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How to Get More Women in IT

How to Get More Women in IT

We want to be able to promote gender equality within IT just as the world has done so within other industries. Numbers suggest that fewer women entering into science, technology, engineering or math fields that might lead to a leadership role in technology. So it remains important that we identify the state of women in IT and business, what’s causing the disparity between men and women and how we get to an ultimately level playing field. How are organizations prioritizing the recruitment and education of women in the technology field? How are existing leaders making the case that a role in IT can help women to achieve their wants, needs and dreams?

Contributors

    • Fawn Germer, Global Leadership Speaker, Author and Women’s Leadership Expert, Bestselling Oprah
    • Janet Sherlock, Chief Information Officer, Carter’s, Inc.

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Summary

Gender inequality has been a pervasive issue across the business space, but most notably in IT, with low rates of women entering into or studying STEM fields and even fewer moving up to leadership roles in the technology space. The problem derives from women in IT not being properly retained or not finding the motivation to ascend within the organization. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26 percent of women hold all technology jobs, a number that has not been increasing. The pool of quality female candidates for these leadership roles is simply too small.

Debate then needs to lie in why women are not finding roles in technology desirable. Working conditions, low salary, long hours, a lack of opportunity and most importantly an inability to maintain a strong work/life balance are all contributing factors, not just to women, but to men as well. This also doesn’t exclusively apply to IT. It comes from 24/7 connectivity, the ability to check your smartphone from anywhere and at anytime creating an obligation to always working.

Women in particular can find opportunities to connect, share and create meaningful experiences as a way of finding the value in an IT lifestyle. Those who leverage women’s leadership events can learn to collaborate ways in which their organizations can truly make a difference.

What’s missing however is firstly involvement from upper management CEOs to make promoting women in technology a priority, and secondly from a dearth of female role models in such career positions. Doing so can shatter the clichéd notion that young girls simply aren’t interested in such areas as the STEM fields. At the end of the day, attracting more women into IT is not about the statistics, but about providing an environment where women are inspired and motivated to ascend into leadership roles. The question rests on how to show a CIO role is worthwhile, and current CIOs can prioritize confidence building in their teams.

Transcript

Sanjog Aul: Hello and welcome to CIO Talk Radio. To learn more about the show please visit www.ciotalkradio.com and as always, we invite you to join the discussion on Twitter #CTRLive, and look for the show as #Leadership. Today’s topic is “How to Get More Women in IT” and our guests for today’s show are Fawn Germer, who is a Global Leadership speaker and the best selling Oprah author and woman’s leadership expert, and Janet Sherlock, who is the CIO for Carter’s Inc.

There is always a lot of conversation about gender inequality, and we especially see it in IT and technology related fields. But for the purpose for this show, we really wanted to ask how organizations are prioritizing bringing women on board at different positions. Is it really as easy as just putting together a team of people where there’s a mix of both genders or this is more about bringing the feminine touch to the organization? So what do you think is the very basis of why anyone would want to talk about gender equality? What’s happening on the other side when you talk about business and IT as disciplines?

Fawn Germer: I think that there’s a lot of education that still needs to go on, and God bless you, it’s not a feminine touch. That’s kind of where some of the old stuff gets caught up. Women are viable leaders in every possible realm of the business world, but the IT realm hasn’t moved forward enough, and it has been a place where women have fled. They were successful in attracting, but they couldn’t retain them, and part of it is this whole education. It’s how we get people to welcome women and recruit women and advance them and make them feel like they have a place there, because women are great contributors. We’ve seen so many studies showing that what happens to teams when women are on them in terms of output and creativity.

The one advantage Americans have is innovation, and women are great innovators, particularly if they are involved in diverse groups. So it’s not a feminine touch; it is the woman’s perspective that is powerful and desperately needed in order to keep us as viable players in a global market place.

“Women are viable leaders in every possible realm of the business world, but the IT realm hasn’t moved forward enough, and it has been a place where women have fled. They were successful in attracting, but they couldn’t retain them.”

Sanjog: There isn’t a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of women in IT. So what is it that is preventing women from passing through the funnel to get educated in science and math or from following the professional path to leadership? Why does this perceived gap still exist?

Janet Sherlock: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26% of all technology jobs are held by women, and that number unfortunately had not been increasing at any rate whatsoever. When I’m recruiting for roles within my organizations, frankly I don’t see a large pool of women candidates, and the pool gets smaller and smaller for the higher level roles and executive roles. And I hear the same feedback from my CIO colleagues, whether that’s locally here, horizontally in the Atlanta area or vertically nationally with my retail industry CIO colleagues. Frankly the pool isn’t all that large. However I remain pretty optimistic that there’s going to be continued change and there will be some positive impact on the statistics.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26% of all technology jobs are held by women, and that number unfortunately had not been increasing at any rate whatsoever.”

First and foremost, there has been recent heightened awareness of that topic very recently. It is in having conversations like the one we are having today. It is in the media, books like Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ and dynamic public speakers like Fawn who are providing a forum for dialogue on this particular topic. So I think that the emphasis itself is going to have a positive impact on things, but in addition, I think that the technology field itself is in a state of metamorphosis. Those traditional IT rules, like security, networking and development, may not be increasing in percentages for women, but frankly they are not increasing in percentages overall. Because of the fact of Cloud computing, the consumerization of IT and several other factors, the metamorphosis of IT is going to include areas that may be inherently more attractive for both genders, particularly for women in things like social media, analytics, business analysis and IT project management to name a few.

Sanjog: When we talk about something being an attractive profession, isn’t the decision to join a given profession their own choice? Why are we trying to push a community’s agenda when the individual’s agenda simply might not be aligned with it?

Fawn: It’s not just a question of why they aren’t joining; it’s a bigger question of why they have left. Those Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to start, because from that same study in 1990, women held 40 percent of the computing jobs. But they weren’t being advanced, they weren’t being attracted, and they weren’t enjoying their work. And they found that two years after a female computer science major got into the field, she left it. So the biggest issue is what to do to make it something that women want to participate in, what makes it desirable, and that’s where the
real debate needs to be.

“The biggest issue is what to do to make it something that women want to participate in, what makes it desirable, and that’s where the real debate needs to be.”

Sanjog: Where is the disconnect where people feel they are not taken care of or don’t like what they’re doing?

Fawn: Working conditions, low salary, long hours, they sense the lack of opportunity, the work/life balance issue is a huge issue. I love the ‘Lean In’ concept, but I’m just as much an advocate of leaning out, because that’s where you get your whole life picture. If I speak in China and there are women coming up to me afterwards, the first they ask me is about work/life balance: how do you balance everything? So this is not something that’s unique to us, but it’s something that is so real and primal, and it has to be considered. When I was an investigative reporter and they’d say to go ask how she does all that and raises a family. I was so offended because you would never ask man that, but then when I got in the real world and I saw what was keeping women from exhilarating and truly embracing, it was the pull; the life balance pull. The other thing is they had a study that showed that almost a fourth of women in the industry said that they got bored with their daily work. So it’s constantly changing. We have to find ways to show that there is so much opportunity and excitement. It’s the adrenaline industry of the future!

“I’m just as much an advocate of leaning out, because that’s where you get your whole life picture.”

Sanjog: Janet, you’ve likely gone from being at the low level in the hierarchy to raise all the way up to a CIO, and I’m sure you would have seen some of these same things happening to you. So what from your own individual perspective caused you to stick to your guns and continue even when things got challenging? To what degree would a business want to take care of an individual’s preferences?

Janet: Well frankly, I think that someone who would say that they are not being challenged by their job, everyone is responsible for finding their own challenges. Now I know some lower level jobs aren’t necessarily always very challenging, but displaying self-motivation is a key to ascension into an organization. But to go back to Fawn’s point and the points we were making, I think that our biggest issue is the funnel. It is that ascension into leadership and executive roles. There are a fair amount of women actually placed in entry level roles, but still, the funnel gets smaller and smaller and smaller. So you get to the point of women CIOs where the statistics depending on the study and the industry, and however you look at it, is anywhere from 7 to 30%. In my particular space, 14% of women are retail CIOs. And I completely agree with what Fawn said in that it really is that women, not just in IT, but particularly in IT, aren’t finding the need to compete to ascend into executive roles worth it. I think when they look at the challenges of work/life balance and they see what it’s going to take, they often opt to stay at their lower or mid-level jobs, opt to stay home or take completely different career paths.

“I think when they look at the challenges of work/life balance and they see what it’s going to take, they often opt to stay at their lower or mid-level jobs, opt to stay home or take completely different career paths.”

And women and technology have the highest quit or fallout rate than any other women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Particularly for technology, the CIO role, the average tenure was only about two years a few years ago. I think that may be a little bit longer now. IT is a very 24/7 job, and the expectations are very, very high in the IT field. There are literally millions of things that have to go right every day, including lines of code, packets of data, and anything that can go wrong could result in a crisis. I think many women find this pace grueling and its level of expectations potentially intimidating. But the point is that it can be very gratifying. If you’re the kind of person that’s driven by seeing transformation in your organization through the technology you’re delivering, it’s a great, great career path to choose.

Fawn: And I don’t think that it’s that people are high maintenance or if they find something unchallenging or boring, because companies in every industry are bending over backward trying to find ways to keep the younger employees stimulated and involved. Because they have so much to contribute and they’re so valuable but they need a lot of stimulation. So that’s not high maintenance it’s like there’s just this workforce that you’ve got to figure out how to stimulate and bring into the fold.

Sanjog: How can we change the environment for both men and women so that people have a better work/life balance overall? Do we suddenly expect fewer hours spent or more people for the same jobs to lessen the work load? What is being expected in terms of that change?

Fawn: Let’s remember that women are providers today, not just as single parents, but the number of women who are the primary breadwinners in the families. It’s just increasing dramatically every year. So we have to remember that they’re just choosing somewhere else to be a provider. How you get them in there and do it is by making them feel like they matter, like there is a path to success that will lead them through that obstacle course into positions like the one Janet has. Good companies are constantly finding ways to help women to network through the company and they’ve got women leadership events.

“It’s creating opportunities to connect, share your missions, and it makes the experience a lot more meaningful. And women care about that, they care about mattering, they care about meaning.”

And I think the best ones are events that include men, because women need opportunities to find their path and make the connections that they need to make. So women leadership is huge and successful, and it’s making a peer network that helps them to get through the points where they say, “I think I’m going to drop off here,” and if you’ve got others coaching you along, there’s more incentive to stay in it and you feel like you’re gaining ground. A lot of companies have figured this out; there’s an energy there that not only are they having events, but that women are talking, and since the work place is so scattered, it used to be that everybody sat in one office and you would see your colleagues. Now you find a way technologically to bring them together. So it’s creating opportunities to connect, share your missions, and it makes the experience a lot more meaningful. And women care about that, they care about mattering, they care about meaning.

Sanjog: Janet, what has been the trajectory on your journey? What are the challenges that you faced, and what did you do different to get here? How did you overcome the barriers that we’ve been discussing and make it through to the end of the funnel that so few have reached?

Janet: One of the things that I think other women and men should find optimistic about their potential career trajectory into a CIO role is I did not have a Computer Science degree. I had a degree in supply chain operations, which I have to say, has probably helped me within my journey in retail IT. So I think that the emphasis that you have to have a degree in Computer Science is helpful, especially in certain sectors of IT, but it’s not necessary.

“I think it’s really important that women have that North Star and understand exactly the path that they’re willing to take.”

I was also lucky enough fairly early in my career to find the spark when I realized exactly what I wanted to do. One of the things I’m struck by so often when I’m speaking with women is when I ask them, “What is your career goal,” they often don’t have an answer, which is in sharp juxtaposition to men who are often very clear and decisive; I want to be a CIO. And when you know what you want to do, and I knew that I wanted to be a retail IT executive leader several years ago, I was able to forge a career that made it so that I was attaining the skills and experience necessary to ascend into that role. So I think it’s really important that women have that North Star and understand exactly the path that they’re willing to take.

The other key element is that you’re marrying the right person and having the right partner and having that important dialogue where you discuss exactly how you’re planning on balancing your work and your home life. Who’s going to take care of the children, how are we going to do this? If a career requires a move, how are we going to handle this? My husband and I have been very fortunate and I’m married to a wonderful man who has been very supportive of my career, and I’m very supportive of his career. So we’ve been able to make it work because we have a great partnership and have had that honest dialogue and have very actively planned how we’re going to manage in that area.

Sanjog: Fawn, what do you think about the changes that you expect to happen in the social fabric that will directly or indirectly impact inclusion or the greater infusion of women in business and IT?

Fawn: That change has been ongoing, and I don’t know that there’s going to be anything more dramatic than what happened when we all became connected through social media, that that found a way to help people to find alliances to get together and meet, to share things that they never could share with anyone before, and I think that that was really great. Now in terms of what’s going to happen specifically in IT, I don’t know. I don’t know, because that is an industry where it’s spreading out more, and the people aren’t face to face with each other like they once were.

Sanjog: Going beyond IT, if we look more closely at anything that requires 24/7 connectivity, what are the root causes for why we’re in the state we are today such that maintaining a good work/life balance is difficult?

Fawn: Well, you’ve got this clash between what we want to do professionally. We want challenge, we want success, and then we want not only what we want to do personally, but what we feel obligated to do personally. I always tell the story about how when I was reporter I was doing the biggest series I’d ever done in my life. And in 10 months and I got nominated twice for the Pulitzer, and things piled up during that time and I just kept putting piles of mail into the guest bedroom, and one day everybody was coming, we’re meeting at my house before going out to dinner. And my husband opened that door to the guest bedroom and he says “Hey, look at this,” and he exposed the piles of mail that hadn’t been put away. It was a big pile, not quite a “Hoarders” story, but it was bad. And I felt like the biggest failure on earth, not because I’d failed, because I was succeeding wildly professionally, but because you’re expected to still be successful in your traditional roles while you succeed at everything else.

“We want success, and then we want not only what we want to do personally, but what we feel obligated to do personally.”

That’s the issue across the board as things become more demanding, how can you do the things you feel you have to do at home? And I just tell people, let some of it go: hire out. And if it’s not making you happy, don’t do it. People are starting to talk about that more because you’ve got the baby boomers starting to return, and you’ve got a generation of people that is now focused on work, but also fun. And they’re realizing that some times that they’re conflicted, and they don’t spend their time the way they should. They see their friends get unhealthy, and so there are a lot of other balance considerations that they are trying to honor.

So you talk about a 24 hour cycle: I stand in front of an audience and say ‘How many of you checked your email last night after work?’ And of course everybody raises their hands. And then I say, “How many of you checked it twice?” And everybody raises their hands. “How many have checked it three or more times?” And most people raise their hands. “How many of you checked it endlessly?” And there were a good number of people and as the demands grow, it’s up to us to set the boundaries that show what we’re willing to do and not do. And there’s no crime in saying some other things matter to me besides my job. It may conflict with my trajectory, but I’ve got to do the things that matter to me personally. And that’s what happening across the board, and I think people are learning what the values are.

“There’s no crime in saying some other things matter to me besides my job. It may conflict with my trajectory, but I’ve got to do the things that matter to me personally.”

Sanjog: Would you be able to share some of the challenges people are dealing with that are preventing them from getting up to the level of commitment they need in order to see the growth that they’re looking for?

Janet: Sure, the whole thing of balance is it cuts both ways. I completely agree with Fawn from the standpoint that the connectedness is making us readily accessible, whether you’re in IT or not. In IT, it’s probably a little worse for those of us in IT, but the connectedness is making us accessible and making us feel obligated to work literally 24/7. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I didn’t sleep with my smart phone right next to my ear; I do. But at the same time, that does give us the flexibility to be able to not be in the office and still stay connected and understand what’s going on. Now sometimes, obviously you need to go away, take your vacations and completely disconnect. But it does give you the flexibility to not being in the office at consistent hours and to be able to telecommute and do those types
of things.

“So I think that a lot of it is not necessarily about working harder. It’s about being able to portray yourself in a way and be able to put forth your successes and portray yourself so that there’s confidence that you will be able to deliver.”

But the technology has been a two way street from that standpoint. As far as the challenges and being able to prove that you can do it all, I think frankly companies have high expectations regardless of your gender. And I personally don’t feel that because I’m a woman I have anymore to prove. I think it’s just that you’ve got to find these boundaries, and you have to prioritize what is it that you do need to prove to your organization to prove that you are deserving of higher level roles and executive leadership roles. So I think that a lot of it is not necessarily about working harder. It’s about being able to portray yourself in a way and be able to put forth your successes and portray yourself so that there’s confidence that you will be able to deliver.

Sanjog: Why is there a disparity between women and men in the STEM fields?

Fawn: We were talking at the break how the funnel is emptier now than it has ever been. They estimate there are going 1.4 million openings in technology in United States in the next four years. But schools are only cranking out 52% of the needed graduates. Now what happened was that women did go in, but it just didn’t become something that seems very attractive. And so it is incumbent on the company and the industries to do the kind of recruiting they need to get people into these programs. And I see that kind of recruiting going on in different disciplines all the time, because one of the things I do every year, I have several events where they’re bringing in undecided majors trying to lure them. So tech needs to get on that and do that, because I haven’t done one of those for technology, but one way of doing it is to show it. And plus, there aren’t a lot of role models out there to look at. Yeah you’ve got your couple like Marissa Mayer, but we need to show that there is a path that is meaningful and that can be achieved, and we aren’t seeing that yet.

“Women did go in, but it just didn’t become something that seems very attractive. And so it is incumbent o the company and the industries to do the kind of recruiting they need to get people into these programs.”

Sanjog: Are only the not-for-profit, volunteer organizations the ones who will be taking the lead in ensuring that people in the STEM fields are joining the workforce and taking the lead?

Janet: I don’t think that it’s necessarily just in the not-for-profit area. There has been a large emphasis for promoting STEM education and STEM careers, not just for women, but for men as well. As Fawn had mentioned, there is a huge shortage of IT talent in the United States. The unemployment rate I believe is hovering around 8% in Georgia and is 2% for IT. So we do have an issue of having enough IT talent in general, but for women in particular, the staff that I’ve got is 60% of college degrees are earned by women, but only 20% of computer science degrees are attained by women. So there are definitely not enough women that are going through.

“I think we all completely agree that it’s preposterous the girls don’t have an inclination for math or science. It’s simply a matter of what’s presented and emphasized to young girls in our homes and in our schools.”

But I do have to say I am really happy that there is a concerted effort to encourage STEM education and STEM fields to young people even starting as early as in grade school. I know I’m participative in some of those functions here in the local Georgia area. And this effort to focus on careers still doesn’t just assist in filling the projected demand for future IT jobs, but it also helps to shatter the cliché for girls. I think we all completely agree that it’s preposterous the girls don’t have an inclination for math or science. It’s simply a matter of what’s presented and emphasized to young girls in our homes and in our schools.

Fawn: Doesn’t that amaze you that that hasn’t changed? Because we’ve known that for so long and I just haven’t seen that much movement on that.

Sanjog: That’s an interesting point, and it would seem to be an obvious one, but we aren’t seeing any follow through on these from the industries, from government or academia to work together towards solving this problem.

Fawn: Well I think you’re right on that, but it’s getting anything like that pulled off. Obviously it is needed because the things that made change happen in other industries have not worked in this industry. So it’s going to take something more dramatic to pull it off.

Janet: It is very societal. I agree, and I think it is about having those key role models out there and available to have girls aspire to want to ascend to those roles and to be something they want to be, not just one of the Kardashians or whatever the case may be. So the more women that are being portrayed in the media and being spoken about and having press around them is just a huge step in the right direction for that.

Sanjog: How would you go about making changes within your own organization in order to bring new people on board and groom them, at any level, such that they can be on the path toward leadership?

Janet: Within my own organization it’s interesting. My obligation to deliver technology for my company where it’s this company or previous companies I’ve worked for is to have the best talent to deliver it. So I don’t necessarily care about gender or race or status at all. However, it is so important that we continue to look at the statistics of who we have on our teams and make sure that we’re trying to. I make an effort when I am recruiting, especially for leadership roles, to talk to the recruiters about really pushing and really seeking diverse candidates, and obviously women for leadership roles.

So I definitely try to attract them. I’m out there, and I’m trying to portray a great environment to work in here at my company that would attract good candidates. And I’m trying to be one of those role models for women. I have to say I’m a reluctant one, but nonetheless I do feel an obligation as woman CIO to try to be one of those steps of role models for women out there. Recently I participated in a local event. About 20 different CIOs in the Georgia area, major companies, we got together and ironically, the topic was about how to be advocates for women in IT. Ironically enough, only two of us were women and the men all largely focused on this statistics and about having goals for statistics for having women enrolled within their organizations and in leadership roles.

“It’s not about the statistics; the important thing is to provide an environment where you are inspiring women to want to ascend in to leadership roles, make it known that it will be worth their while to ascend them to a leadership role.”

And I applaud having these statistics and measuring. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, but the thing that I had to emphasize to all these folks was its not about the statistics; the important thing is to provide an environment where you are inspiring women to want to ascend in to leadership roles, make it known that it will be worth their while to ascend them to a leadership role. Help build their confidence. We should have a whole other discussion about confidence building because I think that that’s another huge area of improvement for women. Instill confidence in them that they can do the job and that they can actually ascend into leadership roles, and provide an environment with flexible working conditions for both genders.

Sanjog: Do you think each organization could fundamentally look at this space as an opportunity to build a system, a process or a forum where people can start to take care of their home life as well as their work life? Could helping people become the professionals and the leaders they want to be done at an organizational level rather than at an individual, leadership level? Would organizations be willing to move in this direction, and would it be at all feasible?

Fawn: Part of it is something that could be institutionalized, but the truth of it is that as soon as you get women together talking and working together, things just start happening. I love women’s leadership events. I always enjoy the women’s events so much because there is an energy and a purpose. And what happens is that these women get together and instead of waiting for the company to take charge and say this is how we are going to move you along, they start creating leadership within the leadership committee that presents to the companies ways that they can attract and retain. It begins a dialogue between the women leaders and the women who may not necessarily see themselves as leaders showing that there is potential and that there is identity.

“There is no special DNA that makes somebody more qualified for a leadership position than you. If you are in a decent job, you’re smart enough to do a better job and the next level and the next level.”

I always say there is no special DNA that makes somebody more qualified for a leadership position than you. If you are in a decent job, you’re smart enough to do a better job and the next level and the next level. So when you get women together and say, how are we going to help each other to manifest more for one in all, things start to happen and it’s palpable. I’m thinking you need the CEO to come and say in January, this is what we are going to do, and then by April we will have accomplished it, because the groups within these companies seem to be doing just fine making that happen, but it’s just got to be sanctioned by the heads of the company and empowered by the companies, and I can always tell when things are going to happen and when they aren’t, because there’s some companies when the CEO comes to launch the women’s leadership event that starts at 8:30 in the morning, and he’s there until 8:40 in the morning.

And then there are other companies that the CEO shows up and he’s there all day. The ones that are there with them are the ones that truly want to change and make things different, and I just think there is a huge, historic opportunity for that, and that’s where I would be putting my energy. It’s giving it to the women in the companies and saying, “What do you think we need to do?”

Sanjog: Janet, you mentioned confidence being an issue. Where do you think confidence is lacking?

Janet: I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know, but I can tell you that I very often see women afraid to take on key leadership roles; I see them hesitant to take on leading major projects due to an inherent lack of confidence, and I don’t know why there seems to be an inherent trait for women, but it’s pervasive. Heck, I’m even plagued by this myself to some degree, and I’m a pretty self-confident woman. There’s pretty much no doubt in my mind that I am one of the best retail industry leaders out there today. But on a personal note, about a year ago, a really well respected industry colleague called me to tell me about this one particular CEO role that was open, and it was pretty well publicized in the media, and she said that she knew a couple of the board members and was going to recommend me for this CEO role. My first response was, I’m not qualified to be the CEO at such a large company.

“I very often see women afraid to take on key leadership roles; I see them hesitant to take on leading major projects due to an inherent lack of confidence, and I don’t know why there seems to be an inherent trait for women, but it’s pervasive. Heck, I’m even plagued by this myself to some degree.”

And it’s funny, I spent a week or two after that conversation thinking about that a little bit and I thought she was just crazy to recommend me for that role. And then I thought, if I were a man, the likelihood is that I would have been saying, “Oh thank you for the opportunity. Here is my CV. Can you present it and talk about it?” My first inclination was, I’m not qualified enough for it. I just think that that’s one of those things that just goes back to an inherent difference between men and women, and I think it really is something that we need to really focus on and just all
work harder at.

Fawn: Well, I do a lot of work on that, and study after study shows exactly what you say. If a woman is in an interview and is asked if she knows how to do something that she doesn’t know, she will either say no or she will say no, but I can learn, and the guy will go, “yeah” because he’s going to learn it and everything works out. So I don’t advocate lying, but I don’t advocate being meek and not going for things, because we all learn on the fly, and that is what makes us feel bad. The confidence is rooted in self-esteem, which goes all the way back. I started interviewing for my books these most accomplished women leaders and trailblazers, people that we love and revere. The third interview was with someone that’s not famous, but was highly accomplished. She studied Nature Sunshine Vitamins. She had $150 and an idea, no college degree, seven kids and she turned it into a company that this year will do over $400 million in business.

“I don’t advocate lying, but I don’t advocate being meek and not going for things, because we all learn on the fly, and that is what makes us feel bad. The confidence is rooted in self-esteem, which goes all the way back.”

I said, “Well what’s your leadership strategy?” She says, “Well, I get up in the morning and I go to the closet and I try to find something that fits me, because I’m overweight, and then I go out in the world and I try to do my best.” I said she has a self-esteem issue. You are on the cover of Bloomberg this month, and she says, “Can you imagine what it feels like to be fat and stand in front of a vitamin company?” And because she said that, I asked all those women about self-esteem, and I just found out how universal that was. Now I have really good self-esteem because I know how bad everybody else’s self esteem is. And what she said is that we have the power to take control over that, and that’s been my mission all along is to show people how to rewrite some of that narrative and give them this thing which then manifests itself in confidence to do things that they didn’t think they could do, because it’s amazing how much we can surprise ourselves.

Sanjog: Do you think there’s an opportunity for us to groom people from places beyond IT to other business domain knowledge? Would those people still have the DNA necessary into grooming more women into becoming leaders?

Janet: I think that that’s a huge opportunity Sanjog, not because women don’t necessarily have the inclination for those core, deep technical skills, but because of the fact that there aren’t as many women receiving STEM degrees. The opportunity is that, you can have a career like I’ve had, which was, I had a business background for the first eight to 10 years of my career, and then I transitioned into IT. I had an inclination for systems and started to take on IT projects, and I started to do some technology training and those types of things. So I think that there’s an opportunity for women who have an inclination for technology yet don’t have a specifically highly technical degree in technology.

“One of your primary jobs is to instill confidence in others, into your business partners, into the executive leaders, and into your board members that you’ve got it. That you’ve got everyone’s back, that you understand what’s important to that business and you’re going to help lead your team to delivering technology that’s going to make a difference in that business.”

So I think that is an opportunity for us all, and yes, you are absolutely correct that is one of the things that is so incredibly important about being a successful CIO, is that you are business focused. Interesting enough, it’s not just about self-confidence when you are a CIO. One of your primary jobs is to instill confidence in others, into your business partners, into the executive leaders, and into your board members that you’ve got it. That you’ve got everyone’s back, that you understand what’s important to that business and you’re going to help lead your team to delivering technology that’s going to make a difference in that business. If you can instill that confidence to those business constituencies into those partners, then you’re going to have a higher likelihood of success as a CIO.

Sanjog: Is there a sentiment that prevails in which a woman will want to have another woman as a mentor?

Fawn: I don’t see that happening like you’re saying. I see women enjoy talking to women about what they do and using them as role models, but not excluding men. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t realize that having male mentors and sponsors is as advantageous and in many cases more advantageous. So I just don’t see that. I think that all of my mentors for a very long time were male, and I learned a lot from them, and they had the influence to make a difference.

Sanjog: Where are some places where women can network with other female IT workers and expand their network?

Fawn: There’s the Women and Technology Forum, which is an absolute awesome group. But I always tell people that you network everyday, wherever you go, whatever you do, whether you’re in the sea kayaking group or if you’re in a technology group or if you go to your Weight Watchers meeting. You never know who in the room is going to change your life. So you just keep talking to people and that builds a very powerful network. And so I always tell people talk. Your network happens everywhere.

“You never know who in the room is going to change your life.”

And the other thing is that when you are at an event within a company, and I see this again and again, they have a Christmas party or whatever, and then you get the token appearance from the CFO, the CIO, the CEO all the sweet people, and they are all down there and they are talking to themselves and then they leave. Because nobody is going up to them, some of them make the effort to go up, but a lot of the people in the C-suite are more introverted, so you go up to them. Don’t miss an opportunity. Just network at every turn and then create relationships, not business connections. Meet people and find out something personal that makes you continue the relationship as a friendship, and then leverage that so that it has a business result.

Sanjog: What are some words that come to mind that will help women get better in the way they are leading their career path and can help them become leaders in business and IT?

Janet: I think establishing a career direction and a career goal is very important I think that having a home life plan with your partner as to how you are going to manage that balance is very important, and I also believe having confidence is as important. If you’re smart, service oriented, analytical and a problem solver, you’ve got the foundation to be an IT rock star, all you need is the confidence to perform like the rock star that you are.

Contributors

Fawn Germer

Fawn Germer, Global Leadership Speaker, Author and Women's Leadership Expert, Bestselling Oprah

Fawn Germer is the bestselling author and international leadership speaker who will reach inside of you and pull out your best self by showing you how to get beyond the self-limiting behaviors that hold so many of us back. She once had a bo... More   View all posts
Janet Sherlock

Janet Sherlock, Chief Information Officer, Carter's, Inc.

Janet Sherlock is SVP & CIO of Carters in Atlanta, GA. Carter’s is the market leader of baby and children’s apparel under the Carter’s and OshKosh B’Gosh brand names. Prior to joining Carter’s, Janet was a Research Director ... More   View all posts
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