JB HOMER Retained Executive Search, specializing in executive search for technology and operations talent in a global market

As seen in the December 20, 2006 issue of ...


Women CIOs: How To Smash
the Glass Ceiling

Executive Recruiter Judy B. Homer: Know Your Incompetencies

Judy B. Homer is founder and president of New York City-based JB Homer Associates, which specializes in the recruitment of information-technology and operations executives, including chief information officers. In presenting a short list of job candidates to a client, Homer says the firm tries to include a woman or other "diversity candidate." By being on a short list, a woman gets an opportunity to compete for the position. "There are women who have the potential, but may not have had the [CIO] title," she says. "But if they have an opportunity to be presented, the ball is in their court and the court of the client."

Q. What advice do you have for women interested in becoming a CIO?

1. You need to get a good education. If your intent is to be a chief information officer, you need to have dual skills; you need to think like an engineer and think like a business person. You have to understand business and treat technology like a business, and understand the financials behind it. I don't say get an engineering degree. If you have a liberal arts degree, that is perfectly fine. But continuously educate yourself.

2. Find someone within the organization to mentor you and help you navigate the waters. There are companies that are very assertive, some are very forgiving and some are passive-aggressive. You should build a relationship with someone who can help you understand the politics and open the doors for you [within a company].

3. Have unbelievable communications skills-both written and oral.

4. Be a team player. Establish working relationships with your peers, your subordinates, internal business clients. Manage up and sideways.

5. Deliver without leaving bodies-this does not matter if you are a man or a woman.

Q. What do you mean by "leaving bodies"?

Deliver on what you say you are going to do, and not leave a bloody mess behind. Some people deliver against all odds-and at the end of the day, it may not be the best possible thing. There is always part of a project-or whatever you are doing-that is stressful because things change midstream. How you handle that stress is important.

Q. Other tips?

6. Understand the business that you are in, and how technology can enable that business. Technology, for the most part, is an enabler, so the business people can do what they do very well. Don't lose sight of that. Do not be enamored by technology for technology's sake.

7. Be a good leader. The best leaders lead by example. You also need to have the ability to get respect of people, the ability to prioritize, and the ability to push back. To know when to say no, and not to overextend.

Q. What's the best way to say no?

The greatest leaders that I know have made their jobs effortless. They have enough free time to talk to people. They are not pushed. They do not come in frazzled. We have a tool, called a dynamic leadership solution, to help executives identify their unique abilities-their talents and skills. And I am a firm believer of staying within your unique abilities at least 60% to 70% of your time. And things that you are incompetent at-meaning not necessarily that you cannot do, but you are not good at, do not enjoy or are not passionate about-delegate them, and put together what I call a "unique ability team" around you. Your success is guaranteed. You have time to manage up. You have time to see the strategy. You are not running around like a crazy person. The true secret: Understand yourself, your unique abilities and what you do incredibly well. Delegate what you don't. And put together a unique team.

Build a Support Team at Home

Q. How have things changed for women over the past 25 years?

There is much more awareness, outspokenness. And people say: "We have to hire diversity, and we cannot be gender-biased." Some companies, through their human-resources department, force [diversity] from the top down. One of the companies is Pepsi, where the CEO is a woman.

Q. How have things stayed the same?

There are industries that are much more male-oriented. A lot of women have opted out. And there is no way they can come back at the same level that they left. The situation is difficult. Many, many very talented women go into cottage industries or start their own businesses because they choose not to compete. So, some of the most amazing financial services firms in the world miss out on this tremendous talent and brainpower. And brainpower and talent are not about gender.

Q. What advice do you have for women starting careers in information technology?

Get involved in as many positions as you can-from infrastructure as well as applications. And also, if you are developing systems, try to understand the marketing, financial and sales ends of the business. Try to get as broad an experience as possible. That is advice not just for women-that is for everyone. And consistently keep your education going.

Q.Should business take a role to encourage more women into information technology?

There are a couple of ways you can encourage more women into I.T.

Number one: by example. There are women, for example, at very high levels at Pepsi-including the CEO. When I recruit for that company and show women from the outside how successful other women have been within that company, it's a very big sales point.

Also, from the woman's point of view, women want to have families and they pretty much have the responsibility of the family-though that is changing with more stay-at-home dads. But women have to have the ability to build a support team. The women that I know who are incredibly successful have been able to build a support team internally-whether that is a nanny or family member. And none of it is easy. Unfortunately, if you opt out, it is extremely difficult to come back at the same level.

Q.Why is so difficult to come back at the same level?

There are very few companies that embrace you coming back in. There are people and companies that try. There has to be a constant support function at your home-with your family.

What impact do flexible working arrangements have on a woman's career

Just because you have flex time or are working from home, does not mean you are not getting the job done. But there has to be X amount of face time, no matter who you are. Everything cannot be a conference call or on e-mail, because you can lose the relationship. Most divisions are global now, and in order to be successful, you need to be able to travel. By the same token, the business has to know you do not have to be on the road 100% of the time to make an impact. It's all about compromise, as with everything in your life.

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