Kristi Montgomery, VP, Innovation, Research & Development, at Kenco Group recently shared her thoughts on career growth and mentoring for women in our “Fearless Females of Supply Chain” Blue Yonder Live. Highlights from her conversation in this week’s DIVE blog. #FearlessFemalesSC

There are many factors that lead to career success. If you could say there was one constant, what would you say that is?

I would say it is recognizing my own value. If you look for external validation, you’re not going to find it because most people are focused on their own career. There is a statistic that says women only apply for a job if they have 100% of the qualifications listed and men will apply if they have 60%. Often, we as women, don’t value our own selves, our capabilities and what we’ve learned. I would say recognize your own value and don’t be afraid to step out there and take opportunities that you think you can handle whether you have all the qualifications or not. A great way to get started is to speak up in meetings and when you have value to add. Another statistic says that women are overtalked three-to-one versus men in a meeting. I would encourage you to be polite, be kind, but assert your own expertise.

In today’s marketplace where people are so focused on their title and next move, make sure you are thinking about how you as an individual want to develop yourself. What’s your value now and what do you want it to be three to five years from now? Really think about that before you jump into the next title/role. How are you going to grow? And what are you ready for? I’ve seen too many women who just want to be recognized so they step into a role they are not ready for. Have some patience and perseverance to ensure your career is following the path you really want.

That said, don’t quit!  Women leave technology roles 45% more than men. I think that’s because we don’t value ourselves and we feel like we’re not being recognized, so we just don’t hang in there long enough.  The founder of Kenco always said, “The only way past is through.” So, persevere and make sure you’re showing and recognizing your value; even if they don’t see it, you must know it – and own it!

You’ve had steady growth in your career from responsibility to leadership. Can you talk about your path?

I heard a quote recently that stuck with me: “Success comes when your preparation meets an opportunity.”  Always be on the lookout for those opportunities that might help you grow, learn, and challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks to bring yourself into visibility and showcase your capabilities. And, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. At one point in my career, I was asked to take on internal communication – and I am an IT person. I took that challenge on and led that to the point of having an intranet, a newsletter and several other means of communicating with our employees. Then, I was able to hand it off to another department to manage. Take something on and go do it to the best of your abilities.

But also know what you’re strong at; take a skills assessment and really get to know what your strengths are. Then focus on deploying those in your industry. For example, the one we use, “CliftonStrengths” by Gallup, will tell you to stop trying to overcome your weaknesses and focus on your strengths but surround yourself with people that will overcome your weaknesses for you.

The next piece that I think has been hugely successful for me in my career is to be a servant leader. Don’t ever ask your team to do something that you wouldn’t be willing to step in and do yourself. Listen and go to bat for your team; always have their back. When you do that, they will shore up your weaknesses and make you successful.

How has your network and the relationships that you have built factored into your growth and success?

I’ve been privileged to have a number of mentors and great bosses over my career.  I also have an executive coach that I’ve worked with for 10-plus years, and he pushes me outside my comfort zone. He asks me the hard questions and makes me think about what I’m doing, what I want to do, where I want to go, and what I want to be – and then to rethink it! He helps me focus on the things that will help me find my value and accomplish my goals, whether personal or business related. I’ve also created my own support system; you need cheerleaders, people that are always telling you what a good job you are doing. Part of the reason women don’t see their value is that we don’t always have those cheerleaders around us, constantly encouraging us. From your friends to family to faith, surround yourself with those champions.

And it’s also important to have mentors. Interestingly, as women, we often feel we can’t show that we need to talk to somebody; we see it as if it’s a weakness. We want to be seen as able to take it all on ourselves. There are so many allies in waiting out there; people who want to help you with your career, if you only ask. They don’t want to come to you because they don’t want to offend you, but they would love the opportunity to work with you and help you grow in your career. Look outside your department, your friends and your company to find those people; find people that you admire and have the characteristics and the successes that that you want to achieve. Go with a purpose so they understand what the commitment is.

And in the reverse, when you achieve a certain level of leadership it’s time for you to help others. It’s very fulfilling for me to be able to give back. You’ll also be amazed at the things you learn from your mentees, especially things you learn about yourself. One of the ways you can do that is to get involved with associate resource groups at your company. There also external groups like Million Women Mentors where women from all over the world are committed to mentoring others, or organizations such as Girls Inc. Find a way for you to be able to give back and you’ll find it so rewarding.

To watch the conversation with Kristi click here.