Successful Women Do These Things to Shatter Career Stereotypes

by Cynthia Stoddard

posted on 03-15-2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month throughout March, I’m sharing my career journey as a technical leader in Information Technology (IT), along with some key insights that have helped me become the leader I am today. My hope is that, by hearing about my career, other women will gain some insights on how to create their own success.

Embrace the circuitous path.

Most fulfilling career journeys are not scripted or orchestrated — they are dynamic and fluid and always evolving. When I launched my career in my early twenties, I by no means set out to be a CIO. But I am a self-proclaimed math nerd and was trained as an accountant, so I did know from early-on that numbers and metrics would play a big part in my career choices. I was intrigued with what was called ‘data processing’ years ago, and I never looked back. The power of technology to improve efficiency and business practices is what first captured my attention in the IT world and my passion for technology has only increased over the years.

I explain my career journey as a mix of ambition, education and opportunity. During 25 years in IT, I’ve had positions from programmer trainee to head of IT, and worked across various industries. As the enterprise landscape has transformed, new opportunities and careers have emerged that I could have never planned for. Because I am a life-long learner and open and receptive to new challenges, I have been able to steer my career by building on my varied capabilities. I think of my journey as a wiki of experiences that I am continually enriching.

Rise above the stereotypes.

As a young woman with a passion for mathematics, I was not your typical teenager. But I was fortunate to have strong mentors and influencers who helped foster my interests. In high school, I had a math teacher — Ms. Killian — who was extremely inspirational and supportive. She encouraged me to enter math and science fairs and to pursue my passion. Having this positive reinforcement from just one person at a young age helped build my confidence, and had an impact on the decisions I made with my career.

My role as an IT leader in the logistics and transportation industry is a key inflection point in my growth as a female leader. It was at this point in my journey that I learned to take risks and get outside my comfort zone. In fact, in the male-dominated transportation space and as a female in IT, there was no comfort zone to retreat to. It was not uncommon for me to be the only woman in any room. In order to thrive as the first female VP at a trucking company, I could not be intimidated by gender stereotyping. I viewed myself as a valuable team member, like everyone else. And because I had proven myself through working hard, and being bold and dedicated, my perspectives and contributions were valued.

While we have come so far in deflating stereotypes in the workplace, many women continue to face unconscious bias that may inhibit their growth. When I speak with other female leaders in tech, I consistently share these insights for growing their career and rising above stereotypes.

  1. Move out of your comfort zone. Be open and receptive to learning new skills, taking on different responsibilities, and charting unconventional paths. You will open up new areas of interest and prove to yourself that you can overcome challenges.
  1. Make people and relationships matter. Establishing relationships needs to be a top priority. Take the time to get to know your manager, colleagues and business stakeholders to establish trust and credibility. This is one of your most powerful assets and is an effective way to minimize stereotyping.
  1. Market yourself. Educate your manager on your background, areas of expertise and areas of interest. People can’t read your mind. If you are interested in a position or a promotion, you need to take the initiative to make it known.
  1. Be a champion for women. Make the time to be a mentor. Sharing experiences and best practices with other women will help inspire them to pursue careers, and especially careers in technology where many more women are needed. Additionally, take the initiative to participate in forums and industry events. Have an opinion and share your point of view. Send the message that this is an important topic for the tech industry at large.

During Women’s History Month, I am thrilled to take an active role to help support diversity across the tech industry and encourage women to pursue fulfilling careers in STEAM. Last week I participated in a Twitter discussion with @CIOStraightTalk addressing how to increase the number of women CXOs in tech. You can see the top @TwitterMoments or follow the discussion via #STInsights. Next week, you can hear more from me and other esteemed female leaders during the Women in Technology breakout session at Adobe Summit. I look forward to hearing about your journey at @StoddardCA.

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Topics: Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion