Saturday, March 14, 2015

Women leading us to the cloud


March is Women’s History Month. As we celebrate women and their role in our history, our workplaces, and our homes, I thought it was important to bring to the forefront some of the strengths that might make them stand out as compelling agents of change in such a time as this in the IT industry.

Recent research reveals that while women account for about one-half of the labor force, their numbers for employment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields continues to lag behind men. There is much speculation as to the possible reasons for this, and this is not the focus of this article. After spending many years as one of the only women in the room in meetings and conferences, I’m starting to notice more women leading initiatives, programs, and companies in cloud computing technology. This is particularly interesting in the government space, where a few of the notables include:
  • Karen Petraska, service executive for data centers, NASA: Petraska has pioneered the work that NASA has done to consolidate data centers and develop an enterprise service approach to cloud computing.
  • Maria Roat, chief technology officer, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): As the former director of General Services Administration’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (GSA FedRAMP), Roat successfully led the transition of this program from Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to Full Operating Capability (FOC). In her new role, Roat will be leading the transformation to cloud at DOT.
  • Dawn Leaf, chief information officer at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL): When Leaf was at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the cloud computing program she led achieved international recognition. She is currently leading the DOL transformation efforts.

Women in leadership

As the cloud improves an organization’s technical agility, teams must respond with equal business agility to accomplish organizational and customer goals. Let’s take a look at some of the strengths that women bring to this time of transformative change and explore how we might continue to leverage these strengths to fuel innovation and breakthrough in our corporations.

Researchers contend that women leaders seek leadership styles that allow them to be supportive of others. Cooperation and collaboration is important to women. A conclusion might be drawn that women find it more important to create community in an organization. According to the “Toxic Versus Cooperative Behaviors at Work” study published by the International Journal of Leadership Studies (IJLS), organizations that are able to create collegial cultures where employees are part of a cohesive community are more resilient to external threats. These same companies are more agile and able to respond quickly to market threats and opportunities. The creation of this type of culture requires an egalitarian. Although not exclusively the domain of women, this leadership style may come more naturally to women.

One of the barriers for women in technology may well be that, in general, women are not perceived as being as innovative as men, according to a gender and leadership study published by IJLS. However, they are perceived as both consultative and inclusive. Whether driving a new initiative, or sponsoring organizational change, these traits are essential to the creating buy in.

The adoption of cloud computing in an organization often changes everything about a person’s role in the organization and the processes that they follow. Women who are leading these types of change efforts may be viewed as more compassionate and trustworthy actors who are trying to help. They may be more likely to ask questions, and to find answers that enable cooperation. Widely considered to be more relational than men, women may also provide an emotional cushion in those situations where change is charged with feelings of fear or resistance. According to a Gallop Organization study, employees are more likely to feel that they are part of the change if they are valued enough to be consulted and included. And who doesn’t appreciate the co-worker or leader who provides emotional support?

( This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.)

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