Women in leadership roles in IT should guide, learn from Millennials

Thanks to their constant exposure to emerging technologies, social networking sites and millions of mobile device applications, today's Millennials are in a prime position to guide IT executives facing oncoming IT trends. Women in leadership roles have a special responsibility in encouraging younger women as they consider and pursue careers in IT.

In this video Q&A, filmed at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla., last fall, SearchCIO-Midmarket.com site editor Wendy Schuchart sits down with Lynn Duffy, vice president of operations at Citagus Software Inc., for her take on what women in leadership roles in IT can do to guide the next generation.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20% of CIO positions in Fortune 250 companies are currently held by women. Many of today's women in IT -- Duffy included -- hope to see a more even ratio in the future.

Read the transcript from the Q&A below, and watch the video to learn how women in leadership roles can help others make strides in IT.

Are there some things that CIOs or IT leaders can do, in terms of corporate culture, to help facilitate an arena where women feel comfortable engaging in IT?

Lynn Duffy: Yes, I think that a good CIO -- and there are lots of them around, whether it's a female or a male CIO -- are beginning to get what I've been talking about, in terms of this need for the softer side being involved in the IT decisions and the IT strategy.

When I say softer side, I don't mean because we're women we can only do the soft part. I mean, just sort of the left-brain, right-brain kind of thing that you hear about all the time, the differences in men and women, the different perspectives that women bring. If CIOs are forward thinking and innovative in and of themselves, they will provide opportunities for the women on their staffs or maybe the women they work with on the business side of their organization. If they're smart, they will see those skills and start to bring those skills into the IT department.

Now, you're still going to have some resistance to women in IT. You know, there's still … [and] not just in the United States, you can no longer say, the "good ole' boy network." Because now, we live in a very global world, and many cultures have some resistance to bringing in women, especially into certain fields. We combat that as women [just as] in corporate America and in the corporate global world; we'll have to continue to combat some of that.

The good CIOs, again, whether male or female, will start to see that they need to give opportunities to some of the really creative women who show -- like I did many years ago -- a love for the IT side of things.

Conversely, are there any things happening in corporate culture that might be discouraging women from taking leadership roles?

Duffy: It's about 50/50. In our own minds, because we think maybe it's not the right fit for us, we stop ourselves to some degree. I have two daughters. One of them said -- not about nursing and the medical field, but about when I went into the IT field, "Ew, Mom, I would never do that."

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Well, guess what? She's director of sales operations for SAP America. She now understands what I find interesting about it. She has faced some of the same obstacles I have about being in a men's world, but she's overcoming it nicely.

On the one hand, we [women] stop ourselves. We're our own worst enemies. And then, on the other hand, I think we're a very big, global monstrosity now, in terms of we have all different cultures working in our IT departments. I work with a lot of Indian guys. They're wonderful, the ones that I work with. I've also worked with some who are very male chauvinistic and didn't believe that women belonged in IT. I think for us to really make headway, we have to be assertive, and we have to take those steps. As women in IT, we have to take those steps to help mentor the younger women and help them realize that if it's what they want to achieve, be confident -- you can do this.

You said specifically that you're older, and your daughter is now engaging in IT. Do you think that this is going to change, this variable is going to change, as more Millennials get into the workplace? Do you feel that female Millennials will have more opportunities, or perhaps have less resistance to IT as a career field?

Duffy: I think it's going to offer more opportunities, because I think we have so many programs out there now for young women, even in college. Women that want to excel in math, and math and IT, in some ways have always been construed to be sort of in the same category -- engineering, whatever. I think we've made a lot of headway in helping young women become more confident in their abilities to step into a field that maybe they aren't always very prevalent in.

We're going to see it increase. For women like myself, as we get older, we've seen, "Well, by golly, I can do that." I think that we are good examples and good mentors for younger women, and that number will gradually come up. Will it ever be equal to the men in IT? Maybe one day, but probably not in my lifetime. But I think we can continue to strive to go there.

With all of the changes that are coming up in the next five to ten years, with cloud computing and with everything going mobile, I think there are so many opportunities for women. Now a woman can say, "I can tap my creativity, and I can really help this company come up with apps designs, or how do we take this particular IT function and make it mobile?" Those are places that you'll really see women excel, and they don't think of it as traditional IT.

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