By Mollee Bobusch, Vice President, Solutions, Randstad Technologies
When asked by a Huffington Post reporter to recall the most important lesson she’d learned from a mistake she’d made in the past, Padmasree Warrior, former chief technology officer for Cisco, responded: “I said no to a lot of opportunities when I was just starting out because I thought, ‘That’s not what my degree is in’ or ‘I don’t know about that domain.’” In Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg provides advice for women who might fall into the same pattern of thinking:
One of the things I tell people these days is that there is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.
I couldn’t agree more with these two successful women in tech: At a certain point your ability to learn and contribute quickly is the most important attribute of success, and with those qualities you can have a career in information technology (IT) — and, for that matter, many other fields you might have thought impossible. Yes, we absolutely need more women to get STEM educations, but not having a STEM background should not be a barrier to an IT career.
My own career, and the experiences that have shaped me into a versatile, results-oriented business executive in the IT industry, started when I was a political science major in college with my sights set on law school. Yet after graduation I jumped into an IT role — doing level one help desk support and business systems analysis at a large financial services company. This evolved into numerous other IT and management positions over the next 15 years.
Along the way I also found time to fulfill my law school goal and become an attorney — a credential that has helped enormously in my current assignment leading risk management for Randstad Technologies Solutions. While I’m not in a pure-play IT role, I have to understand all our IT service offerings and the sometimes complex technology behind them in order to evaluate and mitigate potential risk.
Rather than striving to have one narrow specialty, I’ve always focused on growing as a leader, accepting opportunities to solve problems and acquiring a diverse set of skills. Marissa Meyer, former CEO of Yahoo, put it this way:
I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.
I took a very similar approach, and while at times I found myself lacking confidence and fearing what lay ahead, I knew betting on myself was a safe bet. Another strong woman leader, Eleanor Roosevelt, provided inspiration for this approach. She said:
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.
I hope more women will have the confidence and courage not only to ask their leader what their biggest problem is and how they can solve it, but also the confidence in themselves to take the assignment head on, knowing they have the ability to figure it out quickly. According to Sandberg, an internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. That statistic is gut-wrenching.
We need to empower women, whether in IT or any field, to feel confident in betting on themselves, on their own potential. And in doing so, they’ll then be able to persuade others to bet on them. As Condoleezza Rice once said:
You know, I’ve never believed . . . that you had to have role models who looked like you to do something. If I’d been waiting for a black, female, soviet specialist role model, I’d still be waiting.
Of course we should also encourage women to pursue a STEM degree. I hope we can inspire a new generation of college bound women to focus on STEM and then turn that into a career in IT or any number of interesting offshoots. We also should encourage women who don’t have a STEM degree to consider an opportunity in IT.
If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her to:
- Invest in her own human capital
- Learn every day
- Be brave
- Take calculated risks and embrace change
- Let her personality, skills and network shape her career
Our economy needs more women in IT; so if, as a woman, you’re thinking you might not have the skills, think again. Go for it — even if you have to take a non-traditional route to get there.
Mollee Bobusch is Vice President — Solutions, at Randstad Technologies. She has a track record of developing successful growth strategies and leading strategic programs both for — and with — global Fortune 75 to 500 companies. Leading with energy and resolve, Mollee is committed to developing compelling strategies and solutions, creative problem solving and building trusted relationships. Based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mollee also holds a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law and is a licensed attorney in the state of Minnesota.
About Randstad Technologies: Randstad Technologies has been connecting top companies around the globe with the expert technology talent and solutions that drive their success since 1984. Their deep industry expertise and full-service capabilities — Recruitment, Consulting, Projects and Outsourcing — enable organizations to be agile, productive and ahead in the field with Randstad’s wide network of specialists and flexible solutions. For more information, visit www.randstadtechnologies.com.