Sometimes that means you have to stretch yourself and take on a role that scares you. It's worth it. Elizabeth Austin, vice president of IT Operations and Infrastructure at Family Dollar, believes her openness to new challenges offered her interesting opportunities to work in a variety of roles with each employer. "Many of the roles have been non-traditional for women. For example, I've worked in construction and manufacturing business applications implementation and support roles. In my current role, I have operations and infrastructure responsibilities for a discount retailer, which have provided many opportunities for learning new technologies and the retail business environment."
Don't wait for opportunities to come to you. If there's no obvious way to gain recognition in your day-to-day work, find someplace where you can contribute. Cindy Hughes, CIO of Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, has volunteered for corporate presentations, speaking to outside groups about the company or about what is going on in her department.
Stephens says, "Work can be like sports. As people are picking their teams, they want the known players who deliver. Become known as a player who delivers, and your opportunities will grow."
Reach Outside IT
That touches on another success factor shared by these woman CIOs: Don't huddle inside the IT department. As IT staff everywhere know far too well, when IT is working, it's invisible. To be noticed personally, you have to walk outside the data centre.
Stephens urges ambitious women to volunteer for assignments that provide opportunities outside the usual working relationships. "This could be working on an enterprisewide initiative or working on something focused in another discipline," she explains. When Stephens was an IT manager, she took the opportunity to develop a section of her corporation's application to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. "Although my assigned section had an information systems theme, working on this enterprise team exposed me to diverse functions and people throughout the corporation," she says.
Doing so helps you do your job effectively — how can it hurt to develop a cross-functional perspective on company goals, strategy and culture? — and also builds your reputation as someone who gets things done. And it sets you apart from typical IT professionals, who merely focus on their specific assignment and technical discipline.
Case in point: Early in Stephens's career, she took the opportunity to work outside her immediate organization, the marketing and sales arm of the company. "Through specific initiatives, I became known within that circle as someone who did whatever was necessary to support the customer and their marketing efforts. The relationships I formed led to more opportunities."
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.