Manage by Facts

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

Cora Carmody: Manage by Facts

Cora Carmody, chief information officer of defense contractor SAIC, oversees an information-technology staff of 740, in addition to consultants and temporary staffers. She was previously CIO at Invensys, a manufacturer of automated controls based in London, and at Litton PRC of McLean, Va., an engineering and information-technology services firm now owned by Northrop Grumman. A member of WITI, she joined San Diego-based SAIC in September 2003.

Carmody is so passionate about getting girls interested in technology that she has developed a program through the Girl Scouts called Technology Goddesses; she started the program in northern Virginia, and launched it in the San Diego area when she moved to SAIC. Of special concern: the fact that women are deciding against careers in information technology. Carmody cites a 2005 report from the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., that found the percentage of women in the I.T. workforce declined from a high of 41% in 1996 to 32.4% in 2004.

Q. What three tips do you have for women who want to become CIOs?

1. Have realistic expectations. The CIO position is an amazing one; it commands a breadth of technological and business impact. For a program manager who is really good at what she does, [becoming a CIO] is an admirable ambition, but you have to have a realistic expectation of how long will it take you to get from a program management slot to positions of wider organization and enterprise responsibility. A person who is an applications delivery manager working for the CIO has fewer areas to flesh out. There is a difference in leadership style between a PM [program manager] and an organizational manager; a more realistic first goal for the PM might be head of applications.

2. Build a foundation of credibility. There are a lot of ways into the CIO office, whether it's from technical or financial management or some other route. But have an impeccable credibility and reputation for delivery in what you do.

3. Be able to recognize, groom and retain talent. You cannot learn that in school. Q. How can women best negotiate their way around an industry predominantly made up of men?

With facts and stellar project delivery.

Q. Is there anything in your career that you can point to as an example?

I can give you a few facts about some of the things that I have done while at SAIC. And notice that they are black and white; they are fact-based and not perception-based.

We had issues in project delivery in I.T., and we put in place a program management office. Since that program management office was put in place, we baselined 69 different projects for cost and schedule. We delivered projects 93% of the time within the cost goals. Not only is that a fact; it is a good fact. The perception before that: We were not strong on project delivery. People say it all the time—I.T. projects are always late and always cost too much. Diffusing that with facts is one approach.

We also changed the way we do desktop and local area network support. We now save between $13 million and $15 million a year on a recurring basis because of standardization and centralization of support. When you have concrete facts that show a transformation or a success, that speaks so much more than saying, "We are doing better than we used to." That's management by fact.

Also, take successes and make them not just fact based, but business benefit-based. Returning $13 million to the bottom line is a business-based improvement.

Q. What advice would you give to women starting a career in information technology today?

Try your best. Work your hardest at whatever assignment you've got. For the most part, take any assignment that is suggested to you, knowing that what is good for the company is usually good for you. And be happy in your current assignment. A positive attitude is everything.

Q. An attitude is not fact-based …

You can be fact-based with a good attitude, or a bad attitude. An attitude is infectious. I would rather spread good cheer than negative thoughts.

Next page: Win Over Your Customers

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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