Seattle Culture

Trailblazing Women: Jamila Conley

Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition Team, F5

By Jamila Conley June 19, 2024

A black woman with short curly hair, smiling at the camera in a black and white photograph, wearing a white jacket over a dark top, with a blurred indoor background.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Women in tech face many obstacles and stereotypes that can hinder their career development and satisfaction. From the gender gap in STEM education and hiring, to the lack of mentorship and role models, to subtle and overt forms of discrimination and harassment, women in tech have to navigate a complex and often hostile environment.

Despite these challenges, many women in tech have persevered and progressed, demonstrating their skills, creativity, and leadership. Women in tech often face challenges in how to progress and advance in their careers, especially to leadership roles. I have learned some valuable and often hard lessons on my career journey.

Think horizontally. So many times, we get stuck in our silo and see the only path as up. When we do this, we limit both our potential and sometimes our sanity when that promotion isn’t coming. A mentor taught me the value of looking at my career as a learning journey. This concept forced me to think beyond my current role and function.

At the time I was a vice president in IT, and I thought I would probably need to leave the company. The traditional upward path was CIO, and that job wasn’t going to open anytime soon. That was six years ago. Since then, I have built our first M&A integration function, implemented our business transformation office, and now lead our Global Talent Acquisition team.

Follow your skills and passion. Thinking horizontally put me on a path of conversations with various leaders and functions, enabling me to learn and determine what excited me, what I was interested in learning more about, and what fit with my current skill set. All of this most importantly increased my internal network and social capital. I wasn’t looking for my next role — I was learning, and at the same time fostering relationships. When I was understanding the vision for M&A with our chief strategy officer, I realized this was an opportunity for me to both learn something new and apply much of my current skill set in a different way. Embracing my career in this way has had a massive impact on my growth and development as a leader that just taking the next promotion could never do.

Know when to pivot. Part of embracing horizontal thinking successfully is paying attention to when you are getting too comfortable and no longer learning. This is when it is time to pivot. You start your pivot by first focusing on what it is you want to learn, what interests you, following your skills and passion. For me, my passion for helping people grow their careers, advancing diversity and inclusion, and driving impact all drove me into my current role as a talent leader in human resources.

Many women still struggle to reach the C-suite despite their talent, sponsorship, or contributions. This reality sometimes leads us to pivot beyond a company or industry and into entrepreneurship. The beauty of horizontal thinking is that it allows us to take our various learnings and apply them in a way to break through false barriers and become leaders in spaces beyond our wildest dreams.

You are in the driver’s seat of your career. Use these tools to go far.

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