To celebrate International Women’s Day, University of Strathclyde alumnus, Michele Hughes – Senior Vice President of IT and Business Services at Procter and Gamble, has written about her experience as a woman in the IT industry.
I graduated from Strathclyde University in ’91 with an MEng in Manufacturing Sciences & Engineering. Throughout my studies, I spent more than a year in the Petrochemical/Automotive industries as a female engineering intern. My experiences during that time made me feel that a career as a female engineer in ‘heavy’ engineering industries would be a daily challenge to be taken seriously, to be included and to find a sense of belonging. Upon graduation I made the decision to join Procter & Gamble as an IT systems analyst in their manufacturing plants as it allowed me to bridge the worlds of manufacturing/engineering with the fast-emerging IT industry. That was a life changing decision and throughout the subsequent 30 years, I have had opportunities to live and work all over the world, learn about all facets of running a global business, learn and re-learn the ever-changing IT industry and experience firsthand the power and challenges of achieving an inclusive and diverse workplace. I am currently a Senior Vice President of IT and Business Services based on the global HQ in Cincinnati Ohio.
Throughout my career I have often been the only female in the room and yes, I have been mistakenly taken for the secretary and asked to go get the coffees, the coats and to take the notes! The IT industry was, and continues to be, male dominated where the hustle of a 24×7 work hard/play hard lifestyle is a badge of honour. Despite 30yrs of progress to hire and grow women in IT, I am currently the only female SVP of IT in our company of 100,000 employees. I have been blessed to work in a company which has always put a focus on equality and has zero tolerance for bias or discrimination. This has allowed me to avoid many of the horror stories I hear from women friends in other companies. Despite this, the daily microaggressions persist – being interrupted in meetings, men echoing your ideas as theirs, not being taken as a ‘serious’ IT leader, men making decisions on my behalf around whether I would have the stamina for certain roles or projects, not being invited to the ‘boys’ networking events where decisions get made etc.
My approach has been to ensure I was equally capable in the fundamentals of business and IT as my male peers and then to outshine them in the skills where women tend to excel. Women generally outpace the men on collaboration and relationship skills which are really important in business and on nurturing and growing younger talent. Busy women and mothers are super time efficient and follow the 80/20 rule because they have little choice or else they don’t see their kids! We succeed on sheer tenacity and resilience to never ever surrender.
If I could give my younger self some tips, I would tell her to user her voice and express her opinion earlier in her career. I would tell her to do her homework before the meeting, have a gameplan in mind, speak up and be heard no matter how junior she was. Don’t be that silent person in the corner only sucking oxygen from the room. I would tell my younger self to worry less about trying to fit in or be liked but instead to determine what you want to be famous for, establish your equity, be yourself and not a corporate clone and then consistently go for it. I would tell her to lift as she grows. Use her increasing power to bring up younger women and to always remember that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ so having women in top leadership roles is critical for younger female leaders.