Lara O’Brien, Senior Director of Worldwide Partnerships, Cumulus Networks

female data scientist, woman leading teamIt’s not easy being a woman in the channel industry – or the tech industry at large for that matter. Yet in my current role I lead worldwide partnerships for Cumulus and am responsible for driving our global partnership function.

It’s a big role, encompassing Hardware/OEM partnerships like Dell EMC and Mellanox Technologies, as well as the broader partner ecosystem with our tier one, distribution and tier two partnerships.

With over 20 years of global experience in Channels and Alliances leadership, GTM programmes and marketing, I’ve had a long and varied career. I spent the lion share of that time at Cisco (13 years), in roles that included building out the Strategic Alliance function in Asia Pacific and leading the global marketing efforts for Cisco’s largest Alliance partner, IBM. I’ve also held positions advising clients like Cisco, Salesforce, VMware, Juniper, Autodesk and F5, amongst others, on how to effectively execute GTM partner programmes to drive sales, enablement, demand generation and channel expansion.

As you can imagine, with all this under my belt, I’ve faced many challenges during my career. But I firmly believe that working through them and learning from them is how you grow – not only in your career, but as a person.

Shattering the glass ceiling

Throughout my career in channel, there have always been the naysayers. Not only is it frustrating to deal with, it has proven to be challenging to drive innovation in programmes and investments needed to scale and grow a channel business, especially when you’re facing doubters.

Unfortunately, the fact is that despite lots of women like me achieving and getting far, there is still a perception that women have to work three times as hard as men to get recognition for their work. And while barriers for women exist in multiple industries, the technology sector arguably has one of the highest and most impenetrable glass ceilings around. Therefore, in an industry dominated by men, there are three things that women should aim to do to overcome them.

First, they need to continue to build on and leverage the networks that they have. We need to help other women that are coming up through the ranks, be it through one-to-one mentoring, or by enabling women in tech-type forums to talk openly about their experiences. We must seek to build each other up, boost our confidence and stand proud of all that we have accomplished.

Second, women need to think about who they admire – there is nothing more powerful than a good role model. What are their attributes that you find aspirational? Now keep these attributes at the forefront of everything you do; it will put you on the right footing in order to progress in your career.

Finally, I believe it is really important for women to be true to who they are. Authenticity has helped me get to where I am today and to become comfortable in my own confidence and achievements. Women apologise a lot, and we don’t need to. Be true to who you are, because pretending to be somebody you aren’t will only become your own stumbling block.

Key factors for success

Education and building channel advocates were key for me in overcoming the naysayers. I believe that there is an enormous need for internal education around the power of channel, and what it can do for an organisation, especially at the executive level. It only takes one to two executives at the top to become channel advocates and then you are on your way to helping your company become a channel-led organisation.

I’d also recommend spending as much time with your partners as possible. Strong relationships with your channel partners will offer numerous benefits to both parties. Be inquisitive and ask questions that allow you to understand their perspective and what their challenges are. Good partnerships are transparent about the vested interests of both parties, and what the expectations are for defining success. Without a firm understanding of your partner’s world, you are left building something from a limited perspective. Ultimately, effective collaboration will foster higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Finally, if I had to pinpoint one thing that’s been a key factor for me in achieving success during my career, it’d be perseverance. This has been a recurring factor in my life – be it in achieving success in my career or overcoming obstacles that life inevitably presents. The good news is that perseverance is not a natural ability, it can be learned. In fact, I believe this is why I am still in the tech industry today.

Lara O'BrienAbout the author

Lara is the Senior Director of Worldwide Partnerships at Cumulus Networks. She is responsible for driving the global partnership function which encompasses Hardware/OEM partnerships, like Dell EMC & Mellanox Technologies, as well as the broader partner ecosystem.