Yes, women can prevail even in a male dominated career

Think about the little girls you know. Did they get even more dolls for holiday gifts? Or did they get toys and games that teach creative thinking and how to build things? Or did they maybe even get toys officiallylabeled in the STEM category?

Social norms start young. I recently played a match game with my two-year-old granddaughter. When we matched the truck picture, she took it over to her 6-month-old baby brother as though it was his domain! This granddaughter and her two-year-old girl cousin have a variety of developmental toys. But when it’s free play, they are often clutching one of their dolls, whether it’s Princess Sofia the First or the newest Disney Princess Elena of Avalor. At least these characters are both confident, strong and compassionate princesses!

My four-year-old granddaughter isn’t as attached to dolls these days. After a break, she is back in dance class, my birthday gift to her. I know she loves it.  At Christmas, with her mother’s advice, I gave her 3 months of Koala Crate – a creative, educational activity box for 3-5 year olds. She loved the first box – making stuffed reptiles and learning about them.

You may be saying it’s all about exposing kids to a lot of different things. I agree. But it’s important to not fall into the gender norms when they are young.

Let’s fast forward from my three little granddaughters to some of the female leaders in our health IT industry.

The CHIME-HIMSS John E. Gall Jr CIO of the Year is Pam Arora, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Children’s Health System of Texas. I am delighted. Pam is a leader in our industry and deserves this honor.

I can’t help noting though that Pam is only the fifth woman to receive this award which began over 25 years ago.

I spoke on  a HIMSS Women in Health IT webinar on Tuesday, January 17th titled “Yes we can, attracting the future leaders in STEM”. To prepare my talk, I asked Pam and the past female CIOs of the Year about how they got into IT and what advice they would now give their younger self. While there are many women health IT leaders, why not turn to these recognized and accomplished women for some advice?

They got into IT because of the encouragement of either a parent, a teacher, or a boss. These important influencers encouraged an early interest in math and helped them stay with it as they started working. For two of them, like myself, their first IT job was programming. And it was back in the day of punch cards and programming languages you’d not recognize today.

The advice to their younger selves and to young women going into IT and STEM fields today was to have a can-do, positive attitude and to find balance.

Stephanie Reel is the Chief Information Officer and Vice Provost for Information Technology for the Johns Hopkins University, and Vice President for Information Services for Johns Hopkins Medicine. A bigger and broader role than the average healthcare CIO. She advised: “Be happy; be proud; go home a bit earlier to enjoy time with family”. She is a strong advocate for building a healthy work environment. She went on to say “We need to be kinder and gentler, and we should never allow ourselves to be bullied, or made to feel inadequate.”

Pat Skarulis is the Vice President and CIO at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Her advice is “Just do it. Take as much math and science as you can early in your academic career.” She also advised to not overlook the arts which are very important to your development and career.

Pam McNutt, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Methodist Health System, remembered the advice from her parents. “Don’t focus on the differences between men and women, just do your best and show value”. Her father told her she could do anything; the sky is the limit. Her mother taught her how to be a woman in what was a man’s world.

Per Pam Arora, it’s important to stretch and not be afraid of new challenges. “Don’t be afraid of work you have never done before. It’s a first for everyone at some point. Dare to be the first!”

I have great respect for all these women. We can all learn from them. The two leading professional organizations in our industry, HIMSS and CHIME, recognize the importance of developing women. I applaud the efforts they have launched under Carla Smith and Liz Johnson’s leadership respectively.


HIMSS Women in Health IT

CHIME Eyes Programs to Improve Leadership Diversity 

This post was first published on Sue Schade's Health IT Connect blog.

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