Women in IT: reflections and stories from women in UTO

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up 47 percent of all employed adults in the United States but hold only 25 percent of computing roles. That makes the need for celebrating and recognizing women's accomplishments in the tech field (and beyond) all the more important.

Intersectionality is the meeting of numerous ways of identification that may make up a person. Dr. Delia Saenz, Chief Diversity Officer of The College at ASU, kicked off the celebration at March’s UTO Town Hall: "Each of us brings a series of intersectionalities and any of these identities can be made salient."

To continue the conversation from the UTO Town Hall discussion and recognize Women’s History Month, we’ve invited the women of UTO to share their stories and celebrate their individuality and accomplishments. Join us in learning from a variety of women — across generations, ethnicity, professions, leadership and more — through their experiences.

What advice have you received from, or would you give to, other women in technology?

Aimee Ashworth, Manager of Information Technology, sets the tone for Women’s History Month, sharing: “GO FOR IT. Apply for that job, share that idea, introduce yourself to that mentor you always wanted, ask for that raise you deserve, speak kindly to yourself when you are in doubt. You are magic. Forged in the fire, sweat, and tears of your existence and all you have to do is GO FOR IT.”

“The advice I would share with other women in technology or any other male-dominated industry would be to focus on using your strengths. In my experience, there are several areas where women excel — for example: multi-tasking, organization, collaborating, showing empathy, etc. Some people will tell you to improve your weaknesses but I have found the opposite to be true. By focusing on your strengths, you will find your excellence and create your greatest accomplishments,” shares Valerie Garcia, Strategic Sourcing Manager. 

Itzel Morales, UX Analyst and Product Owner, encourages women to be unapologetically themselves: “Believe in yourself and your skills. Be confident, assertive and always look out for other women and everyone in your team in equal measure. Stop apologizing for everything; work hard and play hard.” 

Grace Gu, Web Developer, reflects on the postive growth of women in IT: "As a female IT personnel who has been working as a Software Developer for more than 15 years, I am happy to see the improvement of diversity and inclusion in technology industry. In the past, women were less involved in IT. Today women are encouraged to study technologies and provided more opportunities by the companies."

Allison Hall, Director of Learning Experience Design, reflects on her own experiences: “When I was first researching and trying out leadership strategies, many of them involved toning down femininity and adopting more traditionally masculine traits. While this worked to a certain extent it just didn't...feel good. I found myself feeling more negative, angry and just unhappy. I was suppressing my natural instincts and core elements of how I formed connections with others.”

Allison continues with how she overcame the bias, ”Shifting my mindset to keep the strategies that served me but have the self confidence to retain the elements that made me me and not trying to hide the fact that I was a woman in the IT world was a game changer for me. To paraphrase Jessica Day (from the TV show "New Girl"), ‘I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children....And that doesn't mean I'm not smart and tough and strong'.’" 

Cheryl Johnson, IT Project Manager, poetically encourages women to find their journey in IT: “She said, 'Stop looking at the big picture, take the first step.’ A decision, the first step, does not commit you to a specific destination; no need to figure it all out before your journey begins. Do not allow fears, the unknown, to freeze you in place.”

Jess Evans, Chief Operating and Digital Transformation Officer, shares her experience in becoming a women leader in IT and reminds women to support one another: “Women who aspire to work in the technology field have a special place in my heart. When I started in the field, the global gender ratio for the technology field was 90/10 in favor of men. The climb was steep. As I look back on some sage advice that was imparted upon me, it would have been to never lose your voice as a professional, not just as a woman. The constant underestimating and disparaging comments from my male peers throughout the years was enough to make anyone quit. I encourage women to stand by your accomplishments, profoundly celebrate other women and publicly work to help the world see that gender is not a reflection of capability.”

“Women are critical partners in IT organizations, and my advice is to know your strengths. Many different people with many different skills are needed to manage and operate a healthy IT organization. While the IT world is predominantly a male workplace, women bring knowledge and education that compliments their colleagues and reinforces organizational flexibility and creativity. Keen attention to detail, and the ability to juggle multiple competing priorities are critical for knowledge management, customer service, business and data analysis, project management, software development and information security — all of which are critical jobs that underpin IT organizations. The IT world has plenty of work for introverts and extroverts, and there is a place for you,” shares Susan Barrett, Portfolio Director.

How have you seen the inclusion of women in IT change over the course of your career?

Debbie Giarrizzo, Fiscal Specialist, reflects on her own journey: “Women striving to get a better education have opened themselves up to greater job opportunities. I believe a better education has made women independent and no longer dependent on men to lead their lives.I put myself in this category. Also, over my years at ASU, the culture has changed, making many women feel like they belong and can do their best work in the IT world.”

How can the inclusion of women in IT improve?

Sophie Jones, Customer Service Specialist, shares how both women and men can foster more inclusiveness: “It is imperative that we encourage and amplify innovative ideas originally voiced by women, as opposed to deferring to the judgment and execution of that same idea by her male colleagues.”

Jenn Greenberg, Executive Assistant to the CIO, shares a new idea to support women professional growth: “UTO does a great job of fostering inclusion for women in IT but there are always opportunities to raise the bar in promoting more gender inclusiveness within the workplace. Although we have effective mentoring resources available, possibly automating a solid career progression resource for staff, especially for female employees, that could track growth and document milestones would be beneficial. This online tool could better identify opportunities to effectively highlight successes and achievements which can be leveraged to support annual performance evaluations and could also be included in rewards and recognition initiatives, such as retention targeting for women in IT.“

Many times, women in leadership roles can inspire others to also assume the mantle of leadership. Today, women make up half of UTO’s leadership, including Jess Evans, Chief Operating & Digital Transformation Officer; Christine Whitney Sanchez, Chief Culture Officer; and Donna Kidwell, Chief Information Security and Digital trust Officer. Let’s see how other role models have inspired our teams’ professional journey. 

Kari Christie, Manager of User Experience, celebrates the success of her women colleagues: “One of my proudest accomplishments at UTO is managing a team that is over 85 percent female. Between them, they have seven bachelor's degrees, five master's degrees, two PhDs, and over 75 years of industry experience. They're experts in their crafts, leaders in the community, mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. They're brilliant, resilient, hard-working, and collaborative. It's an incredible honor to work in their company.”

“She doesn't know it, but May Busch and I are very good friends. Each week for the last few years her correspondence arrives in my inbox with the best advice at seemingly just the right time. Her mix of personal stories and practical strategies has helped me make small adjustments to my professional habits to yield big rewards. I highly recommend becoming her friend too by following her blog,” shares Allison Hall, Director of Learning Experience Design.

Christine Whitney Sanchez, Chief Culture Officer, reflects on the role her mother played in life and career: “My mother, Becky Whitney, was a powerful role model as well as an enthusiastic and devoted mother. We called her a ‘professional volunteer’ because of her many contributions to the Arizona community. Beginning as my Brownie Troop Leader, she eventually became the president of the board of the Girl Scouts – AZ Cactus-Pine Council and later the board chair for the Desert Botanical Garden. She taught me to follow my passion, give to others and have fun.”

“Throughout my life I have been inspired in so many ways by many strong, smart and successful women. The one woman that changed the course of my life and career was Lynnell Wood. She was one of the few women in leadership within our organization in 1990. Her strength, confidence and willingness to invest her time in my success was truly an inspiration,” Gigi Speaks, Director of Information Technology, shares on how role models influenced her professional journey. 

Taking time to reflect and to learn from others helps drive a more inclusive work environment. Discover these additional reflections from women in UTO: 

Lesa King, Business Analyst, calls for better conversations and change around how we view women in the workforce: “We need to speak about the societal gender influences that hold women back in career progress. Girls and women in all fields will reach greater levels of success if they learn to view themselves as capable and as leaders. Society still seems to influence males to be confident and females to be liked. Family obligations still hinder women's careers more than men's.”

“We can support women by uplifting them and modeling our own authentic behavior. This means speaking up, even when it's difficult, and showing your support of women who do the same,” shares Samantha Becker, Executive Director, Creative + Communications.

Kristin Kennedy, BI Developer Principal, shares her reflection: “In my experience for over 20 years in IT I find that gender does not matter, it is more about having the technical chops to keep up. We need more women in the most technical roles though so I applaud the Girls who Code programs and anything we can do to get women in these roles.”