Women in IT shouldn’t be Superwoman, but they do need a bat shield: Julie Parrish

HOUSTON – Speaking at the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners’ Women in Technology charity luncheon at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference on Wednesday, NetApp CMO Julie Parrish told women they have to resist the societal pressure to be a Superwoman. But she said they do need a bat shield.

Parrish, who previously ran NetApp’s channel and before that held a similar position with Symantec, was introduced by Julie Bennani, general manager for partner programs at Microsoft.

Bennani said the opportunities are bright for women in the tech space. Three of the 10 top paying jobs for women are in IT, and in one of them, programming, the gender pay gap has narrowed to just five per cent. And she noted the data shows technology companies with women in leadership roles have 35 per cent higher revenue figures.

Despite all this, Bennani said just one quarter of worldwide technology jobs are held by women.

“We have some work to do, ladies. And this is at a time when we have a talent shortage in this industry,” said Bennani. “We need to amplify the force multiplier of WIT and ICAMP. The tech industry is a great place for women, and we ate great for this industry.”

In her address, Parrish agreed that there have been so many opportunities for women, but lamented that so few women are ending up in leadership positions. She said she identifies in some ways with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, and the notion of women “opting-out” of career growth. While making important decisions such as raising a family is not opting-out, Parrish said many women opt-out of career advancement in other ways, limiting themselves by not taking opportunities and risks for different reasons.

“A number of times when I’ve counseled women, they’ve said they don’t know if they can take that next step, juggle it all and be Superwoman,” said Parrish. “We’re opting out for different reasons.”

In her career, Parrish said she has observed three primary challenges that women have to deal with: it’ a man’s world in corporate America, there’s a Superwoman concept where women think they have to do everything and they don’t, and society puts a lot of pressure on women to behave in certain ways.

“It comes down to how you manage and persevere, and that’s where the learning is,” said Parrish.

While corporate America is a man’s world, Parrish said some of the best advice she’s gotten for dealing with it has come from men. For example, don’t feel the need to hang out at the bar and be “one of the guys.” Instead, develop relationships one on one. You’ll be judged on the results you deliver, she said, not on your socializing.

There also needs to be a perception change, she said. A guy with a career, marriage and child isn’t Superman; he’s just a guy. It should be the same for women.

“Men don’t get asked how you do it all,” said Parrish. “It shouldn’t be unusual.”

The Superwoman concept puts too much pressure on women to be perfect in every area.  And it plays into her third challenge of the societal pressure women face. Pointing to her own experience, Parrish said as a working mother she wasn’t able to make mid-day PTA meetings or go to school in the afternoon to help paint the set for the school play. She’d help in other ways, paying for the materials or coming to ask how she can help in the evening, but she said you don’t get credit for that from other parents.

“Instead, you get the stink-eye. It makes you question your choice,” said Parrish. “The societal pressure just weighs on you, and makes you wonder if you’re doing the right thing.”

Noting many of her role models have been men, Parrish said women need to learn from the men in their lives about navigating corporate America, put up their bat shields and just blow past the stink-eye.  Follow your heart, follow your passion, and don’t be afraid to take bold steps and have confidence that you can do it.

“You’ve got to have the guts and courage to know that you can do it and you’ve got to have the courage to know you are a good Mom and a great wife,” said Parrish. “Don’t let this Superwoman complex and some of the societal pressures deter you. There are tremendous opportunities. You’ve got to lean in, have the guts and courage, and put on that bat shield at times.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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