Parent Stories

Jillian Kaplan

Mother to:
Michelle (4)
Current roles:
Head of Global Telecom Thought Leadership at Dell Technologies | Previously at: Verizon
Jillian's story

Embracing authenticity, empowering women and owning the whole self

Jillian Kaplan is an author, speaker and thought leader in the telecom industry, where only 7% of executives are women.

When she realized how her parental leave experience could inspire others to show up as their whole selves in the workforce, Jillian leaned into her unique influence as a female leader in the tech world.

Jillian is Head of Global 5G and Telecom Thought Leadership at Dell Technologies, where she joined in 2018 after spending 14 years at Verizon. She learned the ropes of telecom at Verizon, working in product management, marketing operations and sales enablement roles.

Then it was time for a new title: Mom.

A new post-baby venture at Dell - which was voted one of America’s most-loved workplaces - allowed her to practice advocating for herself, setting boundaries and paving the way for others to follow suit.

Jillian knew she could be an agent for change and equality beyond her organization. She co-founded Women In Tech and The Art of the Subtle Brag, where she provides resources and workshops for women and companies, including Dell, Intel, VMware and Cisco.

This work has been a highlight of her career for many reasons – but according to Jillian, there’s one main reason she does it: If she can help women find their voice and share how amazing they are, they can set an example for others to do the same.

Leaning deep into her own advice and “badassery,” Jillian was recently promoted at Dell after advocating for herself and clearly defining what she wanted in her career – and continues to use her voice and experience to help others do the same.

<p class="content-highlight">Read her full Q&A to see what Jillian learned about switching companies as a new mom, the benefits of having an employer that supports parents, and how to master the art of the subtle brag.</p>

What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer term career success?

Honestly, I really didn’t know what to do or what not to do. I ensured I had coverage and I had trained people. I really figured that if women have babies and take leave all the time, companies should know how to handle it – but many do not.

What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?

I would say it was something I should have done my entire career. I should have been more clear about my value and my accomplishments and help my team understand what I did beyond my day to day.

What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?

When my child was less than a year old, I started a brand new job (one I had never done) at a brand new company for the first time in my career. I had been at my previous company for 14 years, so it was a huge change for me.I have been very successful since starting at this new company – but it’s not just success, it’s happiness. I never disliked my previous jobs, but working for Dell has allowed me to be my authentic self and when you can be yourself at work, you see so much more success.

If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?

Working from home. I do not have a commute, so if my child is home sick, I don’t have to take the whole day off if I have pressing things at work.

What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?

I block my calendar everyday from 5pm to 8pm. I do not want any standing meetings during this time, it’s my own time. Sure, if there is something emergent I can take care of it but standing meetings - nope.

What is your best advice for other working parents who want to excel at work without deprioritizing their family life?

Set boundaries that work for you - non-negotiables that ensure that your family is not secondary. If the company you are working at is not a good fit for a working mom to excel in their career, find a new job.

How has parenthood changed the way you look at your career?

I focus on work-life happiness versus balance because it’s not 50-50 all the time. There are times when work requires a little more of me and times when motherhood does and that’s OK. I focus on what makes me happy.I also don’t hide my kid or my life. I am comfortable sharing what is {sometimes} the chaos. Being a mom is not something that women should have to hide. I can be a great mom and have a great career.

What’s one new skill you gained since becoming a parent that also helps you as a working professional?

I would say badass-ery. :) But in all seriousness, I have learned to be myself at work. I have a reputation for asking 1,001 questions and being a little bit of a nut. That nutiness is embraced and my creativity is fostered. Changing companies with an infant was the scariest thing I have done in my whole career but it’s been the absolute best thing for me.

You are a passionate advocate for working moms - especially in tech. Can you share more about your perspective and why this is so important to you?

Women (and men sometimes) struggle to share their accomplishments and we have to do a better job of sharing how awesome we are. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for people so sharing a simple formula to do this is so incredibly important.I spent my entire career doing a great job, getting great reviews and not seeing the growth I wanted. I figured out that I had to share what I wanted - my boss wasn’t a mind reader! and also share my accomplishments .It’s a domino effect: If I can help women find their voice and share how amazing they are, they can set an example for other women to do the same.

Although you did not take your parental leave at Dell, you started shortly after and often voice how well they treat working parents. Can you share a few highlights about your experience? What do they do well that other companies could learn from?

I have never been treated differently because I am a mom and a woman at Dell. I can’t say that’s the case for my whole career.I’m not sure what it is about the way they do things, I think it’s because they truly walk the walk. Unkindness (to anyone) simply isn’t tolerated here and the company as a whole truly lives that.Recently, I was on a call with my SVP (there were 40ish people on the call) and I asked a question. Before he answered, he told us he needed a minute because his son needed to tell him something. When an SVP does something like this, it shows other parents (moms) that things like this are accepted here.I think some companies aren’t working mom- friendly…period. It’s not OUR job to fix them; it’s our job to find somewhere that has flexibility and benefits.

You also recently got promoted - congrats! Can you share your story of how you got there and how being a parent contributed to your path to leadership at Dell?

The KEY is that it didn’t hold me back. Not once has anyone ever questioned my ability because I am a female and a mom. I work in high tech, more specifically telecom, which is a very male dominated industry (~7% of execs in telecom are female). So I’m grateful I have the opportunity to show what I can do based on pure skill.I can’t say enough great things about working here. I’ve never had a female boss in my entire career and it used to bother me. But I now work for men who have my back and support me. It has been a game changer and allowed me to pay it forward and help others. My leadership has high expectations of me but they support me in reaching those expectations.

You are the co-founder of Women In Tech/The Art of the Subtle Brag, and have released a few guides to help women excel in their careers. Can you share more about these initiatives and how they came about?

It all started with a random LinkedIn message. A woman (who I didn’t know) reached out to me about the Women in Tech work I was doing and wanted to learn more.It’s been a WILD ride - we’ve done workshops for Dell, Intel, VMware, Cisco and more. We are grateful for the stage we have been given to make an impact. We now do workshops and have published guides to help others. All of our guides are free and ungated, happy reading!”

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are Jillian's personal views and experience on her own career and are in no way the views of her employer.