Win Over Your Customers

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

Win Over Your Customers

Q. What was your background?

I studied math because they really did not have computer science. I have a combined bachelor's and master's in mathematics from John Hopkins. I entered programming/software development at PRC, which was then Planning Research Corp. [information systems and services company], and grew up on different projects for different federal [government] customers—which is a lot like the work we do at SAIC. My first position in I.T. was CIO at PRC in 1996; I had been in software and systems engineering for customers like NASA and the Air Force joint programs.

Q. What did you learn from that first CIO job?

When you are a face to your customers—when you take time to do information building and meet with your customers face-to-face—they are willing to cut you some slack. If you never take the time to build a relationship with a customer, when things get tough, they will never call you. They just complain.

I also learned that in the absence of facts, your customers will think the worst. In my first CIO assignment, the first 30 days I listened to my customers and my employees. I would hear, "The system is always down. The systems are never available. We never get help from the help desk." So, a couple of months later, we started posting our statistics. We posted the facts. And the facts showed we had excellent system availability, that most months we closed more tickets than were opened. But in the absence of metrics, your customers think the worst. Q. Do you think there is a gender gap in information technology? And if so, what should be done?

The lack of representation by women in the highest-level positions won't be helped if women reject I.T. as a field.

After giving it a lot of thought, in 2002 I started a program called Technology Goddesses. It is an add-on to the Girl Scouts program. I am a Girl Scout leader, and I mentor girls in Web and multimedia technology to capture them at an early age and pique their interest in technologies.

Q. Do you have a daughter, and is she a Technology Goddess?

I have one daughter and three sons. And she is a Technology Goddess.

Q. How has the experience shaped her?

One reason I call them Technology Goddesses is I want them to have passion and power. I want them to be fearless around the computer and not be afraid to explore. And one of the great things about Girl Scouts is that it gives them a sustaining chain of mentorship. So even at 12, she displays leadership characteristics that adults comment on when they see her leading younger groups of girls. And that is what it takes to change the gender gap in information technology. A third-grader is going to look up to a fifth-grader, who is going to look up to a seventh-grader, and so on. You need that constant reinforcement.

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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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