Although women make up slightly more than 50 percent of the American population, only 26 percent of professional computing positions in the U.S. workforce were held by women in 2017. And if you continue climbing the ladder, the numbers get worse; only 17 percent of Fortune 500 Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions were held by women in 2017.
Those numbers, provided by the National Institute for Women and Information Technology, expose the unfortunate reality that women are not entering the IT field and, when they do, they are not advancing up the ranks of IT departments at the same rate as men.
To explore this issue further, and to empower women who want to explore careers in the IT field, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) and HPE collaborated to sponsor the Women + Technology Summit, a one day event designed to give women the actionable tools, knowledge and networking skills needed to grow their IT careers.
The Women + Technology Summit was championed by Kristie Grinnell, the Vice President of Supply Chain and Chief Information Officer at GDIT. Grinnell was joined by a number of high ranking female executives from her company, HPE, Oracle and other partners. The event also featured keynote presentations from Teresa Carlson, the Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services and Deborah James, the 23rd Secretary of the United States Air Force.
During the Summit, the speakers highlighted the number of opportunities that exist in the IT field across the United States. Speakers encouraged attendees to keep an open mind when approaching IT careers, since not all positions involve coding and software development. They encouraged attendees to explore the opportunities that lie outside of coding – such as project management or marketing IT solutions and products – should they be uninterested in doing such jobs as software development.
When it came to advancing within the IT field, one of the common themes across many of the panel discussions and presentations was a need to dream big, be confident in one’s abilities and to stand up and ask for opportunities.
This need to dream big and have high aspirations was reinforced by Deborah James, who pleaded with attendees, “For heaven's sake, have those big aspirations. Don't be afraid to dream big about what you can achieve and what you wish to do.” James shared that men, “…tend to be better than [women] are at having those big aspirations,” and encouraged women to, “Be aware of this and push yourself to dream big.”
As many of the speakers noted, when it comes to seeking advancement and opportunity, many women allow self-doubt and self-confidence to stand in the way. This was reflected in a story shared by Teresa Carlson, who noted that within AWS, “…when a job description…goes up, women will say, ‘I don't meet all of the criteria for going and taking that job,’ while a man will say, ‘I can do that,’ and apply even though they don't have all of the skills.”
Carlson encouraged attendees to overcome that self-doubt and aspire to more, noting that, “[Women] have such an opportunity in the US. We are so blessed...you can do anything in this country. Be bold. Have grit. You can do it. You have amazing talent. When you get a seat at the table have a seat at the table. Ask for the things that you want.”
And Carlson wasn’t alone in sharing stories about how self-doubt, or how being the only women at the table, can intimidate female professionals and keep them from taking leadership roles.
Janice Haith, VP of Federal Government Business Development at Oracle discussed a time when she was civilian employee within the Department of Defense (DoD), when a group of women leaders came together and shared stories about, “…how all of us had sat at the table and just said nothing and just let the guys run over us, even though we knew in the back of [our] mind that this was not the right thing to do or that it's not going to work.” Haith encouraged the young women in the room to, “…sit at the table. And if you sit at the table, you need to say something.”
Another theme that resonated across the presentations and panel discussions was the need to identify and rely on mentors and sponsors, as well as a need to network and build professional associations. This was encouraged by almost every speaker, including Rachelle Putnam, the Director for Information Technology at General Dynamics Land Systems, who challenged attendees to, “Find mentors. I've found mentorship to be the most valuable thing throughout my entire career. “
However, much like professional advancement, the speakers highlighted how mentorship and sponsorship was something that professional women need to pursue and feel comfortable asking for. Kristie Grinnell confirmed this when she said, “It is okay to ask someone to be your sponsor. If you are trying to get somewhere and you know that's going to help you, ask someone to be your sponsor.”
But sponsorship and mentorship isn’t enough; building a professional network is just as important. As Deborah James explained, “Mentors and networks can contribute big time to your success. Mentors can help you build your roadmap, but your network will help you navigate that roadmap.”
Overall, the 2018 Women + Technology Summit was a huge success that helped provide practical strategies to women looking to enter the IT field or advance their careers. The success stories of this group of women who have made it to the top of their respective field provided inspiration for the next generation of CIOs, CISOs and other IT leaders. With role models and mentors like the speakers at this year’s Summit, it’s fair to assume that it won’t be long until the percentage of female CIOs in the Fortune 500 more accurately represents society as a whole.
To learn more about the skills necessary to be successful in IT, click HERE to read the Washington Technology article, “GDIT's Kristie Grinnell on the need for skills beyond IT.” For additional insight into the diversity programs being implemented at GDIT, watch the video below.