In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting people who identify as women who have created meaningful change across the higher education landscape. See the first post in our series, which spotlights Nancy Zimpher, Ph.D., here.
As Vice President of Customer Success at TargetX, Maggie Frantz is responsible for the company’s global customer experience, including onboarding, delivery, customer success and technical support. This role, which Maggie has served in since 2019, is the latest in her impressive career in which she has advanced higher education technology while opening up opportunities for women to have “a seat at the [leadership] table.”
In a recent interview with Liaison’s Director of Marketing Laura Nicole Miller, Maggie shared how she’s working to promote gender parity on executive boards and the advice that she would give women who themselves have the ambition to serve in executive capacities.
Laura Nicole Miller (LNM): Thank you for your time, Maggie! I appreciate any opportunity to learn from women who are helping to break the “glass ceiling.”
On that note, women constitute a majority of the U.S. population, but are sorely underrepresented on corporate executive boards. How did you get to where you are today, not only an executive but an executive in the male-dominated technology industry?
Maggie Frantz (MF): Throughout my career I’ve actively sought promotions and opportunities to lead, even if it meant learning on the job. So often, women think they need to have mastered every aspect of a job before taking it. That’s nonsense. There were a few key moments in my career — my first job coding HTML pages and later when I was promoted to IT Director — where I didn’t have all the tech qualifications, but I knew I could learn and I trusted my abilities. I never questioned whether I belonged, I just owned it. After you do this once it builds your confidence and makes the next time even easier.
It’s also important to network and keep in touch with people who see your value and are willing to open doors for you. You can’t build a successful career in a vacuum.
LNM: On the note of networking, while 67% of women rate mentorship as highly important in career advancement, 63% report that they’ve never had a mentor. What role has mentorship played in your success?
MF: I’d love to say I’ve had a mentor, but I haven’t. I’ve looked around for female mentors but they’re hard to find. I hope that’s starting to change. I have, however, watched leaders throughout my career and emulated the qualities I liked. It’s a good way to develop your leadership style. If you like something about another person — their poise, their confidence, their skill with difficult conversations, whatever it is — you likely already have the seeds of it in yourself and you can build on them. And of course, you’ll learn how not to behave from certain leaders you don’t like — that’s important too.
LNM: What is the biggest challenge that you face as a female executive and how do you address it?
MF: Silencing the voice in my head telling me to sit back and be quiet. To only speak when I’m sure that what I’m saying is right and doesn’t offend anyone. Growing up as a girl I was strongly socialized to do this. But as a female executive it’s imperative that I take my seat at the table and speak up. It goes back to bringing value. So I focus on speaking my mind without apology and trusting myself to navigate a conversation, come what may. It’s tricky to be the only woman at a table with lots of outspoken men — I love the challenge of being equally strong and vocal in those situations, but it still doesn’t always come naturally.
LNM: When you’re facing that inclination to silence yourself, or any other professional challenges like it, who do you look to for guidance?
MF: I have a group of four amazing, supportive friends from my college days who are all accomplished professionals. They’re a fantastic sounding board when I’ve got a tough professional challenge. I’ve also worked with a business coach a few times when I’ve been at a career turning point, and that’s been fantastic to help give me clarity and direction. I also have a library of leadership books I turn to that occasionally spark an idea or help move my thinking on a tough situation.
LNM: I would love to have access to that list! You’re giving me ideas for future blog posts, Maggie.
To wrap this one up, what other advice would you give to me and to other women like me who also aspire to address this leadership gap?
MF: No matter what you’re doing now, be a leader at it. Use your skill and maturity to move the business forward. Whether you’re making operations run more smoothly or helping sell more software, people will notice. Even if you don’t have the bigger title yet, you’ll gain valuable experience that will help advance your career, whether at your current company or elsewhere.
“Lead from the bench,” as Abby Wambach says.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of perfectionism. So many women think if they make a mistake or admit they don’t know something they’re not worthy of being a leader. Leadership isn’t about being perfect, it’s about bringing value. And the best way you can bring value is to be authentic and real. You’ll make better decisions and connect with others much more than someone who puts on an act of being “leaderly” and bulletproof.