It’s been 6 months since my last post and boy has it been eventful. Many in our community already know this but I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer on April 15th. The last few months have been focused on recovering from surgery and beginning the long chemo journey that will ultimately help me heal. I could go on about the challenges and lessons over the last few months but that’s not what this blog is about. I have another blog for that. :)
Recovery has afforded me a lot of time and what’s been on my mind lately has been mentorship and the value of creating an amazing support network. I wanted to share some of our journey as founders from my perspective because it’s led to some amazing opportunities and lifelong friendship.
Sarah, Elena, and I first met about 10 years ago working for a Seattle based data center broker. It all started when it was just Sarah and I and working back to back from the wheelhouse of our boss’s houseboat where we would dodge duck boats and seaplanes in between conference calls. We both held separate roles but it was the start of an over decade long friendship. Fast forward a few years and Elena joined us fresh out of one of her first post-college jobs and this too was the start of a long friendship.
I was the first to move on from the broker and ended up landing at Microsoft. I was randomly contacted by a recruiter and jumped at the opportunity to travel the world sourcing data center space for what is now Microsoft Azure’s global network. Within a few months there it became clear that this wasn’t a one person job so my boss gave me the green light to put my feelers out there and find someone to join the team. At the time I wasn’t sure who to reach out to so I reached out to my good friend Donna who was my confidant who encouraged me to make the leap to join Microsoft. She suggested I reach out to Elena. Elena and I hadn’t worked for very long at our previous company so we met for coffee and talked about what she wanted to do. Then introductions to the team happened, they of course loved her and within a month we were sharing an office and spending most of the day working hard and cracking each other up.
Within a year the time came again for more growth and more help. Sarah had been with the broker for over 8 years and was ready to move on to something new. This wasn’t a hard sell considering both Elena and I were now travelling the globe and growing our network so she came on board. We also met Suzie at Microsoft when she was working at Equinix. I will never forget the day when we were both working on the Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute initiative. At the time neither team could agree to terms and Suzie pulled me aside and said, “we’re two smart women, let’s put our heads together and figure this out,” and figure it out we did. It was then that Suzie went from my sales rep to my business partner and friend and the rest is history.
For most of my young working life I thought a mentor relationship was one where I would meet with someone much older than me who would give me the keys to professional success. I think for years this mindset held me back and prevented me from really seeing who my mentors are. Over the years that Elena, Sarah, Suzie and I have known each other we’ve supported each other through relationships, international moves, career changes and the common thread is that we’ve been each other’s sounding board and biggest cheerleaders. This didn’t happen overnight but was an organic and gradual process that has blossomed to where we are today in our lives. Does that mean I don’t believe in the traditional mentorship model? No. It means that mentors manifest in ways that you sometimes don’t always see.
Harvard Business Review published a research report back in February titled, Men and Women Need Different Kind of Networks to Succeed. The title is pretty self explanatory but one section particularly resonated with me because it spoke to my own personal experience with my network. It said,
“…women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”
All four of us have gone down separate paths in our careers but we have been there throughout to support each other with introductions, candid advice, words of encouragement, and friendship. As our network grew and as WTF has blossomed into the awesome community that it is today we’ve maintained this mindset and these principles as we’ve sought to share our experience with others. Women do need other women and we’ve been fortunate through our network to help other women take risks, open up new doors, and even find new career opportunities. This more than anything fuels us because our own experience has been so unique and special.
While I have consciously decided to take personal time to myself to heal I am optimistic about what the future holds and to jumping back in the game when the time is right. For now I cherish my Friday morning conference calls with the WTF squad and look forward to every opportunity to connect with the women who have been the best mentors in my life.
For more weekend reading material check out the HBR Article: https://hbr.org/2019/02/research-men-and-women-need-different-kinds-of-networks-to-succeed