We mark International Women’s Day 2021 by sharing a conversation with Raejeanne Skillern, president of our Communications, Enterprise and Cloud business. We put a variety of questions to Raejeanne about how she balances family and career, her perspective on mentorship and sponsorship, and what’s next for gender parity.
Below is an excerpt from this conversation.
As a senior leader looking after a multi-billion-dollar business unit, what’s it like juggling family and your professional responsibilities?
Being a working parent is a dynamic situation. I have twin 15-year-old daughters and those of you with kids know that each year some things get easier, while others get harder. With school, sports, friends and the support they need to learn and grow, I start most weeks wondering: “how is it even possible to get this all done?!”
Some weeks I do well and other weeks it gets messy. For example, last week, it wasn’t just the kids’ soccer tryouts and a ski race. The dog, the furnace, our water pipes and my car all needed immediate “medical attention” with both my husband and I working very long days in our jobs.
That’s quite a load no matter who you are. One thing I have learned though is that no matter how big my job scope is, how far I advance professionally or what age my kids are: every week can feel full – sometimes too full. Many people I mentor tell me they are unsure whether they should take their next career step because they feel they’re already giving everything they have. I have personally found that with each new step I take -- and these come with new challenges and tradeoffs— I always adapt. I seek more help and I find new strategies for managing the demands of work and family.
What’s your formula for getting it all done?
We schedule everything on a family calendar – work and life. I get lots of help from my partner and husband, friends, family and coworkers. We prioritize and let some things go, focusing on the most critical items for family and career.
And at the end of the week, while I may be exhausted, I am grateful for a healthy, happy family and a career that I am proud of and look forward to each week.
Let’s talk about your path to the top ranks of leadership. How did you get here? Who were the key mentors paving this path for you?
My growth was largely organic. I didn’t have in mind what I wanted to be. I started with a software engineering degree and after three internships, I realized I didn’t care for engineering. I then got an offer from Intel to work in procurement. Three years later, I decided procurement wasn’t my passion either. I took a gamble and applied for a marketing job and there I found it. Working with customers, designing products and taking them to market. Over the years I took on many types of marketing roles – strategic, technical, demand creation and product – to round out my business and market development acumen.
In 2008, I was asked to run the cloud marketing team. I had three-year-old twins and was working part time, but the opportunity was so exciting that it compelled me to return to work full-time. Back then, I didn’t know much about the cloud, but I knew it would expose me to new markets, customers and experiences. It also turned out that my boss became one of my most supportive mentors and sponsors. Five years later, he asked me to take over the entire cloud business as general manager. I said no twice as I wasn’t sure I could handle more, but he persisted because he believed in me. The third time he asked I took a risk and said yes. Even though that was many years ago now, I still look to him as a mentor, sponsor and friend.
With hard work, a fantastic team and luck, I was able to manage the demands successfully and was promoted to vice president growing the business from $2.5B to $10B in revenue. After that, I knew I wanted to try something new and was exploring within Intel at the same time Flex reached out. I was impressed with Flex’s leadership team, was excited about the scope of the role and could fulfill a goal of mine to work for a female CEO. I took the leap and now almost two years later, I am certain it was one of my best career decisions.
Let’s talk about the importance of sponsors and allies. How can they help advance women in the workplace, and what do you think is the role of men?
Throughout my career, mentors and sponsors have been critical to my development. My mentors gave me advice and shared ideas with me. Sponsors who believed in me – and these included men and women – would speak for me when I wasn’t the room and would put their name behind mine to pull me up.- Raejeanne Skillern, President, Communications, Enterprise and Cloud
These people introduced me to new opportunities, pushed for my promotions and were honest about when I needed improvement. They were my safe sounding board and helped me navigate the ups and downs of my career.
There are more conversations now about being more than a mentor – women are looking for sponsors who can advocate for them. These sponsorships don’t happen overnight – they took me years to build and earn. They were earned through hard work; this required establishing credibility and building mutually supportive relationships. Sponsorships can come from a matching program or they can develop organically – your management, co-workers, and execs with whom you build credibility inside and outside of your company. Each require time, commitment and communication.
Are you sponsoring people today?
Currently, I sponsor several women and men in the deepest sense of sponsorship, and there are those that I am mentoring with the intent of building the relationship to sponsorship. I routinely tell people – you need at least three sponsors as your career develops: the first is your manager. If your manager isn’t a sponsor, you may want to ask whether you are in the right role. The second person is someone that is a peer to your manager within the same org. You want an additional person that can speak for you along with your manager in forums to elevate you further. Your third sponsor is someone outside of your organization who can give you an unbiased perspective and challenge your thinking.
I recently gave myself the action to meet with my organization’s women at certain seniority levels to get to know each of them better. By knowing them and what drives them, I can better help support their goals and development plans. By them knowing me, they can feel more comfortable reaching out directly for help. I’m hoping that, over time, these turn into mentorships and sponsorships.
Let’s end on a forward note – what’s the path forward for gender parity? What’s your call to challenge on this IWD?
We need to commit ourselves. This means we need to learn about the issues and try to get to know our co-workers to understand their unique thinking and perspectives. This also means we need to challenge ourselves as we hire, promote and delegate new opportunities to ensure we are building diversity within our teams. Second: we need to communicate and ask one another: “How are you doing? Do you feel supported? What do you need to be successful?” Then offer ways to help.
Lastly, I challenge us to sponsor people by finding those three or four people that you think have potential, have demonstrated great results and have a passion to grow and develop. Cultivate a deeper relationship with them and find ways that you can mutually help each other grow and reach your career aspirations.