EPISODE 333: Appgate Alliances Leader Tina Gravel on Overcoming Pandemic-Related Mental Health Challenges

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on February 15, 2021. It featured Tina Gravel, SVP Channels and Alliances at AppGate. She is a contributor to Leading Through the Pandemic.]

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TINA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I was asking, “How do I become the best leader I can be?” And as the pandemic was growing, I certainly couldn’t be the best leader I could be as I was limping along emotionally and physically. This pandemic gave me an opportunity to work on those things. We have to take the veil off of mental health, it’s time. Treatment for mental health should be just as acceptable as treatment for a physical thing. My journey into darkness and out did not affect at all my work product. Trust me on this, if you need to take a month or two to focus on your health whether it be physical or mental, you won’t even have a blip in your work.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Tina Gravel is the Senior VP at Appgate for their Partners and Alliances. Welcome Tina.

Tina Gravel: Thank you so much, Gina. I’m honored to be here, we’re going to have some fun on this broadcast, thanks for having me. For those of you watching this from a sunny climate or maybe in May, we’re doing this on a day where there is snow blanketing the US. Some places don’t have power, some places are closed down. I happen to have something like 30 inches of snow outside, I shoveled yesterday, woke up, looked outside and said, “Shut the door, I don’t think I’m going to shove again right now.” I’m going to make the best of this, I’m going to have a lot of fun and this is a highlight of my day.

Gina Stracuzzi: Before we get started with our conversation, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Tina Gravel: First of all, since this is a Women in Sales broadcast, I’m going to say that being in sales was the dream job of my life. Looking back on it, and I’m in one of the final chapters in terms of my career, I will tell you that it was the dream job. It didn’t start out to be in sales, I started out to be in a legal career, I thought I was going to be a lawyer but as it turned out, someone that knew me better than I knew myself suggested when I left law school that I should be a salesperson. It was a wonderful thing because it was something that I was very suited for.

When I started my career it was in commoditized selling, it was more of a B to C kind of thing and that really wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I ended up in tech sales real early in my career and that was the lucky break that I had. It was due to the equal opportunity commission, I worked for McDonnell Douglas and they had to hire women and minorities so I was very lucky to get in the door there and to be trained the way I was trained. Since then – that was in the 80s – I’ve had a tech selling career whether it be in management or not, at companies like Sybase that became part of SAP, a company called Net Gravity which became part of Google, a company called Continuum, all wonderful companies. Data Return which became part of Terramark which we sold to Verizon, the same management team I’m now a part of at Appgate, we announced we’re going public this week so it’s just been a phenomenal career for me. I would urge any young women that happen to be seeing this to consider selling and to consider tech selling. Don’t think that all of technology is about coding, learn to code because it’s good to have that background but please consider that selling and marketing related to tech is a great career.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about your journey through the pandemic and what it taught you. You and I have had some offline discussions about what you’ve learned over this last year and what you’ve learned about what you want out of life and out of your career. One of the things that came out of the journey over the last year was that you got involved with co-authoring a book, why don’t you tell us a little bit about that book and why you decided to write that?

Tina Gravel: I’ll do a shameless plug [laughs]. This book, Leading Through the Pandemic, I was approached by the publisher who was looking for executives that had an unusual story or something that had happened to them in the pandemic that would be unique, different or something that people would want to relate to. Of course, I got on the phone with her and I said, “Well, I’m not sure my story would be meaningful to anyone else but I’ve always wanted to write a book and I’d like to write this just to see if I can even write a chapter. I want to do this for me, not exactly sure that I want to do it for anyone else.” Here’s what happened to me, I got seriously depressed when I got off the road. I have been traveling for nearly 30 years straight, road warrior to the nth degree, I was 5 million miles on one airline, 2 million on another, Flying Colonel on Delta before. My dad took me on American Airlines, I had one of the original numbers for American Airlines before they started handing out the numbers and the letters, I had just numbers and people would see me and say, “You don’t look that old” and I’d be like, “I’m not.”

By the way, more of a vocation of mine is public speaking and writing and blogging about women in technology and helping them. I had things that were coming up that were very meaningful to me, key note speeches and things and they were getting canceled one after another. I knew I was going to not be traveling and at first it was fun, it was a novelty but over time I began to get seriously depressed and I had to look at that. I had to look at why sitting still was not fun, why did it stir up those emotions for me? That’s what I wrote about, so when I say two steps backward in order to take a step forward, I can talk to you about career moves that I’ve made that were lateral or even backward and I will, I’ll give you examples about that. But it’s also for me about sitting still, and in this stillness finding things about myself that helped me grow to be a better leader during this pandemic.

I embarked in a therapeutic situation, I got a therapist because I was depressed but what happened through meditation, through my faith because I believe in my faith, very faithful in terms of my religion, eating right, exercising, all of the things. If you’ve ever taken any kind of management courses that talk about the quadrants by which you have to take care of yourself to be a good and successful corporate athlete, they will stress things like spirituality, physicality, emotionality, all of these things and those quadrants for me were completely out of whack. I was out of balance, I was working all of the time and never resting.

If you look at a true athlete like a Tiger Woods – I just saw his documentary so it came to mind – he rests. Tom Brady, he’s all about all of the science about what he eats and how he sleeps, for whatever you might think of him, he’s a complete science experiment for aging, how to beat this thing and longevity and all of that. But he’s also looking at how to be the best he can be and for me it was, “How do I become the best leader I can be?” And I certainly couldn’t be the best leader I could be as I was limping along emotionally and physically. This pandemic gave me an opportunity to work on those things and that’s what I write about in my chapter.

Gina Stracuzzi: In writing all that, did you get the outcome that you had hoped for?

Tina Gravel: Yes. I will tell you that as it came time to deliver the chapter, I was terrified because I thought to myself, “What if I want to work in another company after that?” [Laughs] “What if Appgate gets sold or something happens and I’m not working with my friends any longer? What’s somebody going to think about this? ‘She went to therapy.'” It’s a wonderful question because I’ve had to think a lot about that and I actually explored it with a few trusted colleagues. Basically what I came to was that we have to take the veil off of this thing, it’s time. Mental health should be acceptable, treatment for mental health should be just as acceptable as treatment for a physical thing. If I went to my boss today and I said, “I’m having a bout of diabetes” or God forbid, cancer or something like that, he would say, “Go take care of yourself, don’t worry about it.” I know he would, why should I have to worry about saying to him, “I’m having a bout with depression”? I know that the man that I work for right now would be very caring and very supportive, but not every leader is like that, and we have to fight that and we have to fix that.

I have been surrounded this year by more death, more suicides than I care to report whether it be COVID, whether it be other things, we’re all facing this. Unfortunately, after the publication of this book and people beginning to read my chapter, I’ve gotten a lot of folks coming to me – men and women – saying, “Thank you for writing that. By the way, I suffered the same way, I actually suffered from not traveling, I suffered from having to stay in the house, the quarantine killed me.” That’s the kind of feedback that I got, “The loneliness is crushing me.” Single people, in fact, “I can’t date, I’m all alone here, it’s killing me. I’ve reached out, I’ve gotten therapy, it’s helped me.” The proceeds of this book, by the way, are going to NAMI, the National Alliance in Mental Illness and I’m very grateful that the other 24 authors agreed to that charity because it’s near and dear to my heart. That is one way that we can help others that might be suffering but maybe can’t afford to seek the kind of care that I was able to seek. I built a team, essentially, to surround myself and get through this and I know a lot of people are thinking, “”How did she work with all of that?” [Laughs] I can tell you that this started in earnest.

I was suffering March into April, I picked up the phone into April, started talking to a therapist, added the nutritionist, added a few things in April, May, June I started working out, I went to a gym but I never picked up cardio in a gym, it was too dangerous, I bought cardio equipment for the house. I would say that by August, the numbers were blowing out. The numbers in this company, in my department were off the charts and we at the end of the year had one of the most successful years that this company has ever had in channels. We reinvented ourselves, we had a different name, you could have people say, “You’re not the same company you were, so how can you say that?” but I have records, I have the same partners that we inherited, I have a way of being able to prove that. My journey into darkness and out did not affect at all my work product. If in fact you need to take a month or two to focus on your health whether it be physical or mental, you won’t even have a blip in your work, trust me on this.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a good segue into a question that we have. Sherri asks, “I’m new to my company, just started right before the pandemic. I’m a little uncomfortable showing such vulnerability when they don’t really know me but I’m feeling kind of down.” Do you have any advice for Sherri?

Tina Gravel: Yes. Sherri, I probably wouldn’t show it at work yet either until I got to know some of my colleagues and they started to show themselves to me too. That’s a hard situation that you’re in and my heart goes out to you. What I might do is I would load up when I get home from my day – not saying “get home” because you’re probably working at home too – I would make sure that I kept my hours reasonable. Keep yourself to a disciplined amount of work time whether it be 8 to 5, 8 to 6, whatever it is, and then give yourself the grace to take care of yourself the rest of the time. Talk to friends, laugh a lot, if you want a glass of wine, have a glass of wine if that’s your thing but laugh and enjoy your life after work. Get a therapist if that will help you if you’re down, but if you’re new there and they don’t know you and you don’t know them, you might not lay that on them just yet because they don’t know you.

I will tell you that my team, because they worked for me and I needed to be a leader still, I did not divulge all of my problems to them. I would share things because I wanted to be transparent and I wanted them to feel that they could share with me so I didn’t keep everything a secret but many of them did not know about the therapist. I do want you to know that I had to keep some things to myself as well, it’s a balancing act in terms of what you can share and what you can’t and still keep your ability to be the kind of leader and the kind of employee you need to be, but have grace with yourself when you get home from work and take good care of yourself. I called it extreme self-care, that started June 1st and I’m still on that path. If somebody calls me at 6 p.m. sometimes I’ll say ESC in a text and they know exactly what I’m doing. I’m either on one of my support group meetings or I’m with my therapist or I’m having a Zoom party, whatever it might be but I’m definitely out of whack. So Sherri, my heart goes out to you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Michelle says, “Amen. Really happy to see you taking care of yourself, we all need to look at our self-care practices.” Very true, Michelle, and thank you too, Sherri, for sharing with us. What do you think is the most important aspect of last year for women?

Tina Gravel: In preparation for this meeting I knew things had gotten bleak for women in the last year because we, as women, if we have children… I’m in a very fortunate situation, you could say, for the pandemic in that I have a 14 year old step-daughter. Her father and I are not married, she’s around a bit but her mother is the same, she takes on the lion’s share of everything and I do what I can. I offer to do a lot more but I don’t have a lot of responsibility and I don’t know what it’s like for some of these women. I did some research and The Washington Post has written some extraordinary articles about this lately, but some things really upset me. I’m going to share with you a few of the data points. In January we added 49,000 jobs to the economy, however, we lost 275,000 jobs for women. A third of women under the age of 40 are still unemployed, many of these women have chosen to stay unemployed because they have no choice, they still have no child care. The child care places have still not reopened, the schools are still not opened, they can’t open, it’s dangerous so these women don’t have a solution.

I also read – and this was extremely distressing to me – there’s always two sides of a story so bear that in mind as I say this, but there was a woman in San Diego who had to take a lawsuit out against her firm because they were complaining that on the Zoom call her toddler was making some noise. Once again, I don’t know the whole story, she may not have been a great employee, I don’t know but I will tell you, if a lawyer took the case, there might have been something there. This all goes to show you that COVID 19 – and I say this about cybersecurity every day because I talk about that a lot – added fuel to the fire. We are back to where we were in the 1980s when I came up and the only reason that I got in tech is because of EEOC. You’ll find that at my level or higher than me, there are women that have risen to the top. Ginni Rometty, Gavriella Schuster at Microsoft, there are women that are at a high level that came in around the same time that are at my age, and they got in at that time. Then you see this big jump to much younger women and you wonder why. That’s because we were doing really well when it was required and then it stopped.

I think this whole thing that happened at our capital really affected me. It’s interesting, the day that it happened I was heads-down, didn’t even know what was going on, I got on the phone with one of my colleagues and he had a look on his face like someone had died and I said, “Are you okay?” He told me what was going on and of course, I saw it after it was over and it was terrible, I saw the man with the horns and the fur bikini and I said, “Well, this is ridiculous”‘ but something clicked in me. What I want to say is that we women in tech have to have a warrior mentality a bit because we’re quite fragmented, and I don’t mean that there’s lots of groups. You have the Women in Sales, the Women in Alliances, the Women in Channel, I’m in all these groups and I participate and I love them, that’s not it.

It’s about helping each other, it’s about seeing the commonality and not the differences and I want you to know that in my 20s, 30s, even early 40s I was jealous, I was a gossip, I did things that I’m a little bit ashamed of now. You can’t really look back but the fact is that I wasn’t the best woman to other women. I want to say that to get everybody to think about the fact that we don’t have to be like that, let’s help each other because the more that we gather together and we work on this, the better we’ll be. It’s got to stop, we’ve got to have legislation that will help these 275,000 women that have no choice, we’ve got to do something and it’s not the choice for men. If I hear one more time about birds of a feather, “Well, we didn’t hire a woman because there weren’t any to choose from”, I’m going to go out of my mind. I’m sorry, I went off a little bit on my warrior speech.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s fine because it’s a good distinction to make. Yes, we have to be a bit of a warrior, we do not need to become like men which I know that you’re not advocating at all because when we do that as women, we give up our real superpower strength. I know you enough to know that that’s not at all what you’re advocating but I really want to stress too that it’s very easy early on in your careers to experience a lot of what you just said. I was the same way because at the time, there were very few slots for women so it was easy to be jealous and like, “No, that’s mine, you can’t.” The whole culture pit women against each other because you were either with them or you were with the “other women” and instead of trying to find safety in numbers – I guess we chose safety in numbers and went with the men. Happily, there are a lot more women in the workplace but there are still those women who feel threatened so it’s worth talking about, worth mentioning because I think it adds to the demise of our mental health when we do that because we know it’s not the right thing to do and it goes against the nurture in us. We’re fighting our own natural self when we do that, so if you’re one of those people, I would say try not to do it anymore and think about the greater good.

Tina Gravel: Think about the cause, that’s what I’m getting at. As women warriors, think about the cause. It’s not about the individual.

Gina Stracuzzi: Now we’re going to shift just a little bit because we have some questions coming in. Daniella asks, “How have you shifted your networking in this time?”

Tina Gravel: Well, I haven’t really shifted it – I guess I have because I haven’t really gone anywhere to do any networking in person but I do find that I’m speaking to strangers on LinkedIn and on Twitter more than I may have in the past. There are folks that make comments on Twitter and LinkedIn, and Facebook and Instagram too but those are more social for me. LinkedIn and Twitter is where I do business and I find myself reaching out more on those vehicles of social media than I have in the past. Yes, the networking is done there.

The Alliance of Channel Women just had a cocktail party the other night and I thought that was awesome, they actually had a virtual cocktail party where they taught drinks and then everyone could chat. The only thing that I will say is that the bigger the group, the harder it is so if you want to do something like that, my suggestion would be to invite people that you admire that you would like to get to know that you don’t know yet that you’re curious about. Have a little Zoom cocktail party of your own.

Gina Stracuzzi: Or coffee.

Tina Gravel: That’s right, it doesn’t have to be a drink and by the way, I don’t drink a lot so I was simply there with my club soda or whatever I was having, I might have been having a Zevia drink. The fact is that it was just fun to see the girls and to laugh a little bit and I do a lot of those Zoom get-togethers with friends, it’s becoming more and more practical for me and I’m used to it now. But you can’t do too many because it gets a little frustrating because you can’t get your word in edgewise.

Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly [laughs]. We have some more questions here. Tom asks, “As a male leader, how can I be more conscious of these challenges that women are facing?”

Tina Gravel: Tom, first of all, you are 99.9% ahead of the game by just caring enough to ask, so thank you for that. I would say just sitting down when you’re on a one-on-one with your female staff members and asking them if they are challenged at all with child care right now, if they need a flexible schedule. I have a great boss and he asks me how I’m doing and I feel safe enough to tell him, I think you have to build that trust with your team and you sound like a great person, so I’m sure you have this trust with them but they may not feel that they can say certain things to you yet, so you may have to ask some open-ended questions. Use me, say, “I was on a webinar today and I heard this, what do you think?” Try that.

Gina Stracuzzi: We have another question from Etha who asks, “How can I move from the manufacturing segment into tech and what important tech skills do I need? How can I make this change in the middle of the pandemic?”

Tina Gravel: One of the best ways that I have seen folks in your area do this is by becoming an expert in tech regarding manufacturing. What happens is places like SAP, for instance, that sell vertical solutions for manufacturers always need folks that understand manufacturing to help provide things like expertise and be the one to add credibility around a solution. That doesn’t mean that you can just walk in and get a job, you may have to get a little bit of a background on manufacturing systems within your own company. I wonder if there might be a way for you to get trained if you’re not trained yet in your own systems within the company that you’re at around what they’re using, whether it be CAD CAM or SAP. Whatever it is within your own company, if you can volunteer to be part of the user group there or do admin testing, something like that. I have seen a lot of folks come out of jobs in the sector and then go into tech by being the expert from the vertical, so that might be a way and that’s just a quick answer. I don’t know your situation at all or what you’re doing in manufacturing so it’s really hard for me to know for sure what to tell you. You can email me on LinkedIn and tell me a little more about yourself and I’ll be happy to think about it some more for you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Tina. She’s actually in our Women in Sales group on LinkedIn so I believe that she’s in some selling piece of this, it’s very kind of you to let her reach out. I know that Appgate is one of the companies that she admires, so I’m sure she’ll really appreciate that advice.

Tina Gravel: People have helped me along the way so I pay it forward.

Gina Stracuzzi: I appreciate that very much. We’re running up against our finish time, is there one piece of really solid advice or actionable item that you would suggest people put into play starting today that could help them? Selling is such a mental game and if you’re like us, I shared with you that this second half of the pandemic has just been brutal on me. I have to really fight to stay cheery and all that because it’s just cold and miserable and I miss people. What advice would you give to salespeople to help them stay on top of their game?

Tina Gravel: First of all, normally the thing that’s the hardest thing to do is what gets us off track and it’s procrastination, it’s the bugaboo word. I investigated something called the Pomodoro Technique which puts things in 20 minute increments to help me become less of a procrastinator. Overall, you could use something called TimeBlocks which are very effective. My team uses them, I put TimeBlocks on my calendar,  they are absolutely for myself to do things like email at a specific time, you could use these for prospecting for doing things that you really don’t want to do, things that are uncomfortable to do. You could also put them for things that are fun to do, maybe you put a half hour during the day to reach out to a friend that you know will cheer you so that you can get through the day, somebody that is suffering that maybe needs you. By talking to someone else who is suffering, you will feel enormously better and they will make you laugh and you will make them laugh. Put a time block on your calendar for whatever it is that you want to do to change your life, it will make things so much easier and then stick to it. I will tell you, my time blocks are pretty sacred to me. They do get changed occasionally, but for the most part I do them and I recommend them to friends and everyone. If you’re interested in the Pomodoro Technique, that can be helpful as well for procrastination but prospecting is the hardest thing. I have to do it too, I’m doing a little bit of recruiting right now to find the best people, I have to seek them out because the recruiters aren’t finding them, so I have to do it myself.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’d like to leave you with a comment that someone else put in the box here, Livia, she talks about the importance of having a mentor. In these crucial times, it’s even more important to have a champion and I can tell that you’re a champion for the people on your team, we’re not all as fortunate to have a Tina in our corner but if you’ve got somebody that you feel would be empathetic to your cause, maybe align with them.

Tina Gravel: Not just a mentor but someone who will sponsor you to get ahead. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it could be a man in your company. There are a lot of good men out there, I’m fortunate enough to work with many of them.

Gina Stracuzzi: Tina, this has been so wonderful and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate both you coming here but also just being honest about your journey and how difficult it is. The more we can share these stories, the more it makes it okay to not be okay, as you say because we’re all suffering one way or the other. Some a little more than others and maybe you have one bad day a week, that’s enough to make it hard to do your job so thank you very much for your openness. I hope people will go out and buy her book, as she mentioned, the proceeds go to charity and a good one on mental health at that. Thank you very much and I hope you’ll come back again.

Tina Gravel: I would love to, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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