It was 1994 and I was working at a large textile company in the U.K. My role was personal administrative assistant for the vice president of manufacturing. Technology for our office consisted of WordPerfect for DOS on what I recall was a Novell 3.51 network! We had no email, no color options; it was black-and-white text, and smoking was allowed in the office.
During this time, I learned a personal and valuable lesson on how diversity and inclusion could be the keys to moving my career forward. The company was on the cusp of a technology phenomenon when Liz G., a female leader, offered me a great opportunity. However, I did not know at the time that this opportunity almost did not happen for me due to what I now realize was gender bias.
Liz was pivotal in identifying how my talents could be an asset for an upcoming major project. Another person, however, negatively weighed in on Liz’s assessment of my skills. Nevertheless, the opportunity was mine and I made the most of it. In fact, this person’s doubt gave me the fire in my belly that still burns today. Sometimes I wonder if this fire has pushed me too far over the edge in striving for perfection and my career goals. His bias became my fuel; but for many women, the opposite occurs. According to Gartner research, of the women who succeed in today’s computer programming workforce, approximately 41% leave their careers over time because of a non-inclusive work environment.
Liz’s faith in me inspires me as a technology leader at Aspen to see my staff outside of their qualifications, experience, gender or age, and to help shape their potential and positively influence their careers. I strive to identify their capabilities, drive and motivation and look at what talents they may have, which are not always apparent, and work with them to stretch those skills.
Her confidence in my capabilities became my stepping-stone in IT to deliver Lotus CC:Mail for DOS globally to around 15,000 employees over the course of two years. My role was to travel to Europe and South America and train our organization on how to use the email system. This project revolutionized communications at my former company, decreased the amount of time people used analogue telephones and increased production at our manufacturing facility.
The project at that company was a turning point in my career, the chance to move from Administration into Technology, an atypical career journey, especially for a female. IT as a function is second to last in representation of women across corporate functions, with women comprising only 31% of the IT workforce. Technology has given me a rewarding career, an opportunity to learn, grow, apply myself and engage with other senior executives. I now use my experience to help others ignite their own fires and, hopefully to keep passing the torch.