Women in IT integration engendering change

Women rise to leadership as contractors seek to mirror diversity of government customers<@VM>Top women tell it like it is

Anne Altman, IBM trailblazer

David S. Spence

When Anne Altman started looking for a full-time position at IBM Corp. some 20 years ago, she was turned down for a sales representative job because a male executive who interviewed her said she was not tenacious enough and would make a better systems engineer.

He then persuaded the other male executives not to offer her the sales job.

Instead of brooding over the rejection, Altman accepted the systems engineer job and planned to use it as a stepping stone to sales. The rejection fueled her ambition.

"It never left me that somebody felt that I wasn't tenacious enough. I suspect it had to do with gender in those days," Altman said. "What I had in the back of my mind was that not only would I be a top systems engineer, but from that I'd be the lead systems engineer ... move into sales and lead the sales team."

Today, no one in the federal information technology market would say that Altman, 45, lacks tenacity.

In her 23 years at IBM, she has risen to become the first female head of Big Blue's U.S. federal division, a position she has held for the last four years, and one of the company's highest ranking female executives.

Women haven't had it easy in what has largely been a male-dominated federal IT sector, but many women now report that gender-based barriers to their career growth, which were common 10 or 20 years ago, are disappearing.

"I've never felt that my gender held me back, and I've gotten great mentoring and coaching," said Lisa Mascolo, managing partner of Accenture LLP's federal client group.

Mascolo, who joined the company 22 years ago just out of college, said: "In this environment, we are always looking for people who are committed and want to be successful, regardless of gender."

The news is surprising, given the results of a survey on women in high tech issued in 2003 by Catalyst, a research and advisory organization for advancing women in business.

The survey of women and men who manage major business functions at technology companies found that both cited four main barriers to women's advancement in the industry:

  • An exclusionary corporate culture that does not support women's advancement

  • Feelings of isolation in technology companies

  • Career demands at odds with family and personal responsibilities

  • Companies that don't strategically and objectively identify talent.

At first glance, the survey results would seem to characterize the government IT sector, where men dominate the upper echelons of the top IT services contractors.

The chief executives of the top 20 companies in the federal market are all men, as are an overwhelming number of executives leading their government business units.

But women like Altman are steadily finding their way into their corporation's top slots:

  • As president of Lockheed Martin Information Technology, Linda Gooden leads a unit that does a couple billion in government sales each year.

  • Deborah Alderson is president of Anteon International Corp.'s systems engineering group, which brought $350 million in revenue in 2003.

  • In June, Donna Morea was named president of the newly created CGI-AMS Inc., giving her responsibility over the division's government and commercial business.

"Woman have always had the ability to perform in this market," Alderson, 47, said. "It's just that women are becoming more aggressive in presenting their skill sets and the proven track records they're bringing. It's hard to deny women these positions, because they're proven performers."

A STEADY CLIMB

Female executives cited several factors over the last five to 10 years that have made -- and continue to make -- climbs up the company ranks easier in the federal technology market.

First, companies are structuring their workforces to mirror the employee composition of their clients.

Contractors, for example, have seen the appointments of more female chief information officers, such as Kim Nelson at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department's Anne Reed, who is now employed in private industry. Karen Evans, previously CIO at the Energy Department, now serves as the de facto federal CIO in her role as the administrator of e-government and information technology in the Office of Management and Budget.

"In industry, everyone models themselves on their clients," said Joiwind Ronen, 31, executive director of the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council, a Fairfax, Va., non-profit organization that brings together the IT community and government. "This is why we all have BlackBerries -- because government people got them."

Others concur. "Our clients expect us to understand and respect their diversity, and we can't do that unless we ourselves are diverse," Mascolo said.

This course of action seems to be paying off in the federal IT sector, as some female executives said women usually have performed better than their male colleagues with government customers, who have detail-oriented and sometimes demanding specifications.

"There's a real appreciation for customer interface," Alderson said. "A lot of the growth is performance-based and -- I really hate saying this -- women are very good at communication skills and multitasking. That's a resource not tapped in the past."

It's no coincidence, then, that four of the five Accenture managers working on the firm's multibillion U.S. Visit program contract with the Homeland Security Department are women, including the deputy program manger, Mascolo said.

"We did a great job of listening to the client throughout the competitive process, understanding what the objectives were and putting together a solution that addressed their objectives," she said.

Another factor that has helped women rise through the managerial ranks has been the growth of company-sponsored professional development and mentor programs. Such corporate programs focus on training a diverse selection of a company's best employees, both male and female, for executive positions.

Lockheed Martin Corp., for example, has a leadership development program that puts new college graduates with high potential through a two-year program of intense technical training, job rotation assignments and annual leadership development conferences, said Gooden, 51, who started working for Lockheed Martin 24 years ago and has been in her current position since 1997.

Previously, she was vice president of the company's software support services unit and held positions of increasing responsibility within the corporation's data systems and information systems divisions.

CGI-AMS has a professional development program for both men and women based on merit, experience and interest in growing with the company, said Catherine Morales, 54, vice president of the company's consulting services in its public-sector group.

Some IT companies have external training and mentoring programs to encourage young women to pursue IT careers. IBM, for instance, has a "Women in Technology" outreach program in which company employees volunteer to mentor female managers and help them achieve a work-life balance.

For its "Excite" program, an acronym for Exploring Interest in Technology and Engineering, the company runs weeklong camps to encourage middle-school girls to study and pursue technology careers.

Female tech executives in the federal sector also said that plenty of networking opportunities, especially in the Washington metropolitan area, have allowed them and lower-ranking women to meet and get support from their peers.

"There are more networking opportunities today than 20 years ago," said Kathleen Adams, 53, of SRA International Inc. "Women have friends, and it is a much more supporting environment [that] makes it easier for women to befriend [each other] and mentor them."

Before joining SRA five years ago, Adams spent 27 years in the federal government, most of that time handling IT responsibilities at the Social Security Administration. But, she cautioned, "when you reach critical mass, you don't have friends."

Most female executives in the federal IT sector also said woman have benefited from company programs that allow telecommuting or provide flex time for employees to take care of personal and family matters.

Accenture, for example, started a program called, "A Great Place to Work for Women" in 1994 in the United States, but launched it globally in 1999 to help female employees maintain their careers while giving them flexible work schedules to meet individual needs and local country customs.

"The whole work-life balance equation is now a fact of the workplace, and I don't think it's either male or female," Lockheed Martin's Gooden said.

ONLY SO ROSY

Despite the strides that female executives have made, some evidence suggests there is still sexism in the federal IT market.

IBM's Altman said that when a male colleague accompanies her to meetings with certain senior male government executives, her colleague is often the initial focus of conversation and attention. But after the government official recognizes that Altman is the senior executive, he immediately redirects the conversation to her.

"Today, there's an obvious discomfort, like 'Oops, I made a major mistake here.' ... That's an obvious and significant change from the attitudes of senior male executives in the government and the industry at large," Altman said. "And it's not just defense, and it's not just intelligence, but it's much better than 10 or 20 years ago."

However, one female executive who declined to be named said exclusion still abounds in the nation's capital.

"This is still an old boys' town and network, and I still notice that not everyone is changing to accommodate new folks," she said.

Consequently, the perception that "this is less of an issue now than it used to be doesn't mean it isn't still a serious issue," said Dede Haskins, president of Women in Technology, an Alexandra, Va., organization that provides a networking and professional growth environment for women in the technology community.

Haskins said women are still not represented in executive positions or on boards of directors in the same percentages that exist in the federal government or any segment of the broader IT industry.

Her association, although not focused specifically on glass-ceiling issues, has held at least two programs over the past two years to address barriers to women in high-tech.

"The feedback was pretty clear: This is still an issue," she said.

Despite these findings, many women executives are confident that cultural and market forces will elevate more women into top-level positions in federal IT companies.

"There are a lot more women in government and industry, there's a lot of back-and-forth movement between the two, and we are reaching critical mass," SRA's Adams said. "The ones in midlevel positions will be promoted to senior executive levels in five to 10 years."

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

Linda Gooden

Laurie DeWitt

Deborah Alderson

J. Adam Fenster

Anne Altman, vice president and managing director of U.S. federal, IBM Corp. "If you really want to be an executive, then you need to state your intent, and you should state your intent early. You should have a sense of what skills you are going to need to truly be an executive within any company within the domain of the IT industry in this marketplace."

Linda Gooden, president, Lockheed Martin Information Technology "The key is achieving balance. We've gone through a lot of errors as females. Leadership is very complex, and there are a number of constituencies -- your employees, your customers, your shareholders and your family ? to consider. And finding a balance that ensures that you're delivering a quality product to the customer, delivering value to the shareholder and that your employees have a level of satisfaction, and you can still go home at night and occasionally have dinner with the family, is key to long-term success."

[IMGCAP(2)]Catherine Morales, vice president consulting services, public sector group, CGI-AMS Inc. "Understand your own goals and figure out how to mesh them with the corporation's goals."

Kathleen Adams, senior vice president and director of civil government sector, SRA International Inc.
"Focus on accomplishing your job. Get in there and do what you need to do to be heard. ... Satisfy the client. Also, try to find a good mentor who will provide advice."

Lisa Mascolo, managing partner of the federal client group, Accenture LLC"Women do not tend to self-promote. It's important, while not being aggressive and in your face, to recognize your capabilities and take advantage of them, and make sure your coaches and mentors understand your aspirations and are going to support you in achieving them."

Deborah Alderson, group president, systems engineering group, Anteon International Corp. "You have to make sure you're prepared for any business encounter. Be smart. Don't feel like you have to give up anything. You don't have to do trade-offs ? just work at being the best in everything you do in work life and family life."

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