Business Tech Is The Land Of The Living - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing

Business Tech Is The Land Of The Living

Women prefer careers working with living things, rather than "inorganic matter," according to a study recently blogged about by my colleague, Richard Martin. But how come more females don't seem to realize that a successful career in the business technology field is all about working with people? People are "living things," too, right?

Women prefer careers working with living things, rather than "inorganic matter," according to a study recently blogged about by my colleague, Richard Martin. But how come more females don't seem to realize that a successful career in the business technology field is all about working with people? People are "living things," too, right?As Rick Martin wrote, two recent studies investigated the gender differences in science and technology, looking at why women in general turn up their noses to careers in those fields.

One study -- by economist Joshua Rosenbloom of the University of Kansas -- found that personal interest was a key factor in how women pick a field.

The other report, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, by two Vanderbilt University researchers, concluded that many women who have a strong ability in math and a keen interest in science prefer going into fields where they work with "organic matter" -- including life sciences, medicine, social sciences, and biology.

Men, on the other hand, have a preference for physical sciences, or working with "inorganic" matter.

To me, CIO Jeanne Lieb seems to be an example supporting the findings of both studies.

Lieb has been in IT for 20 years, most of that time at FM Global, a business property insurer. Soon after graduation from Brandeis University with a computer science degree, Lieb started working for the Johnston, R.I., company, first as a consultant with Digital Equipment Corp. She took a full-time position at FM Global as a software engineer about a year and a half later, around the time she was getting married.

Lieb says she decided to trade the DEC consulting gig for a position within FM Global in part because she thought the in-house job would be more amenable to family life while providing an interesting place to work and a chance to flourish in a field she loved.

"FM Global was always an organization that I felt good about," she says.

Over the years, Lieb's held a number of positions, including project manager and "other business tech roles," learning about the business and moving up the ranks. She was named FM Global's CIO in 2003.

"My father was in the [technology] field since the 1950s," she says. Lieb was drawn to the profession by a deep curiosity and ambition. "I was always interested in technology, science fiction," she says.

That seems to follow the logic in Rosenbloom's study, about women picking fields they're personally interested in.

But to me, Lieb also is a good example backing up the findings of the Vanderbilt study.

"I always saw myself in leadership roles," says Lieb. For Lieb, that's meant a career tapping people skills and business acumen, as well as technology's allure.

By the way, about 30% of FM Global's 280-person IT organization are women, Lieb says. But gender doesn't matter to her. "We're always looking for the best talent," she says.

Currently, FM Global is searching for IT architects and project managers, which also happen to be among the positions in short supply at many other employers.

Business analyst, project manager, CIO -- those are among business tech jobs that require business savvy, the ability to communicate and collaborate, and all-around solid people skills, strengths many women possess. That's something that's also been pointed out before, including in a blog late last year by my colleague John Soat, about Susan Mersereau, former senior VP and CIO at Weyerhaeuser.

So, if those recent studies are correct -- that women with an interest in sci-tech and an aptitude in math tend to choose careers that put their skills to use working with "organic matter," then perhaps more of these women would consider a career in business tech, if only they realized it is a field working with "living things."

Apparently, Jeanne Lieb realized that a long time ago.

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