A group formed to boost the presence of women in the channel is entering its 12th year with a new president at the helm.
The Alliance of Channel Women (ACW) was formed “with a mission to increase education, networking, and build advocacy for women in the channel,” says Cassie Jeppson, who in addition to the ACW president’s role is also director of North America Channel Programs at Lenovo.
“We’ve continued that legacy in all our programs and committees that women can participate in,” she added.
Jeppson spoke to Channel Insider as part of our series on Innovation in the Channel. While aimed at increasing the profile of women in the channel, the group has much to teach everyone about the benefits of collaborating with competitors.
The Alliance of Channel Women began at the 2010 Channel Partners Conference & Expo with a conversation over dinner about how few women there were in the tech channel and how few there were in leadership, ownership or revenue-generating roles. Eager to find a community of like-minded women, the women agreed that rather than see each other only as competitors, they also could be collaborators.
“Teamwork began that very night,” as the Alliance website puts it. “Like so many good ideas, ACW ignited a movement within the telecom and tech channel, quickly becoming a welcome refuge for many channel women who were looking to network with their female peers in a male-dominated industry.”
A dozen years later, that dinner table of four has grown to over 600 members who support each other and their voice in the IT industry through regular meetings and other activities. As they say about themselves, “ACW is home to hundreds of women and men in the channel who are focused on helping women to achieve greater success in their channel careers through education, mentoring and collaboration.”
Value in Networking
Jeppson says ACW provides value to its members through education, opportunity and networking.
“We’re there to help women build their networks and to grow both personally and professionally,” Jeppson said. “I find that the relationships that you build, the network that you build, and the personal competence that comes with some of those relationships are some of the most valuable. I’ve also found that by participating in the committees, I’ve been able to build my resume in areas that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to in my day job.”
When asked how ACW differs from other groups supporting women in IT, she said, “I tried a lot of women’s groups before ACW. There were a lot of male-bashing conversations or that ‘I am woman hear me roar’ type conversations. And that really wasn’t me.”
This may best epitomize the underlying attitude found at ACW meetings, where the focus is always on the positive. Members share success stories, including many powerful details about strategy and how they overcame obstacles – important information for anyone in the channel, but particularly for the added challenges women face.
Jeppson recalls her earliest ACW experiences, how Zift Solutions Chief Revenue Officer Heather Tenuto encouraged her to try the organization. “She kind of pushed me to attend. You know that she can be a little bit persuasive and a little pushy at the same time. She convinced me while I was attending Channel Partners Expo to attend an ACW event.”
When asked what she found in ACW, she replied, “I didn’t feel any of that stuff that I had felt when I attended other women’s groups. It was more about celebrating the uniqueness that everybody brought to the table and the values that you bring that maybe somebody else doesn’t have, and being able to recognize those and celebrate them.”
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Jeppson and others describe a group that is unique in its camaraderie, collaboration and support. And that environment inspires its members to further their leadership roles in the channel.
“The group was very honest and trustworthy with each other, and they were candid and straightforward,” she said. “For the most part, they were bringing out the most authentic versions of each other to the table. Out of that initial meeting I started getting to know people. I joined, I volunteered, and got to know all about ACW. Now I really felt that I found my squad as a result of being pushed to join. And I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity since.”
New ACW Vice President Jasmina Muller agrees.
“I came from the direct sales side,” Muller told Channel Insider. “Six years ago, I came over to what everybody was calling ‘the dark side,’ coming over to the channel, meeting different people. Like Cassie, I don’t want to be seen as that ‘I am woman hear me roar’ kind of person. I think there were close to 200 attendees and I found this was completely opposite of what I had thought I’d find. I got the chance to meet one of the founders of ACW and, observing that she lived near me, immediately invited me out to lunch, saying she wanted to run some ideas past me.”
By the end of that lunch, Jasmina was recruited and is effusive in her praise for what she found. “Every woman who wants to grow in their career wants what I found there. I now have over 15 sisters that I’ve never had before. And you can confide in them, you can text them when you need to just talk. You run ideas past each other, you know, through the board or even through the members.”
Muller continues, “You feel like you’re a part of the group, knowing that any idea is a great idea. It’s literally a camaraderie, it’s a family, it’s sisters that are there to you know, back each other up and, and bring each other up to where you need to be growing your career and feel like you could do it with all the women there to support you.”
Past ACW board member Khali Henderson says one of the ways ACW creates that supportive environment is through its Mentorship and Mentoring Circles, and alliances with various groups for leadership education.
“One of the core tenets of ACW that these ladies have taken advantage of is the idea that you can lead,” Henderson said. “These women are already leaders inside their organizations, but we have few people in our committees that are at manager level at their job. But they’re able to rise above in our committees and become chairs and then become board members. This gives them an opportunity to stretch their wings a little bit and learn more.”
One measure of the group’s value is that membership actually increased significantly during the pandemic.
“We started putting some programs out there that were more relevant for what was happening at that time,” said Jeppson. “Whether it was mental health support or groups around how to balance work/life, how to help with kids’ schoolwork, there was yoga and meditation and different elements there, all of which were very timely for a lot of women. Based on the feedback, more and more people started looking for that level of support and camaraderie to be able to get through some of those tough times.”
The group owes its funding to vendors.
“The donations are brought in by the vendors,” said Muller. “They are our sponsors. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t really have the vast program we do.”
Muller cites brand awareness and having their brand aligned with the ACW value proposition as the main reasons vendors contribute.
Jeppson adds, “If you look at all the research that has been done about promoting women within your leadership team and in helping them to grow within their careers, then there’s a lot of company benefit to that. By sponsoring us, they’re not only showing their support to ACW and to the industry, but also to the women that are within their organization, giving them some extra resources they can leverage to help develop their teams. By doing that and building that awareness of the support they’re providing, that’s also helping them to attract diversity in their talent pools as well.”
Education, Personal Branding and More
ACW meets monthly. There are also separate educational events and engagements for members.
“The topics there are diverse,” says Jeppson. “Everything from ‘how do I balance a P&L’ all the way to ‘how do I recognize what my personal brand identity is’ and define that. We also have a diversity series and panel called ‘Keepin’ it Real’ where they talk about some of those more controversial topics for the workplace. There have been sessions about being a minority woman in the technology industry, and how to build your voice and claim your seat at a table as a woman.”
“We provide elements that are contributing to the holistic person, both personal and professional, to be able to empower and uplift.”
Henderson said the group expands its reach and opportunities for women in the channel through local ACW chapters.
“The good thing about local chapters,” says Henderson, “is if you don’t get picked to go to Channel Partners Expo, where we always have our meetings, you can participate with your local chapter. I participate in the one here in Phoenix and meet with a lot of great women.”
ACW members range from female sales professionals to managers to female technicians, engineers, consultants, and yes, even men.
“I think there is a group out there for every person,” saysJeppson. “And ACW is not the group for every single woman out there. But I would encourage women to try out the groups and determine what they’re looking for. And if the values of that group and the culture of that group align with that woman, then that’s where she should be. And whether that’s ACW or not, as long as that person has a squad and a community that she can lean on and be a part of, then that’s the most important thing.”