Play To Win

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

Loyola U. Chicago CIO Susan Malisch: Play To Win

Susan Malisch, chief information officer of Loyola University Chicago since November 2005, oversees an information-technology staff of 80 full-time employees, including about 30% who are women, as well as 50 student workers and an annual operating budget of $12 million. She previously held the position of regional CIO for North and South Americas at Novell, as well as information-technology positions at Cambridge Technology Partners and other organizations. She received a bachelor of arts and sciences degree in computer information systems from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., where she played forward on the women's basketball team. In October, Malisch was recognized by the Chicago chapter of Women in Technology International (WITI) for Excellence in Corporate I.T. Leadership.

Q. What are three pieces of advice you have for women who want to become a CIO?

1. Learn the business, listen to your customers and help make them successful. Do not just be the technologist. Really understand the business you are in.

2. Maximum your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your conviction. People are counting on you to provide good, sound technology advice.

3. Understand the power of networking with peers and colleagues. Be a contributor in the technology community that you belong to. You will get back more than you give. It's a great way to tap into others' expertise. Suddenly, you have a lot of advisers. [They are] people you can bounce things off and learn best practices from outside your own organization.

Q.As CIO, you cannot know everything. What else did you do to address any weaknesses?

I build a team that compensates for areas in which I may not be strong. It is important that when you put people at the table with you, you add value in places where you do not have the time or where you need expertise. You cannot be everything. Q.How can women best negotiate their way around an industry that is predominately male?

I played college basketball, and to keep our skills sharp, we'd play games with the guys. On the court, you want to be respected as a player—without consideration to whether you happen to be male or female. If you command that respect, you have achieved your goal. It's the same in business.

Q.Are you saying you have sharp elbows?

Be someone who people want on their team. That's one of the strongest characteristics you can develop.

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

It's the old adage: Find something you enjoy and that you are good at. Do something you love, and you never work a day in your life. When you are good at something, you are more confident. When you enjoy it, you are happy. Those attributes all come out in the way you approach you work. It's helpful to know that I.T. careers have changed. It's not all about being the best programmer all of the time. Those skills are still important, but business skills and business acumen are increasingly important. Relationship building, partnerships and understanding the role of I.T. in a business are important. As a result, there are great roles for women in technology.

Next page: Avoid the Gender Trap

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.
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.