Tomorrow's CIO: A Woman - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
11/21/2007
04:09 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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Tomorrow's CIO: A Woman

Women possess many of the attributes necessary for the emerging role of the CIO, such as skills in communication, collaboration, and negotiation, says Susan Mersereau, senior VP and CIO at Weyerhaeuser Co.: "I think they're wired to move into this career."

Women possess many of the attributes necessary for the emerging role of the CIO, such as skills in communication, collaboration, and negotiation, says Susan Mersereau, senior VP and CIO at Weyerhaeuser Co.: "I think they're wired to move into this career."So why aren't there more women in high places in technology? According to Mersereau, some of the reasons are obvious and systemic: it's an old-boy network and women don't get promoted as often as men.

But there are characteristics of women in the workplace that hold them back from moving into upper management, and not just in IT.

1) "I don't think a lot of women view themselves as the top person, they don't think of themselves in that role," she says. Women still have a mental model that a male should be the leader. Mersereau says that when she asks women if they deserve to be at the top levels of management, "I don't get a lot of 'yes' answers." On the other hand, a lot of men say yes whether they belong there or not. "If you don't convey the confidence, market yourself, you'll never get there," she says.

2) If men want to go from one job to another, Mersereau points out, they think about how to do that, they contact the appropriate people, and they do it. Women, on the other hand, start with the assumption they're not qualified, and they go back to school for additional training: certification, MBA, etc. "I'm constantly amazed at the education level of women in IT," she says. What they really need is simply more confidence about how to move from position A to position B.

3) "Women feel, if they excel, someone will notice," Mersereau. They're often waiting for someone to seek them out, to find them. As a result, they don't build the necessary relationships, they don't do the informal networking needed to get ahead. "They just keep their noses down and don't market themselves," she says. Men do much more in terms of informal networking and marketing, they exploit alliances and relationships, she says. The fact that women don't hurts them.

It's ironic that women are poor at networking in the workplace because they're usually very good at it outside work, Mersereau points out. Also, women "go overboard on self sufficiency," she says, and consequently shy away from mentors who can help them advance and get noticed.

Women should realize that many of the skills they excel at are the skills needed in the modern IT organization. Offshore outsourcing and off-the-shelf software have made corporate computing less of a "geek" trade and more of an executive management function. The skills Weyerhaeuser's IT organization is building internally, for instance, have to do with the company's intellectual property, with its business processes, she says. Technology workers act as "as a bridge between business and IT" and therefore need to have very good communication skills. Also, they serve as collaborators across systems, across business functions -- as process management coordinators across the enterprise. And, they're often called on to exhibit expertise in relationship building, such as the ability to negotiate with partners, vendors, and service providers.

These are characteristics women should exploit, especially as it relates to a career in technology management. "I think there's a tremendous future for women in IT," Mersereau says.

As for making it all the way to CIO, she says, the hardest question women need to ask themselves is, where do they see themselves and is upper management really what they want to do? "It's not the easiest path," Mersereau says, "but very doable."

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