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Focus on diversity

 

Women claim an escalating role in IT

“IT requires organization, analysis, patience, thoroughness, communication and forward thinking, and most women apply these skills daily, regardless of their career choices.” – Patricia F. Dial, DBA, The Harris Corp

“Technical people are far more interested in what you are capable of than who you are. No one seems to care if I’m a woman as long as I can deliver the goods.” – Donna L. Dietz, VP of technology planning, Pitney Bowes

Walt Disney’s Laura Hall oversees IT for the Disney Vacation Club and Cruise Line.This age of IT has attracted great numbers of women to the field. Like most techies, they love the excellent pay and challenging work. What’s more, many industry- and gender-watchers feel that women have unique attributes in addition to their technical skills that contribute positively to their companies’ success.

Laura Hall is IT VP at Walt Disney
Laura Hall joined the Walt Disney Co (Burbank, CA) in 1990. She’s currently overseeing IT for two growth businesses: Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line. “Both businesses are increasing the number of assets at a record pace and enhancing the products and services offered to guests,” she says. “These businesses are constantly innovating and anxious to apply technology to create a differentiating experience.

CNA’s Linda Sherper-Heiney manages programmers, a DBA and a content editor.“I enjoy the challenge of supporting new products and the intensity created by the pace,” she adds. In her eighteen-year tenure at Disney, Hall has been in IT leadership roles in areas like strategy, business relationship management, application development and support services. Besides IT, she’s been involved in business process reengineering and guest/cast research. Disney, she notes, considers all its employees “cast members.”

In 2003 Hall led technology conversion and integration efforts for an enterprise-wide, single-instance solution for Walt Disney World. Later she was governance lead on an enterprise-wide team focused on IT transformation, taking responsibility for IT strategic planning, governance, portfolio and financial management.

Hall grew up in Clearwater, FL. Her father was an engineer and her mother a teacher. “My parents were both from the South, born and raised on small farms,” she says. “I learned a great deal about work ethic, loyalty and responsibility from them.

“I was pushed academically, athletically and artistically, and was given the opportunity to participate in many activities and on many teams. This let me experience great highs and lows; I learned to deal with both success and disappointment as an individual and as part of a team.”

Hall went to the University of Florida, studied CS and graduated with a BS in business admin in 1984. Before joining Disney she worked in IT as a management consultant with Price Waterhouse. She specialized in systems design and package implementation for manufacturing and retail, and also worked with government and entertainment.

Her attraction to Disney was influenced by many happy visits to Florida’s Walt Disney World as a kid. “I believe in the brand and everything we stand for!” she declares.

“Our leadership has a tremendous commitment to delivering an excellent guest experience, and it knows that our cast members are the critical, key ingredient.

“Professionally, Disney offers a world of opportunities. It’s a company that has grown through commitment to excellence, attention to detail and diversity.”

Over her career Hall has seen a shift in the number of women choosing to work in technology. “In the early 1980’s IT organizations were starving for talented female professionals to infuse diversity, and maybe a different point of view, into the workplace,” she says.

Hall has worked with two female CIOs. “In our current IT organization, our CIO has a number of executive direct reports, and half of them are women.”

Disney, says Hall, is a very balanced and diverse organization. “Diversity is about ethnicity, race, gender, talents, skills and more. I think a degree of conflict in individual perspectives and points of view breeds the best ideas,” she concludes.

Donna L. Dietz is VP of technology planning at Pitney Bowes
Donna L. Dietz. Donna Dietz joined communications engineering giant Pitney Bowes (PB, Stamford, CT) in 2004. As VP of technology planning she leads the long-range development of strategy, computer and network architecture, and provides enterprise-wide direction on the use of emerging technology products and services.

Dietz works to identify new ways to implement computer, network and communications technology. That includes hardware, software, productivity tools, databases, image processing and multimedia.

She’s currently updating the PB IT strategy, and supporting implementation of the 2008 plan. The new plan includes rolling out a new email system and updating e-commerce and intranet technologies. “The email system is a critical component of our long-term IT strategy,” she reveals. “Another important component is determining how IT will support the development of PB products and services which increasingly revolve around software.”

Dietz has a BS in economics from Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) and an MBA from its Tepper School of Business. She’s of German descent, though some of her ancestors have been in North American for so long that they fought in the Revolutionary War. Her mom directed a nursing school and her father was an electrician.

“My parents always emphasized the importance of hard work,” she says. “My mother has a PhD herself and always stressed the value of a good education and constant learning.”

Earlier in her career Dietz worked in finance, business planning, consulting, project management and IT with several companies including Mellon Financial Services, FMC Corp, Chase Manhattan Bank and the American International Group. The first thing that attracted her to PB was the people.

“I met several PB execs and they struck me as being highly competent, down-to-earth people you could really get to know and partner with to make a difference,” Dietz says. “The second thing that attracted me was the vision of what PB could become. It was clear to me that IT would play a significant role in PB’s future.”

As a woman working in IT, Dietz has found that “Technical people are far more interested in what you are capable of than who you are. No one seemed to care if I was a woman as long as I could deliver the goods.”

But less than a third of the people Dietz interfaces with daily are women. “I am often the only woman in the room, and that can feel a little lonely at times. I hope more young women will realize that IT is a field where you are judged first by your accomplishments, and decide to give the profession a try.”

Dietz is confident that having more women in IT would benefit everyone. “PB is very committed to a diverse and inclusive culture. From my own experience, I understand that our diversity of thought and talent makes Pitney Bowes stronger and more successful.”

Dianne Ortt: software engineer and group leader at Harris
Dianne Ortt. Dianne Ortt has been with Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL), the assured communications giant, for twenty-five years. She’s currently a group leader in engineering IT for system developers, admins and production support people in the engineering and manufacturing application department. That, she notes, has included Web development, material resource planning, product data management and now CAE apps.

Ortt manages daily ops, process improvements, project management and personnel development. One of her big projects was transitioning from a major system-development implementation to a stable production-support environment.

“Our new systems had just moved into production when I was asked to lead two teams,” she recalls. ”With enhancements and development projects still in process, there was a delicate balance between the need to implement new features quickly and the need to be sure production didn’t get stalled.”

Ortt likes working with the talented techies in her group, and she enjoys helping team members develop their career plans. “It’s the personnel, teamwork and customer satisfaction that keep me focused and in this line of business,” she declares.

As a kid in Winter Haven, FL, Ortt was into sports, and raised with a strong Christian faith. She attributes her career success to that family upbringing. “Sports and school projects taught me the thrill of being a team player, which is crucial to success in our current environment,” she says. “I was a leader in school groups and class projects. It gave me confidence and a basis to build on as I developed toward management roles and responsibilities.”

Ortt’s folks both graduated from Auburn University (Auburn, AL), where she went for her first two years. “I developed my first awe of computer technology at Auburn,” she says. She transferred to the University of Central Florida where she completed a BS in business admin with a CS minor.

Ortt joined Harris because she liked the looks of its programs for new grads, and she’s still impressed with the program and the quality of the employees it’s attracted to the company over the years. “More and more women have come into our IT organization, balancing the strengths of our department for customer focus and attention to detail,” Ortt says. “I love diversification in gender and cultural background. It brings different viewpoints to discussions and encourages us to look beyond our own personal limits.”

One interesting challenge she recalls was the company’s migration from Macintosh to a Windows environment. “All our male engineers thought the older system met all their needs to get the job done. They weren’t eager to have us come in and mess with it,” she recalls with a smile. “Getting the right technical and customer support personnel was my key to success in that situation.”

Today she gets equal respect from male and female colleagues. “The focus stays on the work,” she says. “You need to understand negotiation and culture skills to be successful.”

Patricia F. Dial: DBA with Harris
Patricia F. Dial. Patricia Dial has worked for Harris Corp for twenty-eight years now. She’s responsible for system admin and integration of government, commercial, domestic and international financials, supply chain and HR.

Dial provides architectural design, installation, admin, tuning, migration, maintenance and monitoring of underlying Oracle databases, Web and application services for these corporate-wide systems. She also does logical data designs for supply-chain data warehouses.

She’s currently in the middle of a multi-million dollar, eighteen-month PeopleSoft/Oracle financials ERP upgrade project for the Harris government division. “This project migrates our late 90’s systems for financials to the most current Web-based architectures and technologies,” Dial says.

“We needed new hardware, all-new software versions of operating systems, databases, Web servers and all application components, as well as new architectural topologies, audit and government-required security, network infrastructure to all of our sites, new-user functionality and disaster-recovery procedures. It certainly ran the gamut,” she agrees.

A project like this, with long hours and overtime, makes it difficult to maintain a reasonable balance between work and family. “During large, high-profile, big-budget projects, you have a lot of people depending on you: the sixty-person project team, the company, and the family you love at home. Sometimes family life takes a hit.”

To keep that from happening too often, Dial will work from home nights and weekends when necessary. But despite some sacrifices, she firmly believes that IT is a great career field for women.

“Throughout my years in the business I have never felt there was a large gap in either salaries or opportunities between men and women,” she says. “A career in IT requires organization, analysis, patience, thoroughness, communication and forward thinking, and I think women build on these skills daily, regardless of their career choices.”

Dial has always remained involved on the technical side rather than taking a management path. “My husband and I both started in IT. He chose management, so I stayed technical to reduce any perceived conflict of interest. Anyway, I prefer the technical track,” she confides with a smile.

Dial grew up in Kissimmee, FL. In 1975 she got a BA in math from Florida Southern College, and moved on to a BA in CS from Southern Illinois University. “Since I was in school in Illinois, I tended to receive job offers from companies in very cold cities. I think it was a December interview in the Chicago area that made me realize how much I wanted to move back to my sunny home state! My father told me about Harris, and on one of my holiday trips home I stopped by for an interview. I’ve been working here ever since.

“Harris does a good job of diversifying,” she notes. “In my immediate department of eight, we are five men and three women, with multiple races, dual citizenships and different religious beliefs represented in our group.

“The world is not a homogeneous place, and variety truly is the spice of life,” Dial says. “Harris is a global corporation, and our strong position on diversity helps us communicate and understand the needs of our customers, wherever they may be.”

Yvonne Teich: program exec for Siemens IT Solutions and Services
Yvonne Teich. Yvonne Teich joined Siemens (New York, NY) in 2002. Today she’s with Siemens IT Solutions and Services, Inc, responsible for overall delivery and management of outsourced IT services to key customers in the N.Y. metro area. “I manage our relationship with our customers, acting as their key point of contact into and within Siemens,” she says.

“I maintain and grow the business from an operational and strategic perspective and I manage the team that delivers core services to our customers.”

She works with a diverse team of IT pros on transition and implementation of managed deskside services, supporting some 4,500 users in the U.S. and Canada. “Each individual brings to the table his or her own knowledge, experience and area of expertise, which we leverage for the collective success of the project,” she notes.

Teich’s family came to the U.S. from Portugal about thirty-five years ago, and settled north of New York City. “Their aspiration to live the American dream truly instilled a sense of pride and determination in my brother and me,” Teich says.

She went to Berkeley College (White Plains, NY) and earned a BS in microcomputer accounting and business admin. Today she thinks of women in IT as trailblazers. “Throughout my career I’ve embraced every opportunity to work on diverse teams; at the end of the day my focus is on delivering service to my customers while ensuring continuous growth within our business.

“Siemens’ diversity, global force and endless opportunities made me want to be part of the organization and contribute to its success,” says Teich.

Linda Sherper-Heiney manages SW infrastructure, development for CNA
Linda Sherper-Heiney.Linda Sherper-Heiney has worked for nonprofit research and analysis firm CNA (Alexandria, VA) for eight years. She manages a small group of programmers, a DBA and a content editor, and also works with consultants and acts as liaison between her programmers and the users.

“We’re usually working on several projects, including big ones like document management systems and the enterprise search. We enjoy architecting, configuring, customizing and implementing the systems,” she says. The least enjoyable part? “Obtaining final agreement on approaches to achieve a task,” she responds.

Sherper-Heiney was born in Asia and lived there until she was eleven. She came to the U.S. to complete high school, and graduated from American University with a BS in computer systems.

“Working for CNA has given me the chance to reach beyond technical development to apply additional skills and expand my competencies,” she says. “The work environment is flexible and family oriented, the people are nice and CNA lets my ideas be executed.”

Her group, she notes, is gender-balanced. “Equal opportunity across gender is increasingly important as the majority of college graduates are now women.”

Sherper-Heiney has a final bit of advice for women in IT: “Be persistent and don’t feel intimidated by the men in the IT arena.”

Maureen Kearney is Marriott’s VP of IR e-business systems
Maureen Kearney. Maureen Kearney joined Marriott International, Inc (Washington, DC), the hospitality leader, six years ago. She already had twenty years of IT experience, and was excited at the chance to come in and build a new website and platform for the company.

Today Kearney has moved up to VP of information resources e-business systems at Marriott. She’s accountable for the reservation application for
the firm’s global reservation and sales offices and Marriott.com: no small responsibility, as
the hospitality chain has one of the top ten retail websites, accessed by some million customers a day.

Her team’s day-to-day work follows a three-year roadmap and strategy for Marriott.com. The team manages fifty new initiatives each year, many of them projects designed to make the website even more competitive.

What does she like best? Just about everything. She’s particularly proud of a globalization effort for Marriott.com that her team completed in June 2008. The project translated Marriott.com into German, Spanish and Simplified Chinese.

Also released this year was a rewrite of the entire global reservations application. The new application is Web-based and reuses technical components of Marriott.com.

Change management is one of the interesting challenges in her IT department. “Whenever you are developing new capabilities, change comes along with them,” she says with a smile. “It’s just part of delivering IT projects and capabilities.

“Coming into the organization and turning a one-billion-dollar website into a scalable, flexible six-billion- dollar website, that was an example of the challenge of change management,” she says with a smile.

Kearney is originally from New Bedford, MA, a fairly large city with the feel of a small town, she remembers with pleasure. She graduated from Simons College (Boston, MA) with a BA, and went on to a variety of technical and managerial positions. “When you have a breadth of experience you become a better leader,” she believes.

One of the keys to success in IT, Kearney says, is to make one area of expertise your own. “My role is focused on strategic vision, aligning with the business as well as supporting an implementation plan,” she explains.

Kearney’s department has created a diversity calendar to celebrate the many different
cultures that make up the team. But, “Marriott culture is part of everyone’s daily life here.
We believe if we take good care of our associates, they’ll take good care of our customers,” Kearney concludes.

Dawn Welsh manages IT software licensing and assets at IGT
Dawn Welsh. IGT (International Game Technology, Reno, NV) is a supplier of casino
gaming machines and gaming monitoring systems. Dawn Welsh has worked there for six years, but her current department of IT licensing and asset management just got going at the beginning of 2008. The goal of the department, she notes, “is to consolidate all our hardware and software assets. That means managing all our software licenses and IT hardware, including computers, monitors and servers.”

Every day Welsh reviews software requests and determines if new software is needed. “I meet with different departments to determine their hardware and software needs. I also get with our vendors to see how we can consolidate our licenses into an enterprise agreement and reduce costs for IGT.”

Welsh employs a hands-off management style. “I meet with my team, set the expectations, and let them perform their tasks.

“The project we’re currently working on is to implement an asset management and tracking system so our hardware and software can be tracked through a single application,” she says. “One of our challenges is laying out our data structures on how we want everything organized. I can see the benefits of the project, and that’s exciting!”

Welsh grew up in a small town near Reno, NV. She attended the University of California at Davis, beginning in CS and math and moving to a BS in managerial economics. She also has an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno.

IGT’s employee-oriented culture drew her to a job there. “Our team meets a high standard of job performance and professional ethics,” she says. “And in this business there’s never a dull moment!”

At Wells Fargo, Sherrie B. Littlejohn is EVP and head of NSO
Sherrie Littlejohn. For the past six years, Sherrie Littlejohn has served Wells Fargo (San Francisco, CA), the diversified financial services supplier, as a dedicated executive. She leads the network services and operations (NSO) group that provides planning, architecture, engineering and operations for voice, video, wireless and the data network, as well as telecom expense management for most network components in the company. She manages more than 350 team members and a $175 million dollar budget.

Littlejohn focuses on ensuring that NSO reaches its primary goal of reliably, securely and efficiently connecting people and businesses to the Wells Fargo community. Her group functions in areas of network planning, engineering and ops, and telecom service delivery.

Another responsibility for Littlejohn is to grow talent, improve processes, influence a service-delivery culture, and evolve the Wells Fargo network. “We are moving from a static network to a dynamic one that offers more services for our partners and our customers: VoIP, video over IP, data anytime, anywhere, anyhow, and mobility,” Littlejohn says. “Ultimately we see these services converging to provide a secure, information-rich experience for all our customers.”

Littlejohn combines African American, Creole and Italian ancestry. She grew up in New Orleans, LA, where she got her BS in math at Xavier University of Louisiana. Then she moved to the Illinois Institute of Technology for an MSCS. She also has a certificate from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “My education and the career path I followed prepared me well for my current position,” she notes.

Before joining Wells Fargo, Littlejohn worked at AT&T Bell Labs, dipping into R&D, architecture and all development phases related to the network. She has nearly thirty years of experience in telecom and has led efforts in voice, data, apps, systems, instrumentation, network and overall IT technology development.

“Wells Fargo has several women leaders in IT,” Littlejohn notes. “I work for a woman who works for a woman, and I work in an organization where the management team is nearly all women,” she says.

“I would say Wells Fargo is doing a good job of hiring and retaining women in IT,” she reflects. “I think the overall challenge in the IT industry is in hiring African American leaders and other people of color. At Wells Fargo we’ve acknowledged this challenge and are working toward attracting technologists of diverse backgrounds.”

The CEOs speak out on diversity
“Harris information management reps are true partners with our operations teams,” says Howard L. Lance, Harris chair, president and CEO. “We have a diverse IT workforce, which is what our operations demand and our customers expect. A major representation of women on our IT team lets us anticipate the full technology needs of a broad customer base and propose innovative solutions that grow businesses.”

“Pitney Bowes’ culture of diversity and inclusion touches each function of the organization, including IT,” says Murray Martin, president and CEO. “Having a diverse workforce in IT means our company is better able to build and manage relationships, from supply chain vendors to the business side, and that is critical to the success of IT.”

Robert J. Murray, CEO of CNA, notes that “Diversity not only reflects the world in which we live but also creates a dynamic work setting that fosters creativity and excellence. That’s true as it relates to gender, ethnicity, personal and professional backgrounds and all the factors that make us unique individuals and give CNA an inclusive corporate culture. That’s the kind of organization we are: diverse by design.”

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