The unwritten rules for women in IT

Why are there so few women working in the IT industry and in senior leadership roles? These are some of the questions that author, Lynn Harris, addresses in her book, Unwritten Rules: What Women Need to Know About Leading in Today’s Organizations.

Besides authoring her first book, Harris is also an organizational development consultant and executive coach based in Montreal.

In her book, Harris explores the concept of what she calls “unwritten rules” that “aren’t explicitly acknowledged” within organizations and “are rarely, if ever,” spoken about in job interviews, but are ones that she insists everyone knows exist. These “unwritten rules” apply to senior leaders, where they’re perceived to be “available anytime and anywhere, have a linear career path, are competitive and promote themselves.”

The book illustrates how women can work around these “unwritten rules” by adapting in certain ways to ensure professional and personal development both in and out of the workplace.

CDN had the chance to interview Harris to discuss her book and some of the issues in it. Below is an edited transcript.

CDN: What inspired you to write this book?

Lynn Harris: This is my first book. I read some stuff about three years ago and heard more media news about people being confused about why there aren’t a lot of women in the field of IT and in senior leadership roles. I spent a couple of years researching and trying to answer the questions of why there aren’t many women in senior roles because I just couldn’t understand why people were so confused about this. I wanted to see what was causing this behaviour in the first place, so I looked at the structure underneath (in organizations) and what’s causing there to be an imbalance at the top of organizations. The approach in the book is for women to understand what they’re up against and to help them develop themselves in certain ways with professional development.

CDN: In your book, you discuss the importance of building strategic professional relationships and mentoring and coaching. What mistakes or misconceptions do you think women often have here and why?

L.H.: Women are often being a bit passive around this and wait for people to offer them a mentor or coach when actually, in order to stay successful and move into leadership roles, they need to really take control of their professional development, so they need to see coaching and mentoring as essential leadership competencies and take charge and develop external and internal mentorships to gain control of their career. It’s also about being clear about what they want out of the relationship to make good use of it. There’s no doubt that women make fabulous senior leaders and bring different qualities to those roles. It’s not a matter of competence, but really it’s about how they break into these roles.

CDN: If you had to choose one or two key takeaways from your book, what would you like your readers to leave with and why?

L.H.: I’d like readers to leave with a real understanding of reality and what’s really going on in organizations under the surface with unwritten rules and understand the environment in which they’re operating in and make informed choices of if they want to move up in the organization. Individuals should also take accountability for their own professional development. I’d also like readers to understand that they do have choices and they don’t have to move up the corporate ladder, because they could always move out or do something else.

CDN: You’re also an organizational development consultant and executive coach. Tell me more.

L.H.: I do work with a lot of men and women in organizations and I have an interest in helping organizations and leaders be more effective. I think we can do that with more gender balance at the top of organizations. In North America, I’m an executive coach to help managers in large organizations, where I develop teams and I facilitate business meetings. I also work with colleagues in Europe on leadership development workshops and around the world. On the book Web site,, I also write a blog and I also have an Unwritten Rules Facebook page for women who are interested in IT leadership.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Maxine Cheung
Maxine Cheung
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