Women of color make their mark in IT
The road is sometimes long but the journey is always interesting. These women are near the top of the IT ladder at their workplaces
"I saw there was another, more technical side, and I wanted to know more about that." – Michele Turner, Microsoft
By Sue Marquette Poremba
No matter what the economic climate there's always competition for top talent in IT fields, says Amy Cook, senior director for HR at Ariba (Sunnyvale, CA), the software solutions company.
Ariba is in hiring mode. Cook says the company is always looking for top talent and certainly takes diversity into consideration. "It's more than gender or ethnic diversity we're looking for," she says. "We look at educational background and diversity of thought and approach. Diversity makes Ariba a stronger company with happier customers."
As companies become more global in scope, diversity becomes an ever more vital part of the fabric of the workplace. "When you have too much sameness you don't get the best results," says Cook. "If you think like your diverse customers, you serve them better."
The PhD Project is making changes
Despite the need for IT pros, women and minorities are still somewhat slow to move into the field. The PhD Project is working to change that. The KPMG Foundation, the charitable arm of accounting giant KPMG, helped start the PhD Project in 1994; in 2005 the project became a separate nonprofit. It's now funded by the KPMG Foundation, a long list of other corporate foundations and organizations, and 200-plus universities.
Project president Bernie Milano explains that its purpose is to bring more people of color into academics. It's the lack of a diverse faculty that hinders the progress of diverse students and their entry into the discipline, he believes.
"It's not very welcoming when it's an all-white faculty and you are a minority student," Milano says.
The PhD Project mentors diverse doctoral and potential doctoral students throughout the academic process. "Minorities feel more comfortable when they can rely on someone who looks like them," Milano says. "Overall, my hope is that people of color understand the opportunity they have to be role models."
Dr Sonja Wiley-Patton is an associate prof at Louisiana State
Without the PhD Project, Dr Sonja Wiley-Patton probably wouldn't have the satisfying career she has today as an associate professor of information systems and decision sciences at Louisiana State University. "The Project changed my life," she says.
She was a grad student at the University of Hawaii-Manoa when she found the PhD Project. She eventually completed an MS in global communications in 1996 and a PhD in communication and information sciences in 2002 at the university. But at the time she was just starting out on that road.
"I felt very alone as a black woman working for a degree in IS," Wiley-Patton says. "I was the only African American in my entire program, despite all of the diversity there was and is at the University of Hawaii."
Faculty members William Chismar and Ray Panko found out about the PhD Project and contacted its organizers for her and another student. She went to a meeting in Cleveland, OH, and when she saw the large group of fellow minorities working on advanced degrees in business-related technical fields, she was overwhelmed.
"I started crying," she recalls. "I knew right then that I would graduate because I had a new family, a new support system, and mentors. I would be part of the PhD Project family."
Today, Wiley-Patton is not only an associate professor at Louisiana State, but also director of the diversity and inclusion initiative in the office of the dean of its E.J. Ourso College of Business. She helps many other people advance in business IT, and recruits potential grad students through the PhD Project. She would like them to come to LSU, but her primary concern is getting them into the classroom and the graduate program that suits them best.
"I promote the PhD Project to our own students as well," she says. "We want to let them know how important it is for them to consider getting a PhD and becoming faculty. It's important for both minority and non-minority students to have a person of color as a professor."
Wiley-Patton says she's "always had a multicultural and multinational affinity toward life." As an undergrad at Ouachita Baptist University (Arkadelphia, AR) she did a study-abroad program in Fukuoka, Japan, and later she co-authored a multicultural and multimedia children's book with musician Stevie Wonder. It used a variety of technologies including Braille and an EPROM sound component. "I was always interested in technology, and helping to create Little Stevie Wonder in Places Under the Sun simply sealed the deal," she says.
Michele Turner: IT risk management at Microsoft
In the 1990s Michele Turner caught the IT bug. Her job at the time was in business recovery. "I knew there was another, more technical side, and I wanted to know more about that," she says.
She went into consulting, did some network engineering, built backup servers. "It was all a way for me to help people out," she says. "If an organization had been through a disaster and really wanted to make sure it could do things more proactively in the future, it was great for me to show them the big picture."
Turner started college focused on music, but changed her career path and graduated from Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL) with a 1998 BA in professional admin. After moving to the West Coast and working for Washington Mutual, she saw a job opportunity with Microsoft (Redmond, WA) that excited her. "It was in business continuity. I put my resume in and got a call."
That was five years ago. Today Turner is director of IT governance and risk management in the office of the CIO at Microsoft. "I make sure the IT organization understands the likelihood that a certain risk could occur, the impact it would have and the level of control that management has," she explains. "If we understand that, we're able to develop action plans and be more proactive around risk."
She works across Microsoft IT to ensure consistency in the way risks are identified and action planning is conducted. "My job is a little different from what you normally think of as IT," she explains. "When people think of IT, they almost always go to the technical focus where we're ripping up servers or following packets through the system.
"But I look at the business process of it. I say, 'Let's consider the impact on the organization. Have we conducted the risk assessment and analysis?' I work to understand the impact of IT on the business process from a technical perspective and enhance that. I have a great time!"
Kenya Hunter: ultimate responsibility for IT line projects at Vanguard
As an IT line manager at the Charlotte, NC campus of investment company Vanguard, Kenya Hunter has "ultimate responsibility for delivery of IT projects here," she says. She has a team of twenty people with skill sets in various areas of IT, and "I make sure all the projects have the resources they need. I help define what the goals and visions should be. I develop a relationship with the internal clients we're building the projects for. And finally it's my job to make sure the projects run smoothly from beginning to end."
Recently Hunter worked on a mobile platform for Vanguard. The company recognized how much personal and financial interaction is done via mobile computing. Customers have developed expectations of what sites should offer in the way of services and presentation.
"The project consisted of developing a mobile version of Vanguard.com and a corresponding iPhone app," Hunter says.
She has always been fascinated with computers. When she was young her parents bought her a Commodore 64 and she learned basic programming. "I thought it was so awe-inspiring that I could change the color of the screen just with a couple of commands!" she says with a laugh, thinking of what she can do with a computer today.
She sailed through programming classes in high school and went on to a BSCS from the University of South Carolina. "But I had no idea that computer technology was going to fill the big role it has now," she says. She got a job in Y2K testing and went on from there.
In addition to her main job, Hunter supports the technology leadership program at Vanguard. It's a program for new hires, she explains. "Typically they are coming right out of college, so our program is geared toward helping them transition from college life to corporate life. I'm the program coordinator here in Charlotte.
"It's a part of my job that I truly enjoy. I can share my experiences and help them build a good foundation for a successful career."
Sharon Murphy is an SVP at Wells Fargo
One year the ninth grade at Sharon Murphy's school worked on early career profiling rather than having a standard English class. "At first I thought I wanted to be a programmer, but then I came across systems analyst and I decided I wanted to do that. I went home and told my parents, and they were thinking, 'You're in the ninth grade, what are you talking about?'" Murphy laughs at the memory. "And as far as I know, the school never did that program again after that year, so who knows what I would be doing now if I wasn't in that class at the right time."
From that point on she focused on computers and tried to understand how business and technology were connected. She went to Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) for a 1988 BBA in MIS, and after graduation she worked for several banking and financial institutions, eventually moving to Wachovia just before its 2008 merger with Wells Fargo (San Francisco, CA). She's currently an SVP in the technology and operations division, which provides technologies designed to "enable" Wells Fargo team members: help them do their jobs.
"I had a long, steady career with a variety of jobs," she explains. "I started out as a business analyst, moved to project manager and at one point I supported the office of the CEO."
Murphy says her current job is probably the most exciting she's ever had. "This is an enterprise role. I provide services like e-mail and instant messaging to the enterprise." She's also responsible for the intranet portal and mobile devices used by thousands of employees in the company. "Essentially we're at the center of how we communicate and collaborate in the company, and that enables us to serve our customers better," she says. "I like it because I can impact 280,000 people, but that means I also get 280,000 opinions about how well I do it!"
The merger is a three-year process, and one of Murphy's responsibilities is to bring all the e-mail systems to a common platform. She's already worked on developing a new platform for the internal Web portal.
"We get to see the solutions we provide adding value for the company every day," she says. "And because I'm in the mobility space, I'm called 'the person with all the gadgets.' When a new device comes out and we have to go through the certification process on whether or not we'll use it, I get it first."
Pam Harris is an education consultant at Ariba
Pam Harris always liked doing things with her hands. When she got her associates degree in computers from Harrisburg Area Community College (Harrisburg, PA) in 2002 she was focused on hardware issues. "I spent a lot of time putting computers together," she says. "It gave me the opportunity to do problem-solving."
After graduating she moved to Pittsburgh, PA where she joined Ariba in 2006 to work in customer support. She moved into a project manager role and last spring she took up her current position as an education consultant.
"I go to customer locations and train them on how to use our products," says Harris. "I give hands-on training and lectures so the customers can get the most out of their purchases."
She enjoys the variety of ways the software training can be presented. "It's always the same talk, but the classes are completely different. There may be people in the class who've never used a mouse before, but they've been put in charge of implementing our software. And then there are people who don't want to be in training at all. I find it an interesting challenge to deal with all those personalities every day."
She likes talking to people and teaching, and she also gets to use her IT skills to help with troubleshooting. But eventually she would like to move into product development. "I definitely like working with Ariba, so I hope whatever happens, it will be with this company."
Ronda Sinclair is a server admin at CNA
Going for her 1994 BS in business education at Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA), Ronda Sinclair thought she would be a school teacher. In fact she did teach for a year, but she wanted something more challenging and that led her into the IT field.
"With business education I took computer courses and training," she says, "but I needed the technical background and the hands-on experience."
So she left teaching to work in sales and computer applications training. "That put me into the helpdesk side, and there you learn a lot. I had experience with software, but being at the helpdesk put me in contact with the hardware side of things."
When she came to CNA (Alexandria, VA) in 2003 she started out at the helpdesk. Today she's a server administrator, with responsibilities including installation, configuration and maintenance of the corporate servers. She also makes sure server security is kept current. She works as part of a four-person server team.
She likes to pay back by mentoring the people who currently staff the helpdesk. "It was great for me when I found a mentor in the group I wanted to be in. My mentor knew my capabilities and could vouch for me."
Probably her greatest challenge is finding a balance between her schedule, the needs of her toddler son and the MS she's working on at George Mason University (Washington, DC). "Before it was just me, so I could work the hours I needed to and do extra things. Now I'm more limited.
"The good thing about CNA is they offer some flexibility. I've been here long enough and I think I've proved that I can do my job well so they're willing to accommodate my needs," Sinclair concludes.
Rosa Ramos-Kwok is a managing director at Morgan Stanley
Despite her liberal arts background, Rosa Ramos-Kwok's career has focused on IT.
While she was working on her 1986 BA in psychology and classics at New York University she focused on industrial psychology and how automation and controls affect employee performance.
And when she graduated, she found that Morgan Stanley (New York, NY) had a program to hire liberal arts majors and train them on the technology used to run systems. She joined the company and was trained as an apps developer. This was interesting to her because at that time apps were focused on automation.
"My automation interest was realized in technology," she says. "Now I like to say I'm an engineer by training."
Ramos-Kwok is still with Morgan Stanley, and today she's a managing director in enterprise infrastructure. She leads the enterprise production management group, a team of 900 people, more than half of them vendors. "I like to call our group 'the group that gets all the problems,'" she says. "When you log onto your computer and there's a problem, who do you call? My team." She also deals with crisis management and support for the company's branch offices.
In her career with Morgan Stanley, Ramos-Kwok has had a front-row seat for changes in IT. "When I started I was trained on the mainframe because that was the primary technology. If you had a PC on your desk, people were in awe that you had one.
"We've certainly evolved since then! We still have mainframes, but now we're getting into server and desktop virtualization. In fact, that's something my group will support."
She's also seen increased focus on diversity and inclusion. More women are being recruited with a focus on retention and a better work/life balance. And when it comes to diversity, "When I first interviewed here I was worried that I wouldn't be hired because of my name. But I was hired because Morgan Stanley did and does believe in hiring the best and brightest."
Katrisa Frederick is a civilian IT specialist with the Coast Guard
Katrisa Frederick joined the Army hoping to go into accounting, but there was nothing available. "They said all they had was supply and clerical, and I said I'd only join if computers were available, so I went in as a computer programmer and I ended up doing computer support."
That was great experience, and Frederick decided to continue with computers when she left active duty. She got a 2003 BS in information resource management at Wilmington University (New Castle, DE) and in 2010 she completed an MS in information security from Capitol College (Laurel, MD).
She started working for the IRS doing desktop support, and in 2006 she moved to a civilian job with the U.S. Coast Guard. She's an IT specialist providing customer support: apps support for Microsoft Office, Adobe products and other programs that, she explains, aren't formally supported by the Coast Guard but are needed by employees. She also monitors computer equipment and assists with remote access software setup.
She begins her standard day by making sure all the computers are up. Then she goes through the current inventory and prepares for people who will be coming to her department for assistance or equipment.
Eventually she would like to move into a job that relates to information security, and perhaps work on a law degree focusing on intellectual property to tie in with her MS. "My interest in security is seeing what people are trying to hide and uncovering what they are doing," she says.
At Bank of America, Pamela Torres heads up risk technology.
Growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, Pamela Torres thought she would go into physical therapy. But as a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) she found she wasn't interested in her biology classes. A friend in her work study group suggested she try a CS class and she liked it. "So I took the next class and decided this was going to be my major," she says. She completed her BSIS at Pittsburgh in 1985.
She started in defense contracting, "as a programmer writing code to simulate Russian submarines." For thirteen years she was involved in many aspects of computer projects and also got a first-hand view of technology as a business. In 1998 she moved into the banking industry.
"Bank of America exposed me to a number of opportunities," she says. She started in the commercial system technology division, but before long she was asked to lead a new group focusing on strategy and architecture. "There weren't many women in the group and my manager thought it would be a good fit for me," she says.
It was a new discipline for the bank and the first of many challenges for Torres. "I'm continually being asked to do different things. Each opportunity is a new challenge."
She's currently a senior business exec running enterprise, consumer, compliance and operational risk technology: anything from setting technology strategy to production stability for the various areas she's involved with. "There are 167 different systems in this space!" she notes.
Through the years Torres has seen more and more women in IT at the bank, but there are still areas, like strategy and architecture, where women are rare. There's more work to be done, she says, especially to encourage girls to feel comfortable with STEM subjects when they're still in the early grades.
Torres does some mentoring and is involved in the Hispanic affinity group at Bank of America.
Pitney Bowes' Jacqueline Brown is a gatekeeper for quality software
After high school Jacqueline Brown went to work as a bank teller. She got interested in the work of the techies who came in to maintain the machines.
"I was interested in computers, but not enough to major in CS," she recalls. Eventually she went on to Iona College (New Rochelle, NY) where she completed a 1978 BS in facilities management and a 1982 MS in telecomm. "The telecomm piece tied into the electronics component," she explains.
At college Brown was the only woman in her field and one of the few people of color. That was fine with her: her goal, she explains, was not to blend in with her classmates and co-workers but to make herself stand out. "I always went after projects that no one wanted to work on. I'd gravitate to situations that were projected to fail because if I succeeded, it was a way of being noticed."
She is happy that today there are more opportunities for women and women of color in the IT field. To help with that she mentors, both in the workplace itself and with students through Pitney Bowes' Inroads program.
Over her career Brown has worked for several large corporations. She came to Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT) in 1995, brought in to manage its call center technology.
About seven years ago Pitney Bowes went through a large reorganization that included appointing a corporate-wide CIO. "His vision was to prepare us with a strategic transformation initiative for where Pitney Bowes is going," Brown says. "That opened up an opportunity for me to move out of telecomm networking to the applications arena, which is where I am now."
Today Brown is manager of customer relationship management (CRM) software quality engineering and release governance. She describes her job as a "gatekeeper" for ensuring that quality software is delivered to the internal business units.
"What I'm doing involves a strong focus on leading projects that deliver quality software and process and improvements," she says.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES EMPLOYING SOFTWARE & IT PROS
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Adobe (San Jose, CA)
|Air Force Research Laboratory and Aeronautical
(Wright-Patterson AFB, OH) www.wpafb.af.mil/afrl
|Advanced R&D;, weapons systems engineering,
acquisition, financial management, high-performance computing and global logistical
|Ariba (Sunnyvale, CA)
|Bank of America (Charlotte, NC)
||Banking and financial services
|CNA (Alexandria, VA)
|Microchip Technology (Chandler, AZ)
||Microcontroller, analog and Flash-IP solutions
|Microsoft (Redmond, WA) www.microsoft.com
||Software development and solutions
|Morgan Stanley (New York, NY)
|The PhD Project (Montvale, NJ) www.phdproject.org
||Support and encouragement for minority
|Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT)
|Postage meters and business solutions
|United States Coast Guard
(Washington, DC) www.uscg.mil
|Protection of maritime borders and
|Vanguard (Valley Forge, PA) www.vanguard.com
|Wells Fargo (Charlotte, NC)
||Banking and financial
Back to Top