The panelists shared some insights on how women could increase their chances for growth in the profession.
1. The Path to IT Leadership Is Not a Straight Line
The 90-minute session’s three panelists shared nontechnical strategies for building capacity and competing for leadership roles. They also revealed their nontraditional paths to IT leadership. Leaders repeatedly stressed that having an IT background is not a prerequisite for leadership. None had taken any IT coursework before gaining interest in the field.
Jackson, who spent 25 years in IT and now works with Texas Education Technology Leaders, started out as an engineer at NASA. She moved into education and eventually became CTO of one of the largest school districts in Texas — Cypress Fairbanks ISD, where she supported 118,000 students.
Cowan, has been in education for 22 years has spent the past 8 years in IT leadership. Her path was also unique. She started off as a music teacher, then took on the role of technology applications teacher and coordinator, then technology director and CTO at Duncanville ISD before moving to Mansfield.
Beatriz Arnillas started out as an artist, then became an art professor, transitioned into digital graphics and made her way to Halliburton, where she was an instructional designer. She then moved to Houston ISD, where she served as IT director. Today, she is the director of digital curriculum innovation at IMS Global Learning Consortium.
“Don’t ever think that because you didn’t start in IT that you can’t ever become a CTO,” Arnillas said. “I know four women CTOs who did not have a background in IT.”
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2. Women Should Prepare for the IT Roles They Want
While the panelists shared tips on mentorship, conflict management, creating allies and more, Jackson repeatedly returned to the point that women should prepare for the IT roles they want.
She said that when she transitioned into education, she joined professional associations, volunteered, and got needed certifications and advanced degrees to better qualify for the jobs she wanted.
“If you want to be a tech leader or CTO, you have to prepare yourself to move into the positions you want,” Jackson said. “Look around and see what certifications you need to have and add them to your resume. The point is that you can’t argue with certification. You can’t argue with the skills that you acquire to increase your worth and your value. Getting those certifications was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.”