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Women In Comms

Women in Tech: People Skills Trump Tech Skills

The move to cloud, emphasis on big-data analytics and rapid pace of change in the tech industry is all good news for women, as it shifts the focus away from technical skills to intangible people skills.

That was the general consensus at a panel Wednesday at Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Women in Tech event, a part of its Ignite conference in Chicago attracting more than 300 of its employees and partners. It's a sentiment that has been echoed at Light Reading's past Women in Tech events as well: As a general rule, women excel at communications, collaboration and so-called people skills, all of which are becoming increasing important in today's cloud-based, dynamic world. (See Women in Tech Coming Into Focus and Women in Telecom: Collaboration Critical to New IP.)

"The majority -- 40 to 50% -- of my conversations with CIOs now are not about exchange architecture and networking; now it's about working with my employees on how to be more productive, collaborate, work virtually in an effective way," said Julia White, a general manager in the office division at Microsoft. "Those are people skills."

In the IT industry, in particular, companies aren't hiring for technical skills, but for the ability to use those skills for collaboration, Stephanie Ferguson, general manager in cloud and enterprise for Microsoft said, adding, "anyone can learn a specific skill, but women have this EQ [emotional intelligence] capability we're known for."

Chicago CIO Brenna Berman, who will also be a speaker at Light Reading's upcoming Women in Tech event at the Big Telecom Event joined the Microsoft executives on the panel. She is spearheading Chicago's ambitious analytics program to become a "data-driven government," and noted that her department -- made up of 60% women -- cannot hire data engineers fast enough.

Its most recent hire was a woman who will be responsible for helping embed algorithms into the department's business processes to affect how people do business with the government and how it engages with residents. (See IoT Council, CityWorks Coalesce in Chicago.)

"That cultural, organizational change is much harder than building the technology," she said. "It's hard to hire a data engineer. But it's much harder to hire someone who understands how the technology is being used."


Light Reading is hosting its fourth -- and biggest -- Women in Tech breakfast at the Big Telecom Event on June 10 in Chicago. If you are a woman in the industry, you're invited to attend free of charge! Find out more and register here.


The speakers had a lot of great advice for women -- from young girls to top-level executives -- in the technology field to get ahead, make a difference and build a career. Here are some of the most notable sound bytes and bits of wisdom that apply to women (and really anyone) making their way in the tech industry:

  • Work hard: "Be prepared to know yourself and what you want and jump in with both feet and work very, very hard. Hard work is key to get out the investment you put in." -- Berman

  • Take risks: "Be open to opportunities and prepared to take a risk." -- Ferguson

  • Believe in yourself: "Opportunities came in the moments I believed in myself. Take a leap for new growth experiences and networks." -- White

  • Think about the next job: "When I take a job, I always think before I say yes about where that job can lead me. My rule is I need it to go a few extra steps after that job to take me to the place I want to be." -- Ferguson

  • Set boundaries: "I take a long view on work-life balance. Day-to-day there isn't a balance, but over the long-term it works out. Give yourself permission to do that, and set your boundaries, unapologetically. -- White

  • Mentor: "Participate in mentoring programs. Mentor women at middle school age and younger, because that is where we see the drop off." -- Natalia Mackevicius, group program manager for the Microsoft Azure stack

  • Institute equality: "If you're in a leadership position, what are the changes you can enact to make your company friendly to women who are there? …Changes in policy or whatever the accommodation is that makes your office a good, right place to work. Equality is about everyone being comfortable and doing their best work in the office." -- Berman

  • Don't be a mean girl: "Girls start being bad to each other in middle school and they stay bad through high school… Our job is to start being good again. We have to support other women and get out of that high school/middle school thing." -- Ferguson

  • Teach that smart girls are cool: "Girls feel like they won't be liked by boys if they are the smart one. Smart girls are cool. Teach that." -- White

  • Take initiative: "Show some of your leadership early. Volunteer for opportunities to show your leadership skills. People will recognize it." -- Mackevicius

  • Self-promote: "Most corporations have a culture where self-promotion is important. The person who gives promotions wouldn't necessarily know everything I've achieved in the past year. It is up to me to inform them... No one can sell themselves like you can, and you need to back it up with facts. Put yourself out there and help your manager know that you deserve it. You are not asking for anything you haven't earned." -- Berman

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

DHagar 5/7/2015 | 4:04:04 PM
Re: Advice SReedy, these are great!  The only item I would add, which threads through several of these, is to "Network".

This is great recognition on the changing skill sets.  The analytics can be a real opportunity for women.  Look at the current developments as well with Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, Ginni Romeetty, CEO of IBM, etc.  Women really need to look at the tech field!
sarahthomas1011 5/7/2015 | 11:33:54 AM
Advice These panelists had some great advice, which definitely applies to everyone in the industry, not just women. Anything you'd add to the list?
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