Build a Support Team at Home

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

Build a Support Team at Home

Q. How have things changed for women over the past 25 years?

There is much more awareness, outspokenness. And people say: "We have to hire diversity, and we cannot be gender-biased." Some companies, through their human-resources department, force [diversity] from the top down. One of the companies is Pepsi, where the CEO is a woman.

Q. How have things stayed the same?

There are industries that are much more male-oriented. A lot of women have opted out. And there is no way they can come back at the same level that they left. The situation is difficult. Many, many very talented women go into cottage industries or start their own businesses because they choose not to compete. So, some of the most amazing financial services firms in the world miss out on this tremendous talent and brainpower. And brainpower and talent are not about gender.

Q. What advice do you have for women starting careers in information technology?

Get involved in as many positions as you can—from infrastructure as well as applications. And also, if you are developing systems, try to understand the marketing, financial and sales ends of the business. Try to get as broad an experience as possible. That is advice not just for women—that is for everyone. And consistently keep your education going.

Q.Should business take a role to encourage more women into information technology?

There are a couple of ways you can encourage more women into I.T.

Number one: by example. There are women, for example, at very high levels at Pepsi—including the CEO. When I recruit for that company and show women from the outside how successful other women have been within that company, it's a very big sales point.

Also, from the woman's point of view, women want to have families and they pretty much have the responsibility of the family—though that is changing with more stay-at-home dads. But women have to have the ability to build a support team. The women that I know who are incredibly successful have been able to build a support team internally—whether that is a nanny or family member. And none of it is easy. Unfortunately, if you opt out, it is extremely difficult to come back at the same level. Q.Why is so difficult to come back at the same level?

There are very few companies that embrace you coming back in. There are people and companies that try. There has to be a constant support function at your home—with your family.

What impact do flexible working arrangements have on a woman's career?

Just because you have flex time or are working from home, does not mean you are not getting the job done. But there has to be X amount of face time, no matter who you are. Everything cannot be a conference call or on e-mail, because you can lose the relationship. Most divisions are global now, and in order to be successful, you need to be able to travel. By the same token, the business has to know you do not have to be on the road 100% of the time to make an impact. It's all about compromise, as with everything in your life.

Next page: Resources for Women in Technology

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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