Pam Stenson, President of the CIO Executive Council (PS). She is charged with growing a community of the senior-most IT leaders across the world for the purpose of harnessing their thought leadership to evolve the IT profession. Pam manages the Council team to ensure world-class service delivery, sets the strategic direction of the organization, and works intimately with the Council’s member leadership and board of advisers.
Pam has over 20 years experience in IT and has been a valuable part of the Council team since February of 2007. Since being named the general manager in February of 2009, she has also aligned her personal passions as the chair of the Council’s Youth in IT and Executive Women in IT member-working groups and serves as a board member for ITWomen.org.
-Kimberly Fahey, Vice President, Global Client Solutions at Randstad.(KF)
KF: As the president of the CIO Executive Council, you’re working to grow IT leaders around the world. Where do women fit in from a global perspective? According to Women in Global Science and Technology, the number of women in science, technology and innovation is very low in the world’s leading economies, and even on the decline in several, including the United States. Furthermore, even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, more women are not finding their way into the workplace. Are you seeing these trends? Why are more women studying science and technology, but not choosing these careers?
PS: Relative to part one of this question (where do women fit in from a global perspective) we have a long way to go. While we’ve made great progress here in the U.S. with our collective efforts, the numbers are worse in other countries and there is limited data relative to trends, given that many cultures are just now beginning to recognize the challenges.
As for the last part of this question (why are more women studying science and technology, but not choosing these careers) I’ll offer my personal opinion: Science and technology related majors are male-dominated – the young women who choose these studies are intelligent, brave, and standouts. If they are studying science and technology they can do almost anything. Corporate recruiters, focused on building diverse, multi-dimensional teams, are recognizing the need to scoop up these brilliant young women and are offering them lucrative packages, with signing bonuses, when they enter their senior year to avoid losing them to the competition upon graduation. This is especially prevalent amongst female civil engineers.
KF: One challenge for women in technology appears to be an attrition problem. A study by the Center for Talent Innovation finds that U.S. women call it quits 45 percent more often in their rookie years compared to men in STEM-related jobs. Also, women are abandoning their STEM careers within months of starting them. Nearly one in every five women with a STEM degree is out of the labor force entirely. The study found that almost a third of “senior leaders” in STEM fields think a woman would never be able to reach top jobs at their organizations. Are you seeing that trend within the IT space? In your opinion, what is driving women away from the tech field?
PS: Given the organization I lead supports seasoned executives, we are not seeing this trend. It certainly is disturbing to learn we were successful attracting this talent, but are having trouble retaining it in the early stages of these careers. I hadn’t seen that study. My guess is it’s a life-balance challenge. IT is demanding, especially during this digital era where business transformation is heavily dependent on leveraging game-changing technologies.
KF: The lack of women in technology is actually bad for business. According to the National Center for Women in Technology, tech companies with more women on their management teams have a 34 percent higher return on investment and the presence of women on technical teams increases their collective problem-solving ability and creativity. Do you have any real-world examples you can share of women who bring added value to the tech companies where they work? What are some unique attributes that women in technology bring to the workplace?
PS: This is an easy one! We have eight years of experience and live examples relating to these particular questions. In fact, we have built out an entire leadership development program for women in an effort to teach how to leverage the unique traits, characteristics, and mechanical differences we as females share. First, women are great collaborators. In addition, we are natural care givers. Thirdly (and there are many more!), we have the ability to multi-task. The combination of these three attributes alone are incredibly empowering and beneficial to any organization, if leveraged properly.
KF: You also serve as an advisory board member to ITWomen, a group that works to increase the number of girls and women in the fields of technology and engineering and to provide professional development, student education and scholarships through a supportive network. Research shows that four out of five students who enter STEM fields in college decide their major in high school or earlier. However, there exists an unconscious bias that science and math are typically “male” fields while humanities and arts are primarily “female” fields, and these stereotypes further inhibit girls’ likelihood of cultivating an interest in math and science, according to Forbes. How can we change the narrative that women aren’t welcome in STEM? For instance, female engineers are the brains behind a number of Facebook’s features, such as the news feed and the photo viewer. Can we impact girls’ interest in STEM if we share more of these stories?
PS: This is a big question. The work ITWomen does is just so incredibly moving. First, we sincerely thank you for citing this amazing organization, founded by one incredible woman by the name of Victoria Usherenko who has a passion for providing young women an opportunity they could never dream of without the help of this non-profit organization. These are young girls who naturally gravitate toward STEM-related activity but the thought of attending college is a distant dream they never thought could be achieved under their circumstances. We help them beat the odds.
To accomplish what you suggest through your question, the “welcoming” of women in STEM begins with inspiration. I believe if we show the human side of what these careers can do – touch their soul sort of speak, the desire would be there. The young adults we have worked with both at the CIO Executive Council (IDGCEC.com) and IT Women, have a strong desire to see the results of their efforts… the “wow, that’s cool” effect. In other words, how does STEM correlate to saving lives, getting airplanes in the air, measuring the vertical feet one has skied today, building the tallest building in the world, or the most green marina in the Atlantic? Yes, we can impact interest, if we can demonstrate the power of these examples.
KF: In your own career, you spent a majority of your career at MCI, most recently serving as Vice President of Northeast Sales and Service where you led the organization to an all-time revenue high. What are some of the most important lessons you learned along the way as a women working in IT? What’s some advice you can share with other women who are either considering a career in technology or are hoping to rise to positions of leadership within their respective careers?”
PS: Oh my, I have so many lessons! I guess first, be a “sponge”, especially early in your career. Personally, I said “yes” to everything asked of me, whether I understood it at the time or not – I just viewed it as an opportunity and had no idea what it would lead to. I think a lot of young people today put pressure on themselves and plan out a grand career plan, a life plan, and the “process” needed to go through to rise to a position of, maybe not leadership, but success, however they may define that. I never thought of it that way. I gained a broad view of the business and how things worked early on because I was willing to try anything, all the while not realizing I was building an amazing resume. Life took its course for me and my career was a part of it, not necessarily a well-executed plan. My advice would be just that.
The original interview was first published on Randstad USA's website.