IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Women in Tech Urged to Believe in Themselves, Speak Up to Get Ahead

In a breakout panel on “Women Leading IT Transformation” during the recent California Public Sector CIO Academy, a panel of women leaders spoke on “leading with purpose, transforming people’s attitudes, aligning to business outcomes, and delivering results.”

This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members.
This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members. Login below to read this story or learn about membership.
Women who aspire to lead IT transformation in the public and private sectors heard recently from a panel of tech leaders who have done — and are doing — just that.

In a breakout panel on “Women Leading IT Transformation” during the recent California Public Sector CIO Academy*, a panel of women leaders spoke on “leading with purpose, transforming people’s attitudes, aligning to business outcomes, and delivering results,” according to the event synopsis. They spoke on “the evolution of women in tech as they share[d] insights on what to do (and not do) to engage, retain, and support others on their way to the top.”

The panelists were led by moderator Liana Bailey-Crimmins, the state’s chief information officer and director of the California Department of Technology, who recounted her own career progression: Before being appointed state CIO in June, Bailey-Crimmins had previously served as the state’s chief technology officer; as chief information security officer, chief health director and CIO for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS); as deputy CIO of operations and then CIO for California Correctional Health Care Services; as chief of infrastructure services for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and as a data processing manager of network operations for the California Youth Authority.

“I always found myself working my way up through the ranks, taking on challenging projects, because of my abilities and skill sets and being willing to say ‘Yes.’ People always said, ‘Hey, you’re a real leader.’” Bailey-Crimmins noted that women in IT sometimes opt out of opportunities for advancement because of family responsibilities: “’I’ll put my career in the forefront later.’ Women deal with different challenges than others, so I think it’s important that we bring light to this and to raise the bar when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The first panelist to relate her story was Marcie Kahbody, deputy secretary and agency chief information officer for the California State Transportation Agency and acting CIO for the California Department of Transportation. Having worked in state government for 32 years and in the private sector before that, Kahbody said the main hurdle she’s seen for women is themselves.

“It’s really not external; it’s internal,” she said. “We don’t think we can do things. Look at a duty statement (in a state job recruitment), and there are a couple of items on that duty statement that we haven’t done, and we think, ‘OK, I cannot do this.’ But if a man looks at that duty statement and they can do 50 percent of it, they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is my job!’ But we have to get over that internally.”

Kahbody said she’s also seen gender bias in the profession, with women’s talents and experiences being discounted “as if we are not technologists, we are not technical enough.”

She said that she’s done coding and programming, wired buildings, built computers, managed people and departments, but when she went to apply for a promotion, the hiring manager told her, “’But, Marcie, we need somebody technical,’ without looking at my resume. That’s gender bias.”

Kahbody noted that a significant number of attendees at the breakout session were men.

“I love that you are here,” she told them. “We need to help overcome that gender bias. We need to help women, we need to support them, we need to mentor them so that they also feel comfortable with themselves. … We have to work harder to get to where we are.”

Kahbody also said a pivotal point for her was attending CDT’s Information Technology Leadership Academy, widely regarded as a training ground for state government CIOs. Through that program, she said, she developed relationships with state executives that have served her well. And she echoed Bailey-Crimmins’ advice about accepting additional responsibilities and promotions.

“If they ask something from you, they believe in you,” she said. “Be flexible, and take on those responsibilities.”

Panelist Ebony Irvin, an associate partner in Talent & HR Transformation Consulting for IBM, said women must do more than simply get a foot in the door.

“It’s one thing to be invited to the party — and (it’s another thing) once you get there, to be asked to dance,” Irvin said. “My mom always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. … A lot of male leaders do not know how to help female leaders because we don’t speak up. You’ve got to speak up. Closed mouths will not be fed. You have to ask for what you want. Men do it all the time. If there’s something you want to do … you’ve got to say, ‘I’m interested in coding; I’m interested in product development.’ That’s how you make it happen.

“Right now, it’s a real opportunity for women to come in and really make a difference.”

Other panelists included:
  • Brenda Bridges Cruz, CDT’s deputy director for special projects.
  • Kristin Montgomery, chief information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Montgomery was featured in an Industry Insider California “One-on-One” interview in August).
  • Ha Le Ly, associate director for Public Sector/West Region for Verizon Business.

*The California Public Sector CIO Academy is presented by Government Technology, sister publication to Industry Insider — California.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C.