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The gift of intentionality and inclusivity at heart - Celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day

Debra McCowan
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As women we are so much to so many – mother, daughter, sister, friend, spouse/partner, caretaker and so much more. To all my fellow women from all over the globe, I commend you – for your strength, compassion and perseverance. We often put others first and care with all our being, even when it may feel like our cup is near empty. As women we challenge the status quo every day, not only for ourselves, but for the future generations of women who will follow us.

Every day, talented, inspirational women are pressing ahead and paving their own path all around us – and as a community we continue to make an impact. A great example of a woman who has risen above and paved the path for other women of generations to come is astronaut Mae Jemison. Mae was the first African-American woman to go into space, serving as a Mission Specialist aboard the space shuttle Endeavor in 1992. Mae continues to challenge each of us to aspire, persevere, take risks and put forward all we have to offer to make a difference and bring about change.

Mae Jemison Quote for International Women's Day This Women’s History Month, let us pause and reflect on the progress we have made and the work that still needs to be done, but most of all to recognize the extraordinary role that ordinary women have played in history and the role we will continue to play in shaping a better, more inclusive future.

International Women’s Day

On Monday, March 8, I had the honor of celebrating International Women’s Day with our Women in Technology (WIT) Employee Resource Group and participate amongst a panel of inspiring fellow NetApp women leaders, including: our Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Gerri Mason Hall; Vice President of Global Portfolio-to-Market Lifecycle, Anna Schlegel; and Principal Learning Ambassador, Mercedes Adams as moderator. If I could highlight key takeaways from our panel discussion, they would include the importance of (1) sponsorship and advocacy, (2) being open & owning “Your Story”, and (3) taking ownership of your health and well-being by knowing when to lean in and when to lean out.   

International-Womens-Day-Celebration-with-NetApp-Women-in-Technology-1024x5771. Sponsorship & advocacy

When was the last time you advocated for someone? Has anyone ever sponsored you? I myself am a by-product of advocacy. Starting with casual work in the retail and customer service sector, to starting my professional career as a receptionist, and later transitioning into my first HR role as an HR Business Partner (HRBP). Along the way I have been extremely fortunate to have male and female advocates and sponsors who took a chance on me. They believed in my potential and were willing to invest in my growth and development to see me rise.

The opportunity to transition into HR was unexpected and unintended. It may never have happened without a sponsor who took the time to notice my efforts, willingness to learn and to tell me that he believed I could do well in an HR role.  He presented me the opportunity to step into an HRBP role to cover for someone on who was on maternity leave and he simply asked the question, “are you interested?” I was interested, and that interim assignment and the chance I was given became an important stepping-stone into a 20+ year career in HR.

It was unchartered waters at the time and I was scared I would fail, but I took a leap of faith because it was an opportunity to learn and gain new experiences, even if I made mistakes along the way, which I did. Had it not been for the men and women who not only believed in me but who also took the time to listen to my desires, aspirations and who advocated on my behalf, I would not be where I am today. For this I am grateful and bullish about cultivating a culture and support system of sponsorship, so that many more talented women can be guided the way I was.

2. Be open & own your story

Be you and do it well. Embrace and own your unique story and journey. We all travel our own path for a reason. Being open to new opportunities and diverse perspectives is key to unleashing a broad array of opportunities and tapping into our true potential. As I mentioned, my transition into HR was unexpected and came with a few other life changes – I moved to a new country with my daughter to pursue a new role and I left behind my family and everything I have ever known. When we are outside of our comfort zone, we can feel displaced and begin to question and compare ourselves to those around us, especially as women in the tech industry. To those experiencing this type of situation, I encourage you to keep pushing through and remember that you are exactly where you are meant to be. Be comfortable in your own skin, take your experiences as learning opportunities and remember that you need not be like anyone but yourself.

Our unique experiences and backgrounds make us who we are. At NetApp, we make a point to leverage the unique perspectives of all and aim to continue to improve upon this.

When it comes to bringing in unique and global perspectives, my colleague Anna has truly paved the way. I am proud to highlight Anna’s accomplishments in supporting women to rise globally starting with the globalization of our WIT community and reach to 19 sites. By globalizing WIT we are able to hear global perspectives and develop a greater appreciation and understanding for one another’s cultures, approaches and the beauty and value in this diversity.

We are culturally very different, and we need to understand that cultures are very different. Embracing international perspectives will help NetApp better support its customers because our customers are from everywhere. – Anna Schlegel, Vice President of Global Portfolio-to-Market Lifecycle, NetApp

For a second unique perspective, my colleague Gerri has brought fresh insights and leadership to her role and work in the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging space here at NetApp. Gerri continues to challenge what has been done and encourages us to broaden our horizons when it comes to diversity, particularly when it comes to identifying and hiring talent. This means understanding talent from all angles, starting with our internal talent, enabling employees to have the visibility they need, make connections, and determine the best fit for them within the organization.

It’s important that we embrace a global theme. Let’s choose to challenge and be able to challenge some of our status quo and our previous approaches to talent from the perspective of diversity. This must include taking the opportunity to educate and coach our executives on thinking broader and being intentional in all opportunities. – Gerri Mason Hall, VP, Diversity Inclusion & Belonging, NetApp

We have made progress, against our goal to hire diverse talent, and increase representation of women in leadership roles through the appointment of Carrie Palin, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Splunk to our Board of Directors. NetApp is leading from the top, with a great partner and ally in our Chief Executive Officer, George Kurian and Gerri Mason Hall to lead the team in advancing our diversity efforts.

Building an inclusive culture, gender parity and equity of access is a business imperative here at NetApp. We approach this not as a fad, but instead recognize this as an opportunity to the success of the business and moreover, an opportunity to become better leaders, colleagues, and human beings.

We must continue to be courageous in our voice with a strong approach on how we will play an important part in society around reforming systemic biases, inequalities and all the things that continue to plague us today.

3. Know when to lean in and out

Gauging went to lean in and out is crucial to our overall health and well-being. As we hit the one-year mark of being in a global pandemic, we see the disproportionate effects on women in the workplace, particularly on mothers and women of color.

According to a 2020 McKinsey & Company report, 1 in 3 mothers may be forced to scale back or leave the workforce due to the disproportionate weight on women.

We each have different circumstances and the pandemic has touched us all personally in different ways. For anyone who is experiencing this today, I urge you to lean into your support systems and resource groups and ask for help when needed. Equally, I urge you to lean-out; this means taking time for ourselves, to step away when we need to.

Remember that you are not going through this alone – as a NetApp employee we have resources available including Pandemic Prevention Days off outside of traditional time-off, Wellness Days where we each have an opportunity to unplug and No Meeting Fridays as a time to refresh, slow down and catch-up.

When I think about the future, I imagine a world where barriers no longer exist and where our daughters can begin their journeys without worrying about biases. Let‘s work together to build a new normal with equal parity, a mixing pot of perspectives and cultures and an appreciation for the value that each unique individual brings to the table regardless of their gender, color or creed.

International Women's Day Debra McCowan Quote If I could leave you with one request, it would be to select one of the key takeaways and take action – whether it be to advocate, open yourself or others to new opportunities and perspectives, take the time to connect with someone for support or lean out and practice self-care. We can continue the celebration of women who came and paved the way before us, by following their lead to challenge, be courageous and brave.

In the mean time check out our video series featuring the women of NetApp!

Debra McCowan

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