A Leadership Mindset: Practical Advice for Women in Tech


Cindy Bates is a CRN Woman of the Channel. Her path to success may not have been expected, having a college degree vastly different from what her current job at Microsoft entails. However, having that wide breadth of knowledge may have been a a plus; following, Bates shares some of the fundamentals for her success. —Jennifer Bosavage, editor

I majored in international economics and molecular biology in college. Today, I lead the U.S Small-and-Midsized Business and Distribution (SMB&D) group at Microsoft. From looking at cells under a microscope in school, to driving SMB strategy, marketing and sales for one of the largest technology companies in the world, it’s easy to see when I reflect on my career that there isn’t a cookie cutter path for women in technology who want to advance. Nevertheless, here are a few principles I’ve found to be widely applicable and helpful along my career path:

Change isn’t always embraced at first, but always brings opportunity. Change reflects growth and without growth, you’re just treading water. That doesn’t mean that every single change is welcome and desired, but rather that change keeps us learning and growing, which is inherently good. Anticipating and embracing change keeps you nimble and puts you in the driver’s seat. It’s often the most challenging situations and biggest changes that contribute the greatest value to your overall professional advancement. I’ve come to realize that when I am ready and responsive rather than reactive to change, I am able to successfully steer myself and my team to brighter horizons.

We can all be leaders. I don’t care what your role is in your company – everyone has the opportunity to behave like a leader, to inspire others and drive change with new ideas. This is especially true for women operating in male dominated fields like technology. I believe strongly that diversity of ideas is crucial for any team, any company, or even any country to realize its full potential.

I’ve often said that one of the things I most value about business school was that I walked away with the mindset of a leader. Being willing to take risks is an important part of that. One of my favorite quotes, from Goethe, speaks to this: “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it!” Once you see that we all have opportunities to lead, to shape the discussion and the path forward, with dignity and respect, you’ll start to notice a difference in your self-confidence and your interactions with others.

When you believe in your own leadership capabilities, you also realize that it’s your responsibility to mentor other women. There are numerous initiatives out there right now designed to get young women excited about careers in technology, including Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program, one of my favorites. Seeing young people’s enthusiasm and passion for what is possible always increases my enthusiasm for this industry and makes me even more motivated to lead in the workplace. Take time to find a venue where you might be able to help mentor young female professionals or students in some way. You’ll find that you wind up reaping just as many benefits as they do.

Unplugging is essential. Whether you’re in the technology industry or not, these days it’s darn near impossible to unplug entirely from our wired world. Still, making the effort to regularly do so is essential for clearing the head, igniting creativity and simply enjoying life. For me, reading old fashioned paper books, novels, biographies and thrillers, is crucial for me to free my mind and my creativity. I also make sure to set aside time to connect meaningfully with family and friends. I book my vacation and select long weekends early in the year, and keep that commitment to myself.

This year, I’m excited about my upcoming vacation to Peru. I also set aside time for regular tennis or squash matches. Whatever your escape might be, go there as regularly and as frequently as you are able. And make sure your mobile device is more than an arm’s length away from you!

Those three principles are by no means the only ingredients to success and satisfaction in technology careers, but I’ve certainly seen them play a defining role in my life and in the lives of many of my peers. I hope they’ll do the same for you.