After working in ad sales for Vogue magazine in New York during the mid-80s, Tracey Wilen-Daugenti thought getting a publishing job in Silicon Valley when she moved to the West Coast to be closer to family would be simple. It wasn't.
"I thought one of the magazines would pick me up, and they didn't," she said. "When I asked why, they said it was because I wasn't technical. That's Silicon Valley for you."
Then she decided to focus on a relatively new computer company called Apple. She landed a temp job in 1988 doing administrative work, and was laser-focused on getting noticed and landing a full-time job at the company once her six-month stint was up. Her hard work paid off--sort of. "I temped for them, they saw the opportunity, and they gave me the worst job they had available," she says. "It was a big letdown because I had moved myself into sales and sales management in New York," but the manufacturing-focused, operations management position had one serious perk: lots and lots of travel.
While the travel made the job sound terrific, it was the "worst job they had" in the eyes of many who felt settled in the Valley, Wilen-Daugenti explains. "Nobody in California wanted to commute back and forth to Asia and Europe and South America, which was an opportunity for me because I loved to travel, and I was single and very available." She accepted the global operations manager role, which entailed visiting Apple's factories around the world, in the fall of 1986 and never looked back. "It was the most exciting job of my life--after Vogue."
She was in the role for several years, but began to feel her career stagnate when she wasn't moving upward in the company. After asking respected higher-ups why she wasn't seeing promotions, Wilen-Daugenti was told she didn't have two things she needed in order to move up at Apple or any prominent company in Silicon Valley--technical expertise and a master's in business or engineering. "I went to school at night, got my M.B.A., and I took every tech class I could." She received her graduate degree in International Business from San Jose State University in 1992.
That education made all the difference when she was a casualty of mass layoffs at Apple in 1993 under then-CEO Michael Spindler because she didn't have the technical work expertise many of her colleagues had developed. She used the company's outplacement services, but had already been noticed by Hewlett-Packard, where she landed a job within a few months. Not long after that, she was recruited to Cisco, which was then a small but growing start-up, where she stayed for over 14 years. She received her Ph.D. in Women's Studies from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, supported by Cisco's tuition reimbursement plan.
Today, Wilen-Daugenti is the vice president and managing director of the Apollo Research Institute, the nonpartisan research division of Apollo Group, where she helps conduct and coordinate research on education and workforce advancement, also serving as a visiting scholar for Stanford University.
FINS spoke with Wilen-Daugenti, who is in her late 40s, about why she believes lateral moves are critical for getting ahead, why education should serve as your backbone and her belief that mentors don't have to be from your industry of choice.
Kelly Eggers: What are the most critical things for women to keep in mind through their careers?
Tracey Wilen-Daugenti: If you are targeting branded firms, like I was, you really have to look at what competition is you're competing with. If you're happy with where you are in terms of your level, it may not be an issue. If you want to move up the ranks, which I did, you really have to become aware of what's required.
And people don't just tell you. You have to learn from your peers, get a network, and a lot of women don't network well. We're not really trained that way, and it's really new for a lot of women including myself.
The next piece is really doing lateral moves within a firm. At Cisco, they brought me in because I was a manufacturing expert and I had international experience. That's great, but I really didn't want to be in manufacturing--I wanted to make more lateral moves and figure out if I was a better fit for sales, for marketing, for other areas, so that's where you have to network internally to find out where the opportunities are because they're not posted.
KE: What role does confidence play?
TWD: Women have to learn to not be afraid to leave a company and move. If you cannot get ahead in the company you're in, you could probably move up in the next company, and you can't be afraid.
One of the things that's coming up in our studies is that people who run firms see that women don't have as much confidence as their male peers do. Women really need to say "I can, I'm going for that VP job, whether it's in this firm or in the next firm."
I packaged myself when I was feeling that I'd hit a certain level at Cisco, and I went out and I did very deep research on who would want to hire me. I think that's another key point, because people just tend to send resumes everywhere, and a friend of mine who always gets an interview and a job offer told me to hunker down, figure it out, spend a lot of time on your resume, and then target the companies where you're going to walk in the door and they're going to see that they can make dollars on you immediately.
So I did that, I targeted five firms like she said, and packaged myself. Get opinions, of close friends, not parents, maybe spouses--the people who can really help you analyze your skill set and your offerings, and then redo your resume and walk in. I went to five companies and I got three offers and then I took the one.
Women should think out of the box for themselves. Nobody is going to make your ideas happen for you. You have to make your own success happen. A lot of what I did involved waiting for someone to recognize me or promote me, or think of this idea and think of me.
Today, in this environment, companies want innovation. So think it through, create a business plan, strategize it, present it and execute.
KE: Do you think mentorship is important?
TWD: There is a segment of women in their late 40s, who don't have mentors, who graduated into a male-dominated workforce and people didn't help us. We had to figure it out on our own.
We actually don't know how to network, and we don't know how to find a mentor or sponsors, so it's a pretty brutal experience. It's interesting, because the younger women do it really, really well because they have all of the social technologies, and the more seasoned CEOs, they had to figure networking out to get where they are, and can do it really well, but there is a little gap in between where women just don't network so well.
I was moving around in firms and so I never really had anyone pull me through. So my outside mentor, I met her while pursuing my Ph.D. We ended up carpooling together, and we found out that we had a history of growing up in NYC, so even though we were decades apart, there was a lot of commonality.
I said once that she was my mentor, and she said that she never really thought about it that way: "You're my friend. We help each other, and that's what friends do." Targeting people and saying, "Will you be my mentor?" is sort of hard. It's got to be someone you have a lot of commonality with.
KE: What are the greatest obstacles women face in the workplace?
TWD: The big job opportunities are in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] and a lot of women, including myself, weren't raised to think through engineering or mathematical careers. A lot of us were geared toward marketing or human resources or in my case, my parents said "be a doctor."
The second is that we're not always coached. I had an older brother who I watched, and he was coached to be a president by my family because that's where they thought he should be. I was coached not to go into the business world but rather to be a physician, or a psychologist or something that was high-achieving at that time for women. You've got to get kids young in coaching, because I switched over to business and I can already see that I didn't have the same coaching.
If you want to move into the executive ranks, you have to be willing to take on things you don't like. Those are the steps you need to take if you're looking to get the experience needed to be a CEO. A lot of companies move their executives overseas, so you have to be willing to do that.
KE: How can you navigate the gender gap? What makes it so challenging?
TWD: I look at the organization chart before I approach a company to see how many women are on the board and in senior management because that to me is a telltale sign of the culture. A lot of firms have a lot of men. In terms of the firms I was interviewing with, I wanted to get an idea of if I was moving into a masculine environment, or a more diverse environment, and did I care either way. By listening to earnings reports, you can definitely get a feel for the leadership style.
We've met with a lot of CEOs in health care and nonprofits who are all female. Their viewpoint is that these are two industries that are hiring, these are two industries where the women networks are fantastic, and these are two industries where women do pull other women, and expect to see other women in CEO or VP roles.
Women should also start their own businesses. We weren't groomed that way in my generation, but the younger generation, you can now get an M.B.A. in entrepreneurship. You have boot camps out in Silicon Valley on how to start a business. You have women's conferences now on how to start a business, and they have venture capital companies come to help fund them.
All of these things didn't exist in my generation, and if I were to start all over again and be a young woman, I might consider these tracks, knowing my personality now and how I really want to achieve, these might have been a better track for me.
Write to Kelly Eggers at firstname.lastname@example.org