Female Chief Digital Officer Shares Insights on Gender Issues in Tech

Don Tennant
Slide Show

How to Promote Yourself on the Job

Last week, I wrote about Anna Frazzetto and the emergence of the chief digital officer, a role she fills at Harvey Nash, a UK-based tech recruitment and outsourcing services provider. When I spoke with Frazzetto, who has a double major in math and computer science from New York University, I was also eager to get a sense of her experience as a female in such a high-profile technology role.

To that end, I began this portion of the conversation by asking Frazzetto, for whom the CDO position at Harvey Nash was created, how her being female might have contributed to the molding of the role there. She said what’s more relevant is the message that seeing a female in that role conveys to women who want to pursue a career in the technology field:

It’s doable, it’s achievable, and it’s possible to fulfill a desire to go down that path. The other thing it does is, anytime you’re sitting in any kind of management meeting or discussion, having that diversity at the table creates better productivity. I think cultural differences and gender differences really do help contribute to that, so I feel my role in the organization helps take the company to the next level. When you have that mixture, we all bring a different component to the table, and you get the best possible results that way, as opposed to having a management team that is only one-dimensional.

I asked Frazzetto how the role at Harvey Nash might be different if the first CDO had been male. She said it was a difficult question for her to answer, and she explained why:

I think that Harvey Nash does a good job as far as diversity balance. The question might be more relevant if we had an all-male management team, and then we introduced the first female executive, and you ask how that changes the dynamics. But that’s not the case at Harvey Nash, so it’s kind of hard for me to answer that.

That response warranted some clarification, for a couple of simple reasons: First, of the 10 members of Harvey Nash’s executive council, only one is female—the group director of talent. Second, while the chairman of the company is female, she’s the only woman on the company’s seven-member board of directors. When I mentioned that, Frazzetto elaborated on her response this way:

My involvement is more with the U.S. and Asia-Pacific, so I look at the management structure that we have within the U.S. and Asia-Pac, where we’re more than 50 percent female. It’s completely different from the corporate executive council. So I think Harvey Nash as a whole, when you look at all of the management structures across the board, does a really good job with gender balance and diversity.

Specifically with respect to the board, I have not seen any impact [of the lack of gender diversity] from my perspective. I’m not as involved, since I don’t really deal directly with the board. But again, I don’t see that it has had any impact, one way or another.

I asked Frazzetto what the biggest obstacles have been as a female taking the career path she’s chosen. She said the person sitting across the table from her often faces a more formidable obstacle:

When you start dealing with some organizations where the management might be a little bit older-school in thinking, they might encounter a hurdle in sitting across from a woman who is competent, and who can help them with the business challenges they might have. That happens all the time. It also happens in terms of cultural differences. If I’m doing business in China—or pick any country that might not necessarily be as advanced in thinking that you can have female senior executives vs. male senior executives—you run into that challenge all the time.

But I think what’s always helped me, is when I enter a room, I never look to see whether I’m the only female. I never think, ‘Oh my goodness, there are only three other women in a forum of 100 executives.’ Never. I go into a room, I conduct business, and I let my abilities speak for me, not the fact that I’m female rather than male. I think that’s a challenge some people have, but I think the more confident you are in the message you’re delivering, regardless of who you’re sitting across the table from, they will eventually only pay attention to what you’re talking about, not whether you’re female, male, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, or whatever the case may be.

Finally, I asked Frazzetto if she had it to do all over again career-wise, what she would do differently. She said she probably wouldn’t have been a programmer for as long as she was:

Part of the reason why I was a programmer was because of not having other options available to me. I think the options available to women have changed. Years ago, it wasn’t that easy for a woman to go down different paths. I was a programmer, because I loved math and computer science, so when I graduated, what else would I do other than become a programmer? But in reality, there’s this whole other element of interacting with people and working with clients. That was never really offered up until I happened to have a manager who said I had really great people skills—she’s the one who led me down my next career path. That’s what I’m hoping that I can do for other women in technology.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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