Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of datacenter, switching, and security at Cisco, agrees. “We generally assume that high tech means that all you’re doing is working with bits and bytes, but there’s also the aspect of taking technology and making it more understandable in the world,” she says. “And the attributes of that X chromosome are naturally lent in that direction.”
More than a passive component in the hastening evolution of the enterprise, IT is increasingly being called on to initiate change across the company. And it’s the organizations that build workforces able to thrive in constant flux that will come out ahead in the coming years. Many believe this context plays to women’s strengths.
“Women are good at accepting change and creating change, which is important in the marketplace,” says Sandy Carter, vice president of SOA and WebSphere strategy at IBM.
“I think our innate skills at a stereotypical level really help the market,” agrees Karenann Terrell, CIO at health-care company Baxter International. “The skills that we have -- being able to juggle things, multitasking -- reflect the environment we’re in now.”
That said, succumbing to stereotypes when reviewing candidates misses the point. The key is to keep in mind how IT is evolving, survey your current roster, and hire strategically to achieve a balanced set of tangible and intangible skills.
“A good manager should constantly be thinking what their group needs for balance, but real people bring a variety of strengths and weaknesses to the blend,” says Larry Lang, vice president and general manager of the mobile wireless group at Cisco and, notably, a male member of the Society of Women Engineers. “To get the blend right, you have to think beyond stereotypes.”
And when it comes to getting the right blend, nothing appeals to higher-ups more than hiring policies that move the bottom line.
“We decided as a group of women inside IBM that saying that we’re different, or that we need different things, is the wrong way to approach men,” says IBM’s Carter, who recently formed the Superwomen’s Group within the company’s software group. “Most men -- most people -- want to know, ‘What’s the value to me, and what’s the impact this is going to have on my business?’ So we focused on the impact that [hiring women] would have on business.”
But to lure women back into the technology fold, companies will have to put in the PR work necessary to convince them that the face of IT is changing.
“There are certain things I think are very important for management, leadership, and success in the 21st century: the ability to collaborate with others, the ability to communicate clearly, and the ability to see the forest and not get lost in the trees,” Fiorina says. “I certainly think many, many, many women possess the three characteristics that I describe, and they enjoy it. And if you talk to women about why they have moved away [from IT], it’s often because they have viewed it as too isolating. But technology is becoming more of a team sport. I think women will be attracted to that.”