Cisco takes on Women in IT issues

Be a catalyst, and be courageous in the workplace – those were the messages coming from a morning workshop at Computer Dealer News’ Women in the IT Channel recognition event.

Held on Thursday morning at Toronto’s Graydon Hall Manor, women from the IT sector met to talk about issues women face in their industry.

Many find it difficult to ask for more from their bosses, their co-workers, and themselves because they lack the confidence to speak up, said Rebecca Leach, who led the workshop. She is the director of partner-led programs and national direct integrator partners at Cisco Systems Inc.

What women need to do is recognize they actually have expert power, she said.

“Positional power is out, and expert power is in,” said Leach, who led the workshop held at Graydon Manor Hall on Thursday. To her, expert power means being able to draw on knowledge and experience and give informed opinions as part of a team.

“Expert power doesn’t necessarily refer to the CEO. I may be at mid-level management, but I have expert power.”

Leach told workshop attendees she believes it’s necessary to be a catalyst, sparking change within the workplace. She got her current job by pitching her job to her boss, and although the job didn’t exist at the time, he agreed with her vision and they made the position work.

Still, part of being a catalyst means fitting into the workplace. For many women attending the workshop, that means dressing the part, with some attendees advising women to wear suits if every other co-worker is male and considers that part of the dress code.

Other attendees suggested women should always have a blazer on hand, just in case a meeting comes up last minute. That helps break down the barriers between women in IT and their male counterparts, some attendees said.

Women also need to be courageous and take full credit for their success, Leach said, adding that women often feel they should be modest and say their success was a team effort. If that’s true, it’s important to honour team members for their contributions, Leach said, but not to the point where it’s a personal disadvantage.

“When someone says, great job on that presentation, how many women really say, ‘Yeah, I rocked that eh?’” Leach said. “But say it. Own your success! … Owning your success makes it repeatable.”

Trina Alexson, Cisco’s director of advanced services, said her career has taught her to be heard. When she first started working in IT, she was uncertain about weighing in with her opinions.

“Early in my career, I was like, should I speak up or not? These guys may know more than me,” she said. “But women should speak with authority if they know the answers.”

What women should remember is that if they’re willing to lead, they should do it without feeling like they are being held back.

“The key is honesty, transparency and trust,” she said. “If you have those, you will have influence, and people will follow you.”

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