and succeed.
“Understanding that you are not alone can be the most powerful realisation and sometimes all it takes is a proactive effort to look for a mentor that can help be an advocate for your career,” advised Chen, when speaking exclusively to Channel Asia. “Find a woman who can not only increase your understanding about what it is like to work in technology but also inspire you to continue your journey when the going gets tough.”
Better yet, added Chen, for executives encouraging more women to enter the industry, become a mentor and help lead the charge.
“There is so much you can learn from being a mentor and that includes gaining new perspectives, ideas and becoming a better leader yourself,” she said.
Becoming a lifelong learner
Following more than two decades of industry experience in Asia, Chen was recently honoured during the inaugural Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA) in 2020, celebrating female excellence within the ASEAN channel.
In taking home the regional honours within the Achievement category, Chen was recognised for a channel-centric career built on consistently delivering strategic excellence and innovation, following successful management roles at Microsoft, Cisco and Twitter, in addition to 3Com Networking Technology, Computer Associates and Digital Equipment Corporation.
During this time, Chen held different leadership roles from CEO to general manager of East China Region and general manager of Strategy Partner Ecosystem. Now leading the channel charge for Citrix at a regional level, Chen is tasked with driving ecosystem growth to enhance value offerings to partners.
“I have always wanted to work in IT because I am fascinated with the power of technology and the transformative value it brings to our lives,” Chen added. “This curiosity has driven me to delve into the industry even more to find out how we can better use its power to solve real problems.”
For Chen, the best advice ever received was a simple recommendation to become a “lifelong learner”.
“No matter where we are in our career journey, we need to keep moving and learning,” she added. “This is important especially considering that the pace of our industry that is constantly evolving.”
According to Chen, instilling a lifelong learning mindset ensures that individuals remain agile, adaptable and ready to fill the next organisational gap.
“I personally keep a list of things that I would like to learn or be able to do every year and I will proactively identify the resources available to help me acquire those new skills or knowledge,” Chen advised.
While some of these skills, for example interior design - Chen just moved to Singapore and “loves furnishing and decorating” her new apartment - may not necessarily be related to work, such personal interests help “inspire and enrich” her to become a better individual, team member and leader.
Leading in a crisis
In looking back on a tumultuous 2020 - triggered by a global pandemic and widespread government lockdowns - Chen accepted that despite many learnings throughout a distinguished career, the learnings of the past 12 months pale in comparison.
“As the saying goes, the true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis,” she said. “This is true in so many ways, especially throughout the Covid-19 period where there were so many unfamiliar circumstances that I had to navigate. Having gone through what is possibly one of the most challenging leadership moments, I have learned the importance of being present and available for both myself and the team.”
In relation to team management, Chen learned the importance of maintaining “thoughtful, frequent communications” especially in times of crisis, due to ongoing business uncertainty combined with caring for families at home.
“It’s important to set aside regular meetings to connect with one another or simply a quick call to check how everyone is doing,” she recommended. “Keep the communication channel open so that everyone can share their concerns and challenges.”
Employees aside however, the pandemic also created a stressful environment for leaders who continued to hold the responsibility to perform despite business, market and societal struggles.
“I have recognised the need to establish some boundaries between work and personal life,” Chen stated. “Being able to properly disconnect after a stressful day at work for example, is essential for me even if it is just spending time reading a good book after a long day in front of my computer or simply getting enough sleep at night. I have come to understand that it is only when I take care of myself that I am able to care for my team.”
In looking ahead - and within the context of a successful modern-day technology leader - Chen cited three core attributes for success; being a team player; thinking outside-the-box and having solid industry understanding.
“Teamwork is at the heart of every success,” she explained. “It takes someone who can actively contribute yet at the same time listen to their team members and respect their ideas to bring real changes. Team players understand that their team’s success is their own success, and that is very important especially in our industry where you are constantly exposed with so many different ideas and ways of working.”
Meanwhile, creative thinking facilitates innovative ways to solve problems - from reusing old technologies in new ways to creating fresh processes, Chen cited the importance of thinking differently in an industry where innovation is key.
“Finally, while you don’t have to be an expert in technology in order to be successful, you do need to have a good understanding or at least the curiosity to learn about the industry,” Chen advised. “Read a book, attend a workshop or sign up for a course that can enrich your knowledge about technology, and make it a habit to continue to learn even as you move up the corporate ladder.”