As I walked out of the Women in IT panel session at Collaborate16, my first thought was…
That was the best session I’ve ever attended at any conference.
I do not say this lightly. I’ve attended sessions over the past five years at various Oracle JD Edwards conferences. Let’s be honest, we’re not always incredibly excited about every session we attend, right? My manager had asked me to attend the Women in IT panel session, and as much as I hate to say it… I wasn’t incredibly excited. The session was on Wednesday, our fourth day at the conference in Las Vegas, and, frankly, I was tired. Going into the session, my only thought was that I could give my feet a rest by sitting down and get a break from standing at our booth. Let me tell you…I was dead wrong on this one.
I walked in right as the session was beginning, and I immediately sensed the energy and anticipation in the room. This was a well-attended event that was held in a panel format, with 5 guest speakers.
Helene Abrams: President, CEO:
Helene was involved in creating a reading/audio-visual program for student orientation, along with setting up the first computer lab at a state-supported institution. She later ended up at a wedding sitting next to Larry Ellison, who then recruited her for Oracle. Helene became the 1st applications consultant in 1988 and has not missed a Collaborate since. She is currently the President and CEO of eprentise, a premier software provider in the EBS arena.
Janis Griffin: Senior DBA/Database Performance Evangelist, SolarWinds:
Janis discussed her background as a stay-at-home mom. She decided to go back to school and has crafted a very successful career in database administration over the past 2 decades.
Michelle Malcher: Enterprise Database Security Team Lead, Wells Fargo:
Michelle comes from a background in database administration. She has previously served as the President of IOUG, and currently works in database security for Wells Fargo.
Megan Rae: ERP Coordinator, W.L. Gore & Associates:
Megan has spent the past 25 years on the ERP team at W.L. Gore. In 1998, W.L. Gore decided to embark on a global rollout of a single installation of JD Edwards. At the time, no one seemed to want to accept the challenge of leading the project, so Megan stepped up and volunteered. In spite of being told there would only be a 50% commitment, Megan has been leading the global rollout of JD Edwards at W.L. Gore since 1998. So far, her team has gone live at 19 out of 20 sites. She is very happy that she took the opportunity!
Laura Ramsey: Oracle Corporation:
Laura was raised in Silicon Valley but wasn’t planning on a career in IT. Her father suggested she shadow a peer of his at General Electric who happened to be a woman. The rest is history. Laura now oversees Oracle’s Database and Developer Communities.
I was instantly engaged as the speakers began by discussing their background stories and how they became involved in IT. I took a moment to look around the room and could see on the faces of the women (and some men) in the audience that they felt the same way. No one was idly checking emails or texts on their phone. In this day and age, that says everything and is nothing short of a miracle. LET THAT SINK IN. No one in the room was looking at their phone.
The panelists took time to do a Q&A session, and I feel like it’s important that I share some of the questions that were posed as well as the specific responses that were given.
What are we doing to get women into the technology field?
Panelists responded that we shouldn’t expect women to go into the IT field simply because they have a science & technology background. They encouraged people in attendance to embrace the idea that women can contribute to the workforce in many different capacities. Laura Ramsey spoke about her daughter, who is at the Air Force Academy, where the population is only 23% female. Although Laura originally questioned her daughter’s decision not to pursue a career in IT, her daughter said she realized that we can change the world from many different angles.
As a woman, how do you get through the “Glass Ceiling”?
The panelists suggested that you take risks and put yourself out there. If you can’t break the ceiling where you currently are, then leave and go somewhere else where you can. Women have the advantage of communication. They specifically advised us to “learn to sell yourself and your abilities to build a team. Be a part of a team and uplift your team.”
How do you achieve a good work/life balance?
To this question, Laura Ramsey discussed how parenting in today’s society is as much about the husband as it is the wife. When it comes to families, it’s more of a parenting balance than a one-sided equation. Michelle Malcher spoke about how she makes a point to regularly speak with her daughter about what she does for a living so that her daughter understands her job and becomes interested.
How can we recruit more women at our company into IT?
Panelists encouraged that we trust the HR teams at our employers to not only find the female candidates from peripheral backgrounds like engineering but to also find hidden gems from other non-traditional backgrounds like Habitat for Humanity.
Women in technology at C-Level positions: How do they get there?
Megan Rae spoke about how the CEO at the organization she works for is a woman. She said that you have to have the drive to push through to that level, plus a combination of skills and background to be qualified. Janis Griffin chimed in that women can also consider starting their own company. That way they are guaranteed a place at the top! Laura Ramsey added that she wants to succeed and be promoted solely on her skills and competency for the given job. She didn’t ever want to be hired because a quota needs to be filled.
Beyond the Q&A session, I wrote down several other pieces of advice that I was able to take from the panel discussion. As women, we should:
- Say “YES” to an opportunity.
- Get enough experience to get that job we love, and find different ways to get that experience.
- Never stop learning. We should read, study, and commit to learning our technology field.
- Always work to build our network in order to open doors.
- Never be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Just make sure to tell them that we can learn it!
- Refrain from using gender bias to battle against Gender Bias.
- Stop negotiating. Women have a tendency to drop their salary requirements in order to get the job.
- Know who we are and what we can do.
After the session ended, I took time to reflect on my experience. I couldn’t help but think about my own path toward a career in IT. I cannot remember a time when I haven’t worked in some sort of sales capacity. Over the past 20 years, I’ve gained experience selling a variety of things like high-end retail, real estate, and Swedish children’s shoes! I once had a job selling the advertising space on the side of pharmacy bags! (Ask me about THAT job next time you see me.)
When Megan Rae talked about saying “Yes” to the challenge of taking on W.L. Gore’s globalization project, I was reminded of my transition into Surety Systems and a career in the IT field. Much like Megan, it is a challenge that I am incredibly grateful for accepting. I was initially hesitant to apply for an Account Executive role on the JDE team at Surety because I knew NOTHING about IT and had never even heard of JD Edwards before. Surety took a chance on me, and I took a chance on them.
Looking back, I’d like to think that we’re both glad we took those chances. But the job wasn’t all “sunshine and rainbows,” though. The role was incredibly challenging. Coming from a non-technical background, ERP terminology was like an entirely different language. I was learning a new industry, reaching out to C-Level executives at Fortune 500 companies. (You guys can be really tough to get ahold of by the way!) My first performance review was not good. I just couldn’t quite find my footing. There was just so much to learn and success wasn’t coming quickly. I was a two-sport athlete at the collegiate level (volleyball and softball) and, quite frankly, I don’t like to lose. I almost quit several times.
And then something changed. I began to look at my role with Surety Systems as an investment of time…a “career” rather than a “job”. I remember putting together flash cards and studying intensely over the first Christmas holiday break. I was not going to fail at this. My focus had sharpened. After several months of hard work and dedication, my resilience started to pay off. Finally validation. I could feel my confidence building with each new success that I experienced. In the summer of 2012, I specifically remember providing the American Blue Ribbon Holdings company with a team of 5 consultants to help them upgrade from XE to 9.0. In that process, I discovered my passion for customer relationship development.
Since that moment, I’ve been able to carve out a role here at Surety Systems where I can focus on working with our repeat customers to earn their continued trust. This is the part I absolutely love. During the Women in IT Panel session, Laura Ramsey encouraged us to know who we are, and what we can do. Customer relationship development is “home” to me. I am thrilled to be part of the JDE Community and have a role that I am proud of at Surety Systems where I can earn a living doing what I love.
The women on the panel drew us into their worlds by telling their own personal challenges and how they became successful. I instantly felt like I had five new friends. I was beyond impressed with their ease of delivery, openness to share failures, and ultimately, their successes. Personally and professionally, the discussion reminded me to continue to take risks and challenge myself to improve. I was reminded of the importance of staying up to speed on the ever-changing JDE platform so I can speak the “language” with our customers. It was also a good reminder of the importance of work/life balance. To those who couldn’t attend, my advice would be to make time next year.
I promise you won’t regret it.