We interviewed Lois Coatney, Partner and Managed Services Global Leader at Information Services Group on her experience and thoughts on women in tech.
I run one of our strategic businesses – Managed Services. I am accountable for new product development, business development, global delivery (with staff across the globe), and for sustaining client relationships. I am measured on revenue and EBITDA contribution to the firm. Our services, like in any business today, are underpinned by rapidly evolving technologies; so it is paramount to our success that we innovate our products by leveraging digital solutions and transforming our delivery.
I didn’t initially choose a career in technology. I am trained in business, finance and accounting; and my first “real job” was in corporate finance for a technology company. I stayed within finance for the first 10 years of my career, but found client management and service delivery of technology a draw. I enjoy solving problems – especially solving business problems of my clients. Technology is a game changer to solve problems, no matter the area of business, which drew me and kept me in this space.
I only took a few technology related classes in University. At the time I went to University, IT was just beginning as a field of study. I literally saw punch cards laying around – but I digress.
I started my career working for a technology service provider, and worked in a number of capacities with that company for over 20 years. Across many roles, I was personally involved in designing, implementing and running systems that designed cars, distributed pensions and benefits, manufactured consumer products, and processed insurance policies. I witnessed the “art of the possible” of how technology enables business. In my current role at ISG, I use by background in finance, procurement, transformation, sales, delivery, project management, and people leadership to best take advantage of technologies and deliver to my clients.
Looking strictly at the numbers, the percentage of women to men in technology is very low, especially in leadership positions. You can feel it. Any conference you go to, any leadership meeting you sit in, any client site you visit; the number of men in the room far outweigh the women. It is much better than when I started, but there is certainly still a large gap.
I don’t think it is a matter of stereotype. I think it is more of a matter of what the job entails and skills that are most successful. And by the way, THIS IS CHANGING!! Let me elaborate with personal experience. When I first graduated and interviewed for the technology company, I interviewed to be a systems engineer. I was very interested, and they were recruiting me, but when I interviewed and they shared that the job was mostly sitting behind a computer and coding all day – I said “no thanks!” Fortunately they persuaded me to go into finance where the aspects of the job were more in line with my thinking. I don’t view this as a stereotype, but IT jobs in the beginning were more appealing to those (either men or women) who saw great promise working with code – solving a business problem with a machine. HOWEVER, technology jobs, or what I consider digital jobs, are very different today, with very different skills required. I don’t see myself as a technologist, but I do understand technology, people, clients, and business; and I can be instrumental in driving change that leverages technology to enable people and business. That is the new role and skillset needed in technology, and is going to more interesting and impactful to wider set of people – men and women.
Building upon my answer above, technology is a tool to enable something else. In other words, women may have a passion for helping people in need, or designing products, or building cities. Technology is the enabler to bring solutions to problems no matter what industry you are in. So the choice should not be – I choose technology over medicine. It should be – I choose technology and medicine and I will focus my work with technology to bring advances to medicine. Having multifaceted expertise, inclusive of technology, is the ticket for the future.
There are a couple of barriers. First – since the industry is mostly managed by men – the path for women to make progress in leadership is a little tougher because most people hire or promote someone just like themselves because that is who they are comfortable with. We just need to persevere. Second – is on women themselves. Be confident and assertive. I have made a few bold moves in my career, but I agonized, talked to many people, made sure my family was okay about it, created a plan, and then waited a little longer – just to make sure. Technology is constantly evolving and moving FAST – and women need to be confident, decisive, bold. See an opportunity and take it, even if you cannot plan it all out. We need to be confident even if the next step is bit ambiguous. If it doesn’t work out, there will be five more waiting behind it.
You need to have passion in what you do. When my alarm goes off at 5:00 am, I don’t feel the passion every day. But, I do need to feel vested in what I do, and see that my energy is going towards a larger goal. Technology in itself may be the passion trigger for some. But the power technology brings to other aspects of our lives is what will trigger broader passion. Every business is a technology business. Most roles in the future will require the ability to connect technology with business activities or functions to drive an outcome. If we can couple technology with other disciplines for young women, this will exponentially drive their progression to achieve the art of the possible.
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