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Being a Female Leader in the Male-Dominated Field of Technology

Being a Female Leader in the Male-Dominated Field of Technology

by Melissa Gearhart Moreno

I work in Technology Infrastructure at Gallup, a stimulating and rewarding career in a multitude of ways. As Executive Director of Infrastructure and IT Security for Gallup, I lead systems administrators, database administrators, security analysts, and helpdesk associates supporting all of Gallup's global systems and data. It's also the case that my division is 96% male -- only three of 75 associates are women, including me. How did I choose a career in such a male-dominated sector? My story is unique, but it doesn't have to be.

I have always been surrounded by more men than women. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska where my class had six girls and 12 boys. I then attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned degrees in Economics and Management Information Systems, one of a few women that chose those areas of study. Although some women are uncomfortable in majors or careers that are male-dominated, I always excelled in school and was encouraged by my parents, teachers, and professors to pursue science and math-related studies. Upon graduation, I joined a top accounting firm as a technical consultant and later a Fortune 100 company as a software developer.

During my career, I have been fortunate to have strong female mentors that concentrated on my strengths and helped me develop my leadership skills. These women were strong leaders themselves and took an interest in my career. They helped me identify projects that could grow my technical and leadership expertise, earning additional responsibilities, compensation, and promotions along the way.

I joined Gallup six years ago under a fabulous Chief Information Officer who is a champion of women in technology. Over the years, I increased my responsibility at Gallup, eventually finding my home in the Infrastructure division, a very male-dominated area. The CIO took a chance at introducing someone into this well-established, long-tenured team that was so different from the individual team members. But my different viewpoint and experiences have been beneficial to the team. I am usually the only woman in a meeting -- there is even an audible difference as I walk into a room and my heels clack on the tile -- but my team's culture is based on mutual respect and consistent excellence, not appearance or background. As a division leader at Gallup, I report to a female Chief Operating Officer who has years of experience mentoring female executives.

My story is unique, but it doesn't have to be. Young women need to receive the same encouragement I did when they have innate aptitudes in science, technology, and math. They need to see other women in these roles so they, too, can picture themselves as scientists, technologists, and engineers. They need to learn basic computer programming skills in junior high and high school so they get excited about technological careers before they decide that female-oriented jobs would be more comfortable. They need parents and teachers to discuss starting salaries and lifetime earnings with them, so they select careers that are not only based on their interests, but that will also provide them with the lifestyle they want.

Technologists within businesses have complex problems to solve -- how to optimize supply chains, how to create business intelligence out of data, how global teams can collaborate in meaningful ways. Women can help solve the hard problems businesses face because they approach problem solving differently than men; they bring different life and professional experiences to the table, and they provide new perspectives to old challenges.

Employers benefit from encouraging young women to explore male-dominated fields as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that technology jobs will grow more than 20% over the next decade, but we will not have enough college graduates to fill these jobs if current trends continue. Women represent less than 20% of computer and information science graduates, so there is a huge untapped population of future IT professionals to help fill that gap if businesses can steer young women and girls in this direction early in their career decision-making process.

I am confident I was placed in my leadership role in a very male-dominated area not because I was a woman, not in spite of the fact that I was a woman, but because I was capable of leading this division, and I just happened to be a woman. The circumstances of my upbringing helped me feel comfortable and capable in a male-dominated technology field. Parents, teachers, and business leaders need to help our girls and women develop this same comfort and capability in male-dominated fields to develop our daughters, our businesses, and our economy.

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