As a young black woman in the male dominated tech industry, Andrea Yowman says it wasn’t possible to “blend in and not be seen.” In response, she “took advantage of being seen, and just really leaned in.”
She says she would always tell people, “I don’t expect you to work any harder than I work — but I work really hard.”
Yowman, who was recently appointed chief of staff to SAP Executive Board Member and Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer Julia White, spoke during recent panel discussion on career advice for women as part of Intel’s Global Networking Summit 2021. The conversation was moderated by Trish Blomfield, UK country manager at Intel.
Asked by Blomfield what steps had been most beneficial to her in her career, as well as what had been the most challenging, Yowman explained: “Early on in my career, especially trying to break into a leadership role, it was really difficult, as you stated. I worked in a male-dominated industry, and I really tried not to focus on being a minority — although being black and a woman just made it a bit of a challenge.”
She says she really strove to be the best at everything she did and excel, doing her job better than anyone else. “I really thought about every year, ‘What am I going to do different? How am I going to set myself apart from everyone else?’ And that has been really key for me into my success.”
It’s been “an interesting journey,” she says. When transitioning to her first leadership role, she remembers calling her brother and saying, “I really feel I got this role because of my performance, and not because of the color of my skin. And that, I think, was probably the most proud time for me just to be able to say that — and really feel it.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, she remembers. “I can give you many examples of things I had to overcome. Sometimes I can be in a room with all males, or there might be another woman but I’m the only black person.”
“I had one instance where an executive asked me to go and get them a Coke. I was furious, but… you have to pick your battles. And I just went out to his admin and said, ‘Your boss needs help.’”
She adds: “Things like that, or taking a seat at the table, you kind of have to read the room and know what roles are.”
But, she says, she never starts off at sitting outside of the table or next to the wall. “I always encourage other women to take your space and your place in the room. Because if you know your job, and you’re confident, then that confidence will surely be seen by everyone.”
She acknowledges that it has sometimes been an uphill journey for her, but adds, “It’s been really, really exciting.”
Yowman also emphasizes the importance of mutual respect. “I’ve had conversations with others, and if they’re not respectful, I will say ‘I’m ending this call right now.’ And I hang up. But then I go into my boss and tell them what happened. You just have to — in my mind, in a respectful way — command respect. So I always tell people mutual respect is one of my key core values.”
Another one of her tips is that it’s always important to build your brand and your network.
“When I talk about network,” she says, “that has to be both internally and externally, because you never ever know whose path you’re going to cross — never burn bridges.”