Pioneering advocacy and opportunity in tech and beyond: Tia Wiggins’ inspiring STEM journey
The desire to build — both in the community and in the business world — is a key part of what has driven Tia Wiggins’ (pictured) path to success.
As the head of the North America partner sales strategic services and deal acceleration team at Amazon Web Services Inc., Wiggins is a firm believer in being an advocate for others and helping to create opportunities for those who may experience unconscious bias in the workplace. She feels that leaders need to encourage alliances among co-workers and cultivate a supportive atmosphere to remove unconscious bias, which can be a barrier to achievement.
As a philanthropist, Wiggins extends this same vision. She contributes to her alma mater, the University of North Carolina Greensboro, with the assertion that scholarships should provide encouragement and lighten the financial burden so that recipients can be more engaged in their college experience. She believes her scholarship recipients should demonstrate the leadership attributes of giving from the heart and striving to create opportunities for others in need.
This feature is part of SiliconANGLE Media’s ongoing series highlighting “women of the cloud” within the Amazon Web Services Inc. partner ecosystem.
Growing up in a STEM family
Wiggins grew up in a STEM family. Her two sisters became doctors, and Wiggins started out wanting to be a pharmacist.
“I went through local hospital programs that taught me about medicine and math, and school taught me about physics,” she said in an interview with theCUBE earlier this year.
The funded programs allowed Wiggins to explore and be exposed to options she might not have otherwise experienced.
“I’ve always had a knack to figure out how do I, in my own capacity — not being a billionaire or a trust-fund child — create resourcing to help others come along on this pathway, leveraging and bridging STEM and community together,” she said.
With her interests shifting to business, Wiggins earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration and economics from UNCG, where she was actively involved. She was president of the Black Business Students Association, president of the Bryan School of Business: Student Advisory Council, and became an advanced certified mathematics tutor. Wiggins went on to receive an MBA in finance and international management from D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University.
Many of her career positions have been human resources focused, with an emphasis on building up business. At Northrop Grumman Corp., she was part of a team responsible for pursuing contracts that involved national security. She played a key role in acquiring the right talent from around the world and aligning it with strategic programs that would move the business forward.
At Amazon, Wiggins’ team works with the company’s partners — of which there are more than 100,000 — to identify the best opportunities and route-to-market that will accelerate their customer acquisition. The biggest challenge associated with this process is complexity and different partner types, according to Wiggins. There is no one-size-fits all solution when preparing to help partners succeed.
“We deal with system integrators, independent software vendors and resellers, and everyone has their own additional needs and makeup in terms of resourcing,” Wiggins said. “On top of that, we work with partners to make sure they’re actually ready and equipped to receive opportunities from us, then help them build a sales plan to go after those opportunities. We could just throw something over the line, but we have to work with them as one team and say, how do we help you [connect with customers]?”
Wiggins holds a similar view of the workplace and working together as a team. Unconscious biases are common in senior-level career advancement and are a problem tech leaders constantly must combat, she explained. While many people are brought up with the “let your work speak for yourself” philosophy, what matters more in today’s culture is who knows you, she added.
“I believe as leaders, including myself, my commitment is how do I advocate for others? How do I create opportunities? How do I address it?” Wiggins said. “I’m very blessed to have a leader who also sees what’s possible in me and creates those opportunities and removes those roadblocks and those barriers.”
Advice for career advancement
For those who may want to advance their careers in STEM, Wiggins has three suggestions to consider. Entry-level individuals should focus on finding programs for training, exposure and assistance with finding the right career path. AWS offers internships, for example, and programs to help with cloud certification and other areas.
“There are also diverse programs [to take advantage of] like the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and Society of Hispanic Engineers,” she said. “There are so many programs that can help with training.”
For mid-level professionals, and those who have worked their way into an industry, Wiggins suggests writing a vision.
“My superpower is transformation and vision, and every year I start off with a love letter to myself, which includes something related to my career, a bold move,” she said. “As I get crisp on saying something dangerous that I want to do, I share it with my sponsors and my network, what I call my tribe, and those individuals help me gain the experiences to get there. It might not be exact, and I might not hit that move that year, but when I look back, [it’s clear that] I actually took some of the steps needed and essential for me to thrive when I got there.”
Wiggins’ third suggestion is to get feedback. “It sounds easy, but feedback is communication, and how you perceive yourself is not always how others perceive you,” she said, adding, “I do believe in having pride and a certain level of ego to thrive, but there are nuggets in [honest feedback] that can help you accelerate your journey.”
Wiggins herself takes the time to go on “listening circles,” where she asks about her blind spots.
“Something I love about the AWS culture is that we have this principle of being vocally self-critical, which creates a level of transparency and honesty and [allows] others to be honest about something we might not see, might have failed, or where we might need to improve.”
There is another reality to be aware of, and that is knowing when to walk away because a door closes or opportunities shrink, according to Wiggins.
“Believe in yourself, that you’re worth it to go find another [company] that’s better aligned and where people actually celebrate you,” she said. “It’s a bold belief that you have to know about yourself, that you’re worth it and there is another company that you can thrive at and you’re going to be OK.”
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