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.