Extraordinary Leaders Discuss Women's Careers in Technology in Higher Education

Paving the way for the future often begins with honest discussions about the present. This is one reason for the significance of the recent “Conversations with Extraordinary Leaders” event, co-sponsored by Stanford Women in Technology (WIT) and Harvard Women in Technology + Allies.

On Nov. 8, tech leaders Klara Jelinkova, vice president and university chief information officer (CIO) at Harvard University, and Jenn Stringer, associate vice chancellor for IT and CIO at the University of California, Berkeley, shared about their journeys during the fifth “Conversations with Extraordinary Leaders” event. 

Stanford CIO Steve Gallagher, and Nancy Ware, chief of staff in the Office of the CIO, moderated the event, titled “A Discussion Around Women Working in Technology in Higher Education.”

Current trends

Klara and Jenn began the conversation discussing the gender profile of their central IT organizations and executive leadership teams, sharing percentages of women in their organizations. They also pointed out a trend toward a more equal gender profile within their executive leadership teams, contrasted by a drop in the number of women at director and senior director levels.

Understanding the evolving motivations for women making decisions about their careers is a pivotal issue, the panelists said.

"What we are seeing is that sometimes women are actually more interested in a role that is going to allow them to have a significant impact. Are we really giving people an opportunity to lead in different ways where they can have a profound impact on the organization that is not necessarily just within the management structure?"
—Klara Jelinkova

Lessons learned on the journey to becoming a CIO

Jenn and Klara also shared advice and insight for women aspiring to be in leadership roles in IT. Klara spoke to the significance of working in many different tech roles within her organization to gain a core understanding of technology before advancing. 

"I really benefited from this horizontal movement across the organization, and sometimes we don't think about it as a career advancement because we're stuck in this HR paradigm of up, up, up."
—Klara Jelinkova

Jenn also spoke about her career journey, including her approach to career growth, risks she took, and the importance of being intentional about where you put your energy. She explained that it’s not always necessarily about finding balance, but rather prioritizing what comes first at different times in your career—whether that is work, family and friends, or yourself. 

Diversifying the hierarchy

Jenn and Klara concluded by responding to a question about improving inclusivity and diversity. They shared about plans they’ve created or worked on toward a more diverse gender profile and overall demographic makeup in their organizations.

Jenn spoke about the significance of the “belonging” aspect of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts. 

"It is not easy to be the one person on a team that doesn't look like everybody else, and a key part is making sure that we have the support structures in place to actually support people in feeling like they belong."
—Jenn Stringer

Klara also pointed out that strategies to create more diversity should include revisiting the rigid hiring specifications and processes currently in place to bring in more candidates that may not have taken a traditional route.  

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