Why do they want you on this panel? I’ve never done anything related to diversity, gender or otherwise. That, ladies and gentlemen, was our response when I talked to my wife about being asked to serve on a panel at an upcoming Women & Hi Tech meeting. The panel’s focus was “Investing in Women, Investing in Yourself”. Great point, why did they want me on the panel? It really prompted me to look back on my career . . .
As of this writing, I have been in business for almost forty years. (OK, that number is disturbing!) I had never really thought about it before, but, I began to realize, for the first twenty years of my career, my bosses were all women. My first job was for a large bank in Chicago. I was on a team of twelve. Eleven women and me. It certainly led to some interesting conversations around the lunch table! Debbie, our manager, did a great job at making sure I wasn’t TOO overwhelmed. As I moved through the early stages of my career, after Debbie, there was Cathy, Sue, Joan, Sally and Gail.
By the time I, myself, was ready for supervision and management, it was quite a natural thing for me to hire and work with women, even in a male dominated profession like IT. For me it was always about hiring the right person for the job. So, no, I had never done anything specific, such as specifying targets for hiring, my teams were diverse…and high performing.
For me, I think it started at home. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (actually, I am still growing up!). My mother was the typical preacher’s wife, taking care of the kids during services, hosting dinner parties at the parsonage, smiling and shaking hands. However, in the late 60’s and 70’s I watched her change. I watched her start a career, begin to share her thoughts (even if they were contrary to her husband’s). In the 80’s I saw her become an author and speaker. It was truly a metamorphosis.
With that said, it does not alleviate us of the responsibility of working on the issue. The higher I have reached in management the more the balance gets out of whack. Instead of 50%, 40% or even 30%, ratios are more like 20% and even 10%. There is work to be done.
In my blog series for Intel “The Path to CIO”, I have been interviewing IT Leaders about their rise to the position of Chief Information Officer. Two main themes have emerged from my discussions with women CIOs. They each attribute their success on the path to CIO to having confidence and taking risks. Confidence, one of the differences between men and women. A man looks at a job description and thinks, “I can do that” even if he doesn’t meet all the requirements. A woman will look at the same job description and think, “well, I don’t have that certification, or I have never done such and such” and not even apply for the position. Have confidence in your abilities, especially your ability to learn.
The other theme from the series has been “taking risks”. Each of the women I interviewed talk about being presented with an opportunity that came with significant risk. They each weighed the pro’s and con’s, and they each embraced the risk and tackled it. Each of these opportunities took them out of their comfort zone and stretched their abilities.
The final question the moderator posed to me and the other male on the panel was by far one of the best questions I have ever been asked in years of serving on panels. “If you were a woman, what would you do to invest in your career and what would you do to nurture other women in their careers?” I had to smile when I heard the question. Whenever my wife has some of her girl friends over, my job is typically that of bartender. However, often I am asked to join in the conversation. Sometimes they want a male perspective, but what they don’t want is for me to “solve their problem” . In other words, listen, empathize, and provide perspective or insight.
So…if I were a woman…I honestly don’t think my career approach or my advice would be different.
- Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning…formal and informal
- Find a mentor, or two, or three…preferably male and female
- Serve as a mentor for others…I find I learn a lot through mentoring others
- Engage an Executive Coach…a professional can pay huge dividends
- Surround yourself with a strong network…it provides a multifaceted perspective
- Have confidence in your abilities…and your ability to learn
- Take risks…don’t let opportunities pass you by
I was very honored to be included on the panel. But, more than sharing my thoughts, I wanted to learn. How can I, as a leader, create an environment in which all of my team members are empowered to grow and excel in their careers and embrace diversity? How can I reach out to college, high school and elementary students and show them how exciting a career in information technology can be for boys and girls? I would love to hear from you. Pull up a chair, join the conversation, share your perspective and insight!