Leader SpeakLeaderspeak with Michelle DeCarlo Michelle DeCarlo Interviewed by Team Meytier 

Michelle DeCarlo is the Head of Technology Engineering Practices at Lincoln Financial Group. Team Meytier got a chance to sit down with Michelle a few weeks ago and talk about her journey, the future of tech, women in leadership and much more. We're sure you'll be just as inspired as we were.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be where you are today.

Well I would be lying if I said I planned it this way. That's one of the big lessons I've learned in my career. Don’t write things into ink because there are a lot of deviations, adjustments and opportunities that you might miss out on if you’re too wedded to a single route. So I actually didn’t start in technology. I have an MBA, but I've been blessed with a lot of different guides and coaches in my career who really invested in me. I transitioned to technology when my children were young. The attractiveness of the field for me was in both opportunities and in flexibility and how dynamic it was. It offered me features as a young woman to really advance my career. I took a lot of lessons from my male peers to rise into this role. Leaning in, not asking for permission, being a little aggressive. I really used their playbook and to advance in my career. I’ve also rotated in my profession a lot. I've always viewed my career not as a ladder, but as a lattice. I moved laterally a few times to expand my skill set. It was those opportunities that I have found rewarded me the greatest in terms of development and skill and networking. They broadened my marketability and talents.

We’ve seen this phenomenon of women dropping out of core tech & into tech adjacent roles- have you seen this? Did you see women drop out of core technology roles over the course of your career? What do you think the reasons were?

It’s definitely a problem. I’ve noticed through my career that women drop off at every point. There is a lack of community, lack of network and a lack of support structures in organizations for women and it can be exhausting. Sometimes people just want to show up and do their job. They don’t want to be a trailblazer. They just want to work. I find women so often have to play these different roles and take a lot of initiative upon themselves. If you really want to succeed in tech, you need a strong support system. I’ve been blessed to work with exceptional male allies who have invested in me and given me opportunities where I could shine. I think it becomes everyone's obligation to help others and give people a little lift forward. Now, I have a seat at the table and I feel as though my job is to create that opportunity for others. How you respond to your situation is the differentiator. It can be hard in a male-dominated field. I’ve been in many situations (and every woman in tech can give you one of these examples) where my voice felt as though it was not represented. I find that when those situations occur, because they will, your mindset is everything. I take them as an opportunity for education. To help people understand. And to help everyone know that they need to just be a bit more mindful the next time before they speak or act.

What are the few things you think firms could do better to support women reaching leadership levels?

I’m a big believer in rotational assignments. Do something for a while and rotate out of it. It keeps people moving and learning. Also, building a community and a network for women in the organization. Men can learn to be a little more aware of the different kinds of support they need to extend to women, because it is different and women shouldn’t apologize for that. Women bring diversity of thought to the table, there is no question about that. Women bring different ideas, they say them in a different voice, they emphasize different points. There will always be a question of “am i bringing the right voice to the table” because it can feel so muted. But it's important, it's a unique voice and companies need to support and uphold women differently.

What are the most important skills to succeed in technology? What do you think will be the most important skills/ areas in the future?

I would say you have to come into technology with the mindset that you need to constantly learn and reinvent yourself. Regardless of what skill is right today it might be different tomorrow. It might be data, automation, AI, cloud, whatever. You have to understand that what got you here isn’t what will get you there. You really need to lean in to learning and figure out how you can make a contribution, how you can add value. Technology changes so quickly and you need to keep up. Find out what new skills are important and work at them. It’s far less important what languages you’re proficient in, and more important that you show me that you know how to learn and master a language. Learning is everything.

Who or what helped you believe in yourself and gave you the confidence to rise into this role? And how do you pay it forward?

I have a long list, and it starts with my husband. I would not be where I am without his undying support. He supports me every step of the way, listens to my stories and challenges me. He helps me be a better person professionally and personally. I also come from a family that is strong on teamwork, strong on having each other’s back and strong on not setting limits. It’s that mindset again. I really don’t see limitations, I just see opportunities. You know the saying that you're the average of your five closest friends, or five closest colleagues? I really do believe that and I am very selective about who I have in my inner circle. I'm thoughtful about who I choose to spend energy on. I’ve also been blessed with great coaches, mentors, and colleagues who supported me. I try to do that for others too. Especially women. I expend a good proportion of my week speaking to other people about their situations, brainstorming, and understanding what's going on in their life.

How do you hire? What do you look for in people? I look for the right mindset. It’s how they approach issues and problem solve, how they analyse situations. To me, those are the skills you need to be effective. Tech isn't just sitting behind a keyboard and coding, it’s solving a business problem and knowing how to ask the right questions. Networking and using the resources at your disposal to figure out issues are key skills as well. These soft skills I really value because they’re the differentiator, you can teach people how to code. It’s harder to teach people how to get to the root of an issue, how to be creative, how to solve, how to interact with others. And then, of course, I look for kindness. Unfortunately, there are some ruthless people out there and I just don’t think you need to be ruthless to be effective and successful. So I look for people who don’t leave that collateral damage behind them.

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self? If I knew then, what I know now, I’d say- don’t limit yourself. That is my biggest takeaway in life. Especially after changing careers. I’m grateful for the people in my life who push me to step outside of my comfort zone every day to day. I’ve learned in my career not to set a path in stone. Allow yourself to expand beyond your boundaries, beyond your plan. It’s important to keep your opportunities open and recognize that the path may veer in different directions. That's how you’ll figure out where your happiness and satisfaction lies. The other thing I’d say is- don’t be perfect. I used to be obsessed with being perfect, with always having the answer and always knowing how things were supposed to work. I’ve learned that when you enter the workforce- nobody has all the answers. And usually, there isn't one answer. So if you're always striving for perfection, you miss opportunities. Lastly, invest in others. I’ve invested in a lot of people because a lot of people have invested in me.

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