In this exclusive interview, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Security Strategy at TD SYNNEX, Jessica McDowell, shares a bit about her role leading go-to-market programs and supporting the success of more than 100 vendors.

She also provides insights into how she reached the executive-level and how others can follow a similar path, emphasizing the importance of owning your career, continually challenging yourself, asking questions and trusting your gut.

Jessica McDowell also discusses the significance of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, including the need to accelerate gender parity, and the importance of embracing equity. Finally, the interview covers some of the biggest challenges that women face in the workplace, and provides actionable means of addressing such challenges.

Can you please tell us a bit about your role at TD SYNNEX?

I am the Senior Vice President of security and networking here at TD SYNNEX. I lead our go to market for security networking as well as the programs and business development, operations and overall strategy for over 100 vendors in the security networking space.

How did you reach your current professional role and what do you enjoy about it?

It was really a jump in and learn how to swim type of scenario for me, but that’s great because that’s how I learn the best.

I started at TD SYNNEX in a vendor management role by launching a new vendor line into what was the legacy TD SYNNEX ecosystem and it really just grew from there.

I began assuming responsibility for more vendors. And our team continued to expand to support the success that we were driving. And it’s been an absolute privilege to see the business grow from what was a $400 million business to what is now over a $3 billion business.

I have enjoyed watching that success and being a part of it. And I have to say, my favorite part is learning people’s skill sets and putting them in the best role to succeed, and really helping to shape people’s careers and futures.

I personally love the coaching aspect of my job and of course, I love the winning aspects too. I’m highly competitive. So building and watching our team thrive and win is just the most rewarding aspect of my job.

Thoughts about the importance of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month?

International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month should really serve as a call to action to accelerate gender equality. As we continue to congratulate and recognize women for their achievements, everyone should think about how to then carry that forward. We can’t let this be a ‘check the box’ day or a check the box month. Most importantly, it’s a reminder that we’ve come a long way in terms of women’s rights and the ability to have a seat at the table.

If you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote. In fact, my grandmother was in that first generation of women that could actually vote. So, I think that this month should remind us that trailblazers are important.

We can’t be afraid to step out of line, so to speak, in order to make sure our voices are heard. And by the way, that goes for everybody, not just women.

What professional advice would you give to emerging leaders?

A couple of things. I think the biggest piece of advice that I can offer and that’s stuck with me is ‘nobody is going to pave your career path for you.’ You can’t assume that just because you come into work and you work hard and you meet deadlines, and you meet quotas that somebody is going to create a career path for you. You have to take charge and you have to create your own path. You have to define it yourself. You have to set professional goals, you have to set those benchmarks for yourself. And then you meet with your manager, you meet with your leaders, and you ask them what it is that you need to accomplish to reach the goals. Then, you have to hold your leadership accountable – just as you hold yourself accountable.

The other piece of advice is ‘don’t get so comfortable that you’re doing your job on autopilot.’ Raise your hand when side projects become available. That’s how you learn. If you can do your job with your eyes closed, you’re not challenging yourself. You’re not growing.

I had a leader once tell me that you have to reinvent yourself every few years. That’s always stuck with me because relevant today doesn’t mean relevant tomorrow.

Another piece of advice: Ask questions. That may seem like common sense, but asking questions is key. You have to stop worrying about what other people are going to think if you have a question. Just ask! Because you’re not going to learn it any other way.

And then, the last piece of advice that I would give is ‘trust your gut’. Always trust your gut. Double check your work, double check others’ work. If it seems too good to be true, listen to that voice in your head. It’s not going to lead you astray. And don’t be afraid to question things.

What does International Women’s Day and its theme this year #EmbraceEquity, mean to you?

Well, there’s equality and there’s equity and I think we can all agree that those are two very different things. Embracing equity, to me, really means meeting people where they are and recognizing that everybody comes from different backgrounds, different situations and circumstances and walks of life. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ resource kit or toolkit isn’t sufficient anymore.

In your view, what are the biggest challenges that women face in the workplace? What steps can organizations take to help address these challenges?

I think that the first glaring challenge that women face is work-life balance. It’s among the top challenges. I think that female executives and female leaders face a pretty high burnout rate. Now, why is that? I would say that a lot of that has to do with the adage that says women are expected to work like they don’t have children, and then they’re supposed to raise children as if they don’t work.

I have three young children and luckily, I have a leader who’s always promoted a family-first mentality. I endorse the same among my team. But many women aren’t so lucky. And even those lucky ones still face that parent guilt – that mom guilt.  The guilt of missing things that children are doing while they’re in daycare or childcare; the guilt of having to go out of town for work.

It’s tough. I think that organizations should really endorse flexibility in working schedules where possible. Stop micromanaging lunch hours. I’ve always said that if you treat people like adults, they’ll act like adults. So, I think that’s one area where organizations can really dig in and help with that work-life balance element.

Women who are starting their families and having children also face high levels of stress because they worry that when they go take maternity leave or parental leave, it will set them back career-wise. They worry that someone is going to step in while they’re out and knock them back from an advancement standpoint.

And the last thing that a new parent should be worrying about is what’s happening at work while they take care of a newborn. You never get that time back. And I think what this shows is that there needs to be specific and direct training for managers and leaders on how to work with women who are taking maternity and parental leave.

But it’s not just women with children that face challenges, right? I think many women face challenges of feeling excluded. Perhaps we should have fewer business meetings on the golf course. Organizations do need to pay close attention to things like this and stop making women feel like they need to take golf lessons in order to be included in business discussions, for example.

And of course, the pay gap. I think organizations really need to pay close attention to this and I mean, really look at it – go through it with a fine-tooth comb. I think that action is everything when it comes to the pay gap.

Those are the big things, but as you probably know, there are also microaggressions that women experience in the workplace, like being interrupted or feeling patronized.

A lot of times, this kind of thing doesn’t get reported because people don’t want a sticker in their ‘file’ saying they reported something. There is this fear of being viewed as ‘difficult.’ I think that training and awareness is an important thing to consider when it comes to these less obvious things.

Professional Bio: Jessica McDowell has worked for SYNNEX, now TD SYNNEX, for more than 14 years and currently serves as Senior Vice President of the Security and Networking business, where she has the honor of serving the most talented team in the distribution business. Jessica and her team are responsible for delivering innovative routes to market that address industry trends, enabling partners to leverage TD SYNNEX’ exclusive tools and services, and executing a best-in-class level of customer service that has earned numerous awards and accolades. Her team is also responsible for streamlining operational efficiencies and delivering the highest level of customer care from pre-sales to post-sales delivery. She is responsible for the networking and security market segments and manages relationships and key deliverables for more than 100 vendor partners. Jessica’s team is also responsible for the onboarding and launch of new and emerging security and networking vendors into the TD SYNNEX ecosystem. Jessica graduated from the University of Tennessee and is a Greenville, South Carolina native. Her heart belongs to her young family, including a daughter and two sons.