Fireside Chat: Surviving and Thriving in IT Middle Management

Image by irinakeinanen from Pixabay
Image by irinakeinanen from Pixabay

High ranking female executives from Tyco, ADT, University of Miami, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Sprint shared candid stories about what worked and what didn’t at a career advancement program presented by ITWomen. The Fireside Chat: Surviving and Thriving in IT Middle Management, was a soldout event hosted July 21, 2011, by ADT at its new corporate headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida.

The women’s stories demonstrated that if you are a woman in the predominantly male world of IT, the road to the executive office is neither straightforward nor solo. Nor is it paved with the green turf of old-boy golf games — although golf is not a bad skill to have.  

One panelist shared how she  worked out a telecommute schedule while caring for her terminally ill mother and two small children. Another, against all conventional wisdom, turned down her bosses’ offer of a promotion upon returning from maternity leave for the birth of her second child — but was offered a promotion again, two years down the road.

Balancing 60-hour work weeks and frequent travel with life priorities of family and child raising “takes a village,” they said, from supportive family and childcare, to a culture of progressive management at work.


If you have set your sights on leadership and the perks and power of executive management, start by creating the conditions for promotion. According to the speakers, they include the following:

Finding a Sponsor and a Mentor and Knowing the Difference
Debbie Wilson, VP and CIO of Tyco Security Solutions, says the difference between a sponsor and a mentor is that the sponsor can affect your career. A sponsor recognizes your talent and gives you visibility and more responsibility. A mentor is outside of your work, even outside of your industry,  where it’s safe to confide your challenges and feelings.

How Do You Find a Sponsor at Work? 
Audra Nichols, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Managing Director, emphasized that a sponsor is a relationship that grows over time. “You can’t just walk up to someone you don’t know and ask them to be your sponsor.”

Don’t Hesitate to Take a Promotion 
Women tend to question themselves when they are presented with an opportunity for promotion says Wilson: “Women first ask themselves, Can I do this and then figure it out. Men say Yes and then figure it out.”  Adds Joy Wald, director of IT at ADT, “Don’t be afraid you can’t do something, Don’t over analyze it.”

On the other hand, know thyself. Michele Gehr was offered a promotion just after returning from maternity leave for her second child. She had “an extremely supportive management chain” and told her boss she had to wait. She knew it was the wrong time for her to take on the added responsibility. They waited and she received a promotion a couple years later.

Finding Your Passion
Connie Barrera, University of Miami, Director of Information Security and Compliance, urged the roomful of IT professionals to “seize an opportunity and take on new challenges” until you find the work for which you are most passionate.  Barrera said she had tried just about every field in IT before finding her joy in security technology.  “If you’re not happy, you are never going to excel.” Strategy is partly about finding where you are most happy and going for it affirmed Wald: “Take control of your career, drive where you want to go.”

Asking for a Promotion
This is tricky. Getting a promotion where none is being offered takes extreme self-awareness and judgment of your situation, all agreed. “Even a well intentioned ‘ask’ could get you labeled,” said Wald, adding,  “If you have found a mentor, say, “I’m here, this is where I want to be. Get them invested in your career.”

Changing Jobs or Departments
If you are in a company that promotes “succession planning” you could ask for an informational interview to find out more about the work of other departments in your organization, with the advance knowledge of your boss, says Barrera. You must be the judge of your department’s culture – some could see that as a sign that you on your way out, she cautioned.

Asking for More Compensation
Audra Nichols, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Managing Director, says you need to ask yourself if your desire for more money is a “compensation issue or a job issue.”  Often, it’s not the money, but dissatisfaction with the job or the work. Most of the panel said they needed new challenges and projects periodically.

Networking Is Essential
Audra Nichols shared a personal experience on the priceless activity of networking, instilled in her by her mentor, a female CIO, who told her, “I’ll teach you how to network and you will like it! It was even written into my objectives.”  You think you have no time for it! she said. “However, after Arthur Anderson’s massive layoffs years ago left her with no job, two children, and a husband with no job, it was inevitable that she was going to have to move for a comparable position. “Well six weeks later I got a job with a global network and I didn’t even have to move — and I attribute it all to networking.”

“The more people you meet, the more doors open…conference sessions are great places. Before and after a session, reach out and introduce yourself, ask them what they do,” said Barrera.

“Don’t forget to trade business cards and invite them to LinkedIn soon after the event,” reminded Clair Marrero, Programs Director, ITWomen.

Get All the Certifications You Can
“Some people say, ‘Oh those certifications don’t matter,’ but get them, and once you have them, then you can say, It doesn’t matter” says Barrera. “With so much job competition, if you and other candidates are nearly identical in qualifications, having that certificate relevant to the position could tip the offer in your favor. Making the effort to get a certificate shows you are committed.”

The ITWomen Fireside Chat is one a series of Career Advancement programs held by ITWomen, whose mission is to increase the number of females in Technology and Engineering, and advance women’s careers in the field.

Debbie Wilson, VP and CIO, ADT Security Solutions, who hosted the program on behalf of event sponsor ADT, welcomed attendees at the sold-out event in ADT’s new corporate headquarters. ADT’s renovated lobby sporting a coffee center, conversational seating, and personal services in a piazza-style setting drew high marks from the attendees.

— Article by Christine Zambrano, ITWomen VP Web Content/Technology, Board member