“Our economy depends on women being at the table creating technology,” said Dr. Telle Whitney, President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She continued, “The innovation that will drive the future is in your hands.”
Dr. Whitney was the keynote speaker at The Glass Hammer’s event Tuesday night entitled “Women on Top: The Newest Innovation in Technology.”
The event, sponsored by Barclays Capital and American Express, was held at the Barclays Capital headquarters in New York. Moderated by Avis Yates Rivers, President and CEO of Technology Concepts Group, the panel speakers included Sarah Sherber; Head of Securitized Products IT and Cross Product Operations Technology, Barclays Capital; Linda Albornoz, B2B Payment Solutions, American Express Technologies; Augusta Sanfilippo, Managing Director, Cash Securities Operations IT, Citi; and Mary Cecola, CIO Asset Management Business Solutions, Deutsche Bank.
When trying to plot out a career, the panel advised, simply do what you love. Albornoz said, “Follow your bliss. Find the thing you’re engaged by and enjoy doing. Because you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it!”
Sanfilippo agreed. She said, “Passion… is something you have to stay true to no matter what you do. Make sure you manage your career. Don’t make someone else manage your career for you.”
Do women need to stay technical to advance in their careers? Cecola said, “It’s so important to keep technology in your background. Even as I’ve moved into management, I’ve stayed up to date on the latest in technology.”
Albornoz said that even now, as a manager, she continues to reach back to her coding days. She explained, “Being able to translate technology terms into business terms will serve you well.”
Sherber agreed. “My success has largely been the result of my ability to translate something a trader wanted into a system.”
Next, Yates Rivers asked the panel to discuss responding to customer needs. She explained, “My customers are always talking about driving value and driving innovation.”
Albornoz said, “You always have to be thinking from the customer’s point of view and from the market. You can be entranced by technology, but at the end of the day it has to have business value.” She explained, “It can be nifty technology, but when you’re communicating it to your clients, focus on the bottom line.”
Cecola said, “You can be very innovative in your job with or without the technical point of view. I think innovation is about being creative and being open to understanding what can be changed and what can’t be changed and coming together in the middle.”
Sherber continued, “Being able to show that you have been an innovator will propel your career. Having a track record… is what will actually make you successful.”
Sanfilippo pointed out that women are known for being skilled collaborators. “One of those words I love is collaboration. You can do a lot by yourself. But the key way you stay fluent in technology is working with others. There will always be someone who knows something you’re interested in, but you’re never going to know that if they’re in another room.”
Cecola continued, “I think it’s a challenge to stay technical as you move up into management, but I think it’s important.” She said that can also mean knowing when to reach out and rely your team’s experience.
“It means knowing your assets in the field and leveraging them. What you don’t want to do is be ‘out-teched’ by the boys,” she said.
Yates Rivers added, “You don’t get to where you’re going alone.”
Communication and Office Politics
Dr. Whitney explained that women need to learn how to talk themselves up if they want to get ahead. She explained, “Asking for what you want is really important. Understanding that you have to tell others about your contribution is part of your job.”
Sherber explained that women need to learn to raise their hands for jobs more often. She explained, “Men will raise their hands for a job even when it’s three levels above them and women will wait for it to fall in your lap.”
Cecola said, “One thing in general we don’t often do is speak up. Make sure you’re in meetings, and invited to meetings.”
She continued, “Speak with intelligence. If you have things to say, use strong words. People will hear you more.” She explained, for example, that that means rather than saying “I think,” in a meeting, just state your idea as a fact.
Sherber added that admitting failures is an important way to gain credibility as well. She said, “Admitting to failures quickly has helped me.”
Sanfilippo said, “It’s about honesty and taking command of the situation.”
Albornoz summed it up, “Know the business, speak in those terms, toot your own horn, speak with confidence, and be a change agent.”
By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)