Editor’s note: “Breaking Glass” is a regular feature that focuses on women and minority executives and the issues minorities face in the high-tech industry.A seasoned entrepreneur and a pioneer for women in technology, Sue Weems has successfully founded five companies. She also was programming before you could get a degree in IT from any university. Today, she helps CEOs grow and build businesses as co-founder of Venture Management, Inc., a Raleigh-based consulting firm she started with her husband, Ed Weems, six years ago.

With an information technology career that spans more than 20 years, Weems has had a ride to what some would consider the top hasn’t always been easy. As a high school math teacher and a programmer in the late 60s and early 70s, Weems says she had to “take a lot of flack and do whatever I could, using my skills to get what I needed done.”

She’s experienced invisible barriers of job hierarchy of some kind at nearly every career stage. “Each was painful. Each had a difficult learning period. Each led to higher ground with a clearer view of the countryside,” says Weems. “I never perceived discrimination or lower pay for being a woman. But I did encounter times of struggle to succeed, to break through.”

She laughs thinking back to the Woodstock-era, “I worked on a 29-key punch computer coding Job Control Language (JCL) on machine that had a whopping 36K of memory and a tape output.”

Weems, armed with a B.S. degree in mathematics from Agnes Scott College, started a job in 1969 performing data entry and programming for Aries Corporation in Atlanta. “Late almost every night, I had to beg the operator to run my job to check for JCL errors,” recalls Weems. “It was if I wasn’t taken seriously. I carried that experience with me and learned that next time around I’d have to overcome some things if I was going to move up.”

Learnings from a promise kept

Weems accomplished both those promises she made to herself that evening – ultimately finding the right rope to climb the corporate ladder and learning some lessons along the way. Since that first programming job after teaching math to a bunch of high-schoolers, she’s held a variety of corporate positions from senior systems analyst to vice president of systems and software. As an independent consultant, she’s managed multimillion dollar IT projects for state and local governments.

And, although it much less obvious now, Weems knows the glass ceiling still exists, but she’s learned to manage it.

“Breaking the glass ceiling connotes for me initial pain for longer term clarity and freedom,” says Weems. And, that’s what she’s had to remember. “To break through a glass barrier over my head would cause me to be showered with glass and probably endure pain. But, glass can be swept away, and the pain and wounds will heal leaving a clear vision and freedom that would be exhilarating.”

Making success count

Weems believes that true success serves others, provides personal satisfaction and provides lasting value. She does have some secrets to success and freely talks about the three important elements of truly successful endeavors:

  • Focus… Have clear aspirations and goals. And remember all efforts must align to meet the goals. If the goals come into question, be willing to adjust the goals and refocus. Those who have a clear picture what they want and where they want to go consistently get there.
  • Determination…Have a desire to reach ones goals and that desire must be strong enough to carry through periods of doubt or uncertainty when the path to the goal may not have any directional signs or full of ruts.
  • Skill–Have the tools and ability to do the work that is necessary to meet the goal.

Fortunately, women in general, have special qualities and communicate in a unique way that’s generally accepted to be different from the way men communicate. Traits that we should celebrate, she says, and naturally use to our advantage as we pursue our goals. And, she says, as women, we should not be afraid to use them:

  • Consideration, Caring and Compassion–Women who are driven to succeed can
    use their ability to care about others to reach out and seek to understand others better.
  • Optimism and Enthusiasm–A positive attitude that shines through can
    instill confidence in others and form stronger relationships.

  • Passionate, Energetic, Feisty–The desire to succeed that is not dampened
    by difficulty is the product of a passionate person whose energy and determination will not be deterred.
  • Devoted, Trustworthy, Loyal–In these days of Enrons, WorldComs and other
    corporate misdeeds, it’s important to deal with trustworthy individuals. There’s no truly worthy way to reach your life goals without doing it in a way that puts honesty and integrity first.

As Weems views it, breaking the glass ceiling is for all of us: men, women, and ethnic groups — no matter. “We must focus ourselves, clearly set our goals and we must then use our God-given talents and traits to our advantage.”

Coming Tuesday: Sue Weems talks to Local Tech Wire about her greatest concerns for the company, what’s important to her today and how she continues to lead by example.

Venture Management Inc.: www.venturemanagementinc.com