Innovate With Responsibility

By Anna Maria Virzi Print this article Print

Women are severely underrepresented in all top corporate leadership positions, including chief information officer, but don't let the numbers spook you, say three CIOs, an executive recruiter and a global consultant. Savvy companies are starting to recogn

Innovate With Responsibility

Q. Why do you think it's important for women to enter information technology?

The reward is tremendous. Engineering and science jobs pay much more than other fields. If a woman wants to be part of a change in organizations, in society, in the world, technology is the way to go.

Q. Why is that?

Technology and innovation are changing us drastically—and bring about both positive and negative change. If you look at the [internal] combustion engine, at the first car or the impact of that car today—the whole environment and the way we work—it's all because of [that] engine. It has also impacted our environment negatively with pollution.

The biggest impact of innovation is understanding social responsibility. Women—and I'm not saying that men don't—bring in thinking about the impact of innovation on human life, environment, culture and society. If we have both men and women contributing to innovation, I am hopeful we can be more conscious about the impact of innovation—both positive and negative—on society. Q. Did you ever encounter bias as a woman in a male-dominated industry, including your work at the transit authority?

I do not think I have been confronted with a gender issue as CIO. My biggest challenge: transforming the business, managing change, convincing the business that change is the right thing to do. That challenge has dwarfed any gender issue. I never established myself as a techie CIO. You wonder what your brand is. My brand working for an advertising agency is a turnaround agent, deploying change in an organization, bringing innovation. When I do think about the gender issue, I do not remember ever having an incident that I may have found bias as a woman. I have an engineering degree, where 80% or 90% of my classmates were men. And then I started working in engineering in a 95% male environment, so I have great experience being one of the guys. I learned early on that I am one of the guys. I did not see gender as an issue.

Q. You worked at the MTA as an engineer …

Yes, I was the first woman electrical engineer.

Q. Was that a challenging environment for a woman?

I learned to be one of the guys and to be trusted. I made them feel comfortable—not to be nervous and uptight around me, as a colleague.

We as a society have become so focused on being politically correct, it sometimes creates an environment of tension and a lack of trust—and we all need to loosen up a little bit. We should not tolerate sexism, racism or prejudice of any kind; we have to relax and be comfortable in our own skin and our work environment. We have to make our colleagues feel comfortable with us. That is how we create effective teams and trust.

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This article was originally published on 2006-12-20
Executive Editor
Anna Maria was assistant managing editor Forbes.com. She held the posts of news editor and executive editor at Internet World magazine and was city editor and Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, a daily newspaper in Bridgeport. Anna Maria has a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.
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