Women, loyalty, and power
The tech industry feels very much like a men's club. Is there
still a glass ceiling?
Yeah, I've been on several glass ceiling panels! I'm usually the
one that thinks the glass is half full. [Laughs.] I think that some
companies, Apple and IBM included, have done a very nice job of promoting
women from within their ranks. I do know that for example at IBM there were
specific programs aimed at promoting and improving the role of women in the
organization. So I think that's one indicator.
The second is the number of boards women are on. I'm on the
Colgate-Palmolive board and I'm on the Aetna board. I think those boards
and others are showing that women are having a place in corporate America.
Having said that, when you look at the numbers of female CEOs, there still
is a gap. But I think all of these things take time, and I think it is
wrong to move women into positions where in fact they haven't been trained
or are not ready for them and the like. I do not go along with that notion.
But I do think we are getting to the point where we should be seeing more
CEOs on the list, as women keep rising.
I do have to say that [the high-tech industry] and in particular
the software industry has been very supportive of women. If you look at the
data processing side, if you ignore telecom and you ignore semiconductor,
you will see a fair number of women in reasonably responsible positions.
And so I think that the industry is not an inhibitor to women. But clearly,
we do need to see some more visible women in the CEO slot.
You say the software industry in particular. Why is that?
I'd say it goes back to the education women have had. You don't
find a lot of women in chemical or mechanical engineering, having tried to
hire some. Women have taken much more to math, which is what I did, and
then later on to comp sci. Women are coming into the workforce with more
software training than they ever did on the engineering side.
You're active with the Committee of 200. Can you talk about that
a little bit?
It's a group of women who are either head of their own businesses
or have a significant role in a large company. There is a selection process
to be a member of the organization. It's an organization that spends a fair
amount of time dealing with issues related to business, politics, and
women's issues. And I have found it to be reasonably supportive. [A
friend] at MCI encouraged me to join because he thought it was
important that some of the women in the IT field took a more assertive
role. At his advice I joined the group and I've attended several of their
meetings. I have in fact participated in some panels. One of the panels was
how to maintain your privacy in a public position--as you can see, my
responses match my views on that subject. But it is a very supportive group
You have two degrees in mathematics, then you started [at
IBM] as a programmer. Did you see yourself then where you are now?
I saw myself more involved in science and would never have
guessed that I'd be doing what I'm doing. When I was a college senior I was
asked to write an essay on what my future life would be like 25 years out.
There's no correlation whatsoever between what I thought I would do and
what I'm doing! And so I feel a little bit like Alice in Wonderland. I'm
having a wonderful time.
28 years at IBM. How does spending that much time in one place
form your thinking?
At the time I went to IBM, a lot of people were making lifetime
career decisions. At that point in time--it is quite awhile ago--jumping
from job to job was considered a negative on a resume rather than a
positive. It was somebody who couldn't keep a job very well.
There was a loyalty factor and a family factor that were extremely
important. And that was true until the end of the '80s and into the '90s,
when a lot of companies, IBM included, changed its own thinking relative to
the relationship between the employer and the employee. IBM in the past had
very seldom brought anyone in from the outside at very high levels. It was
very unusual--you could almost name the names. They went from that to
bringing in quite a few people with different experiences into the company.
Certainly out here in Silicon Valley there's a positive notion of going
from company to company and learning from that experience. I would say that
industry has shifted and now we're much more aligned along the Silicon
Valley model: employees feeling free to go from one company to another, and
employers feeling they can change the mix and change the environment by
bringing in people at significant levels. It will take us several years to
figure out the impact of the change, but I think that the bond that
occurred between the employer and employee doesn't exist in the same way
today as it did years ago.
Sounds like you miss that to a certain extent.
Well, I think it was an easier life. We all have to recognize the
fact that it has changed. I think there was a bond that's currently
missing. And now that we have these options as an employer, we have to
acknowledge the fact that employees have more options than they used to
have. So we have to do something to make up for that bond that's now
missing--whether it's incentives, or however else we do it.
Here in Silicon Valley, because there's so much access to different
companies, I think the workforce is more mobile. You don't have to move
from your home--you just change which parking lot you pull into. But I
think it's more than just the proximity. From what I'm seeing, the notion
of lifetime employment is one that's not as obvious today as it was 30
years ago when I joined the workforce.
Was there something that has socially or politically driven this
I'm not sure I've done enough research to understand what it is.
But take the case of IBM, when rather than promoting from within, you bring
a CEO from outside. Right at the top you already have someone who has made
a career move, and it generates down to the employees who say, "Well, if
the CEOs are moving around, shouldn't we also be exercising some of our
rights?" And the answer is yes.
I think there were a series of trends. This notion of benchmarking has
caused a lot of people to look at different companies. It is much more
popular today to take people from one industry, and to move them to another
industry if their skill base transfers over and you've done enough
benchmarking to know it. Downsizing by itself caused some of this;
outsourcing by itself caused some of this. I remember some of the early
outsourcing decisions. They were traumatic at the time. Today a lot of
companies have outsourcing discussions and it's not considered the same way.
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