“Good leaders develop through a never-ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. The discussion with our panelists and the attendees was true proof that this should be our credo.” — Theresa Payton

Editor’s note: Charlotte’s Women in Information Science and Engineering (WISE) chapter had its first meeting last week, drawing a crowd of some 200 women — and at least three men. Local Tech Wire asked Theresa Payton, chairperson of the group and a senior executive at Bank of America to recount her thoughts about the event.Over a year in the making, the first membership meeting of the Charlotte chapter of WISE was an overwhelming success.

It all started a little over a year ago when a few women banded together to search for the right organization to bring to Charlotte.

We explored many options including: starting one, national organizations, and state run organizations before finally choosing North Carolina Technology Association’s WISE program.

The committee developed a diverse list of companies and schools to target volunteers for the executive steering committee. The steering committee has a wide representation of the greater Charlotte area and even boasts members as far away as Winston Salem.

Our vice chair is Frances Queen of Queen & Associates. We both have a passion for mentoring, developing, and encouraging women to choose technology, science, or engineering as a profession.

A C-Level Crowd

Women are very underrepresented in technology, math, science, and engineering jobs. Statistics show that many young women avoid any sort of scientific or technical activity, despite how important these areas of study are to our modern world. The huge turnout on June 15th was a year’s dream come true.

Our event was attended by CIOs, high level executives, and professionals from Wachovia, Bank of America, Microsoft, Duke Energy, Time Warner, Bellsouth, DST Inovis, Novant Healthcare, Piedmont Gas, Transamerica Reinsurance, TIAA-CREF, Xerox, and UNCC, to name a few.

We teamed up to support a common goal for which we had a vision and a passion for: pulling together the greater Charlotte region’s women in technology and engineering fields for networking, mentoring, and sharing information.
There are other fabulous women’s groups but most serve a specific niche. We were focused on something broader to foster leadership where women who are in business world and their careers involve technology, science or engineering could participate.
Adds Queen: “Our Charlotte WISE Chapter wants to help women in all aspects of the knowledge workforce to pursue career and personal goals.”
The meeting topic was a CIO Panel and called “How to Rise to the Top and Stay There (in a Man’s World).” It was an engaging panel of four women leaders in this field. They provided candid insights and advice about what it is like to be a female CIO in a field that is heavily male dominated, the challenges they’ve overcome, their formula for success, and advice to young women who are beginning or advancing in their careers. They shared their experiences through stories ranging from very serious dialog to lighthearted humor.

I moderated the panel. Also participating were Cheryl Keller, SVP CIO for Corporate Staff at Bank of America; Leslie Ennis, VP of Information Services for Piedmont Natural Gas; Theresa Wilson, SVP and CIO for Commercial Information Technology at Wachovia; and Jolanta Zwirek, SVP and CIO at Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated.

Building a Team at Home

The women shared real life examples that resonated with the meeting attendees.

When one of the panelists was asked, “What sacrifices did you make for work that were not really worth it looking back,” she talked about how she worked on a conversion instead of going to her daughter’s dance competition. The whole family went without her and would tell her each night how much fun they had and she would cry after she got off the phone. She decided at that moment to handle work-life balance differently to juggle both.

All the panelists joined in on this example and stated the importance of building a strong team and then asking them for help when you need to be Mom. You could hear women in the room agreeing out loud or softly to themselves.

We also asked them the question of once you get to the top, how you stay there. Each panelist gave her version of success and all of them shared a common theme that qualifications, skills, and having a well-rounded business background were key. They gave several examples of successful men at their companies and showed how they ran financials, operations, a line of business to achieve a well rounded background.

The largest motivator to all the attendees to do something different after attending this meeting came when a woman pointed out that she did not see women reaching out to other women, promoting women, or being supportive. All four of the panelists talked about how it is their duty and our duty to provide a supportive bridge for all women that are capable and determined. They discussed taking risks and offering stretch assignments even if you think the person is not ready and to be there to support them and help them grow.

After the panel ended, the attendees stayed another 30 minutes to network and share ideas with each other.

Coming from a military family, there is a line in a manual on military leadership that has stuck with me — ‘Good leaders develop through a never-ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience’. The discussion with our panelists and the attendees was true proof that this should be our credo.

Note: Payton adds that men will show up at the future events. “Men are always welcome to attend our events and how we hope to see them at our September and December sessions,” she said. For more information, contact Jennifer Aycock at jennifera@neita.org or call 919-856-0393.