June 21, 2019 // By Jessica Ballantine
This week I had the honor of attending a panel featuring thriving women technology executives from diverse industries. Each shared personal stories of their own experiences working in, or breaking into, the industry. As a woman at a national digital technology consulting firm, I appreciated the advice the panelists cumulatively shared on the key attributes that pave the way to success and am excited to share it with you. I hope their advice will further empower you through your own IT career journey.
Master Your Craft
Unanimously all panelists agreed; first and foremost make sure you have the skills to do the job, then show results. Get Stuff Done (GSD) is the ultimate path to success. Saima Prabhu, GM of Quality Engineering at Magenic and moderator of the panel, shares "You need to completely immerse yourself in your work with an expectation to keep learning something new (even if it seems insignificant) and soon you will realize that you now have a nice little repository of experiences to fall back on and tackle any situation."
Establish your priorities
Lanna Niemeyer, Sr. Director, Office of the CIO at Prime Therapeutics LLC, “Put yourself first. At the beginning of the day, start with your first priority. Taking care of yourself. This is why I get up and work out at 5am. Then begin on your second priority in life. For me, this is my family. I spend time with my daughter each morning. Then begin your third priority, for me this is work.”
Instill Self Confidence
Workplace isolation is commonly experienced by women in technology. Women are more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace, but being the only woman is statistically an even worse experience. Banishing ‘onliness’ should not replace the goal of gender parity in the tech community, but it will diminish some of the barriers that hold women back. Debra Bauler, Chief Information Officer at Cargill Protein and Salt, encouraged the audience even during times of onliness, “Have the courage to raise your hand and say - I see the world differently! Don’t be shy!” Until gender parity is attained, Rocky Lhotka, CTO, Magenic recommends “Accept that you'll need to be uncomfortable sometimes, contribute your ideas in meetings even if you are the only one "like you" in the room. My request to male allies; when you see a woman being ignored or pushed aside, step in and say something like "Hang on a second, I think she has a great point" or “We should consider her idea.”
Value Respect Over Likability
Throughout my career I’ve found women have a natural inclination to collaborate, and often have a strong need to be ‘liked’. The panel moderator, Prabhu, inquired with the panel, as a female executive in IT, can you be powerful without alienating people, still being seen as ‘likeable’? Bauler shared “You can be respected, approachable, and fun – to be liked is a different goal altogether.” Being liked is not nearly as important as being respected, being liked is often a higher social priority for women, but being respected is more valuable to your career.
Always Be Learning
When beginning her new post as CIO of Hennepin Healthcare, Julie Flaschenriem shared she reviewed Michael Watkins “First 90 days” to prepare for her new role. When starting a new position “I focus on building relationships, understanding the business, and building alliances. Listen, learn, and then strategize.” Kathryn Freytag, Vice President & Chief Information Officer at Donaldson Company, shared “70% of my day is learning. I surround myself with other smart people. I meet with leaders from other organizations and vendors to learn how other people are solving problems.” Niemeyer listens to audio books daily. The Phoenix Project (By Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford) is currently playing during her commute.
Make sure you are doing what you love, not what other people think you should be doing and be receptive to opportunities and challenges you didn’t plan to pursue. Freytag shared she was the youngest of 9 children, specifically 7 girls. “My father taught us to take care of ourselves, go to college, find your passion, work hard, and set goals for yourself.” She found her passion when she wasn’t expecting it; an internship during college sparked her interest in technology which turned her path from general business to tech. “I didn’t pick IT, it picked me…Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Know yourself, and find a way accomplish your goals within the boundaries you have set. Flaschenriem suggested, ”Adjust to your environment and who you are working with, while still remaining true to yourself.”
Cheer yourself on when no one else is. When you encounter bias, whether it be unconscious or not, call it out. Accept you will not be able to change everyone’s mind, instead focus on swaying the perceptions of the larger group which will re-establish baselines. Bauler stated “Change the conversation; put it in a non-threatening dialogue. But do have the difficult conversation. Then move on to do the next right thing. The detractors will take care of themselves.” Lhotka, commented “This too is a key role for male allies to play from my observation. We allies can help sway people's minds, but sometimes you do just have to recognize that some people won't acknowledge diversity as having value, and we can help by focusing on working with everyone else in the room while politely helping everyone to ignore the haters.”
Create a Board of Directors
Develop a community around you, a village of people who lift you up. Recruit your own personal Board of Directors to support your long-term growth, enhance you personally and professionally and continuously remind you of your great value. Prabhu explains, "My definition of success has always been in my ability to empower everyone around me. If you provide people with the right tools and opportunities, you would be surprised at their ingenuity and confidence." Lisa Schlosser, CEO & President of the Minnesota High Tech Association, shared a TedTalk by Margaret Heffernan whose team productivity tenets she has adopted. The TedTalk reflected on a study by William Muhr and later a similar study by MIT. Contrary to popular belief, these studies demonstrated that by selecting only the best and brightest and giving them all the power, led only to aggression, dysfunction, and destruction. The three keys to being a part of a highly productive team are:
- Social connectivity to fellow members of the team, having empathy and sensitivity to one another
- Holding each other accountable and not allowing non-contributors; no one voice dominates and no idle passengers
- Inclusive of more women
I hope you have gained as much insight and inspiration from reading this article as I did from this event. It’s a pleasure to pass on the knowledge I garnered from this panel of forward-thinking, courageous, vibrant, enterprising women in technology. I am deeply grateful to each of the panelists for so willingly sharing their time to encourage and develop fellow women.
- Lisa Schlosser - CEO & President of the Minnesota High Tech Association
- Debra Bauler - Chief Information Officer at Cargill Protein and Salt
- Julie Flashenriem - CIO of Hennepin Healthcare
- Kathryn Freytag - Vice President & Chief Information Officer at Donaldson Company
- Lanna Niemeyer - Sr. Director, Office of the CIO at Prime Therapeutics LLC
It’s heartening to work for a company like Magenic that provides opportunities to connect and learn from other successful women in the tech community.