Women in the workplace: Breaking into a male-dominated IT industry

Men and women in the workplace are inherently different -- not just genetically, but in the way they communicate and conduct business. According to female leaders in IT departments, small differences could revolutionize the male-dominatedIT industry -- if their organizations would only let them.

SearchCIO-Midmarket.com site editor Wendy Schuchart sat down with several female IT leaders at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla., to ask, "Is there something special that women bring to the IT department, something it may be lacking if it is male-dominated?"

Read the transcript from the interviews below and watch the video to gain insights into what technology-minded women in the workplace can bring to IT and the business.

Is there something special that women bring to the IT department, something it may be lacking if it is male-dominated?

Rose Hauser, executive vice president and CIO, FairPoint Communications Inc.: Yes, I think [women] communicate very well with the user community, which is critical. It's very important to understand, what is the business we're here for, what are we trying to solve? You're here to service the customers, the clients, and if you can't solve business problems, [you're] really of no value just to be technical in the back room. So, it's that unique skill that connects with the client community. It gets back to solving business problems. It's just not a technical challenge, and I think women can bring that very nicely to the IT community. It gets back to the solving of problems.

Leigh Zainal, program manager, Neustar Inc.: Incredible listening skills, being able to hear what somebody is saying, and interpret and read between the lines, and then respond back with suggestions and solutions.

Lynn Duffy, vice president of operations, Citagus Software Inc.: While there are plenty of men who are very creative and understand that user side of the experience and what a person in today's world is looking for, they don't care if it's called 'technology' -- they want it to benefit them in some personal way. Whether we're talking about a health care system, a system here at Disney -- you know, wherever the system is.

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Picking my insurance, it has to be about me and about my experience. I think women bring a very unique aspect to that piece of information technology today. Without that aspect, I think you're going to find a lot of companies that find themselves floundering, because they've still got just the 'good old boys' behind the desk trying to run the IT shop in the old way, and they're going to quickly fall behind the times if they don't open up their minds and look at the user experience.

Sarah Martinez, director of information technology, Leander Independent School

District, Texas: I think women bring so much to the table that complements what men bring. That together -- by having a woman's voice lend to the sense of collaboration, social responsibility, the need to communicate clearly no matter what the project is, that thought process of 'How's this going to impact our users, our customers?' for the feeling perspective of what the impact is going to be on the community as a whole -- is something that women bring to the table that's sometimes left out.

Do you think IT can benefit from a female perspective or a woman's opinion?

Suzanne Niedzielska, CEO, Tide Pool LLC: I think it already has. An example is the language that is used at times about IT. For example, now it's very common to talk about the IT ecosystem, which suggests a kind of environmental awareness. You didn't hear that, certainly not 30 years ago, and I don't think even 20.

I do think the increasing emphasis on collaboration -- I'm not a believer in gender stereotypes, but I do think the increased emphasis is somewhat influenced by there being women in the IT workforce. People have come to recognize, just as in medicine, [that] the more complex a field is, the more one needs to collaborate; you can't keep working in silos. And I think that's been influenced by women in large measure.

Maridan Harris, vice president of IT, Royal Philips Electronics: I think that if you have any one given characteristic, whether it's all men or all women or all of the same culture, you'll miss out on the diversity that brings you different solutions that you wouldn't have otherwise.

By making sure that you do have some women, people of different genders, people of different backgrounds and cultures, especially, building in today's global world, you won't know what you're getting into; you won't have that problem-solving capability without having the diversity on your own team. Yes, I think you very much need to have a variety of different people on the team.

Sallie Moore, director of IT, Texas Health Resources Inc.: I think women, in general, are very compassionate, so we tend to pay very close attention to what our customers are saying. And so, we're able to translate that effectively into IT solutions.

Charlotte Harris, director of technology, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority: I think so. This is my first year, probably my second year, working in infrastructure. I'm probably only two managers out of 86 employees. I probably get four females. I think we bring a lot more insight, a lot more strategic planning. Just my personal opinion. Men like to put in the equipment and get it working and working fast. Women like to think things through and look at things more strategically.

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