Female CTO Shares Advice for Young Women Entering IT

Don Tennant

I asked Padir what the difference is between how the role of CTO at Progress Software is being executed now, and how it would be executed if the CTO was a man. She said it’s more about a person’s individual strengths, than about gender.

“For me, it’s really about the person in the position—their strengths, and what they bring to it,” she said. “One of the things I’ve always been interested in, and really good at, is bridging between the technical focus, and the practical business application of it. I think men are good at that, too, but that just happens to be one of my strengths.”

I told Padir that I’d found that most people I’ve spoken with on this topic agree that because men and women are wired differently, executives of each gender tend to operate differently. For example, I cited the fact that most people agree that women are more collaborative than men. She said she definitely agrees with that.

“I’ve said before, women are gatherers, and men are hunters,” Padir said. “The beauty of that is that women can bring together a whole bunch of disparate people from all across the planet with different ideas and backgrounds, and really get the best ideas moved forward—that’s how innovation happens.”

Padir went on to stress the importance of creating an environment in which good ideas aren’t going to get shot down.

“As a C-level executive in a public company, I have a big bat, and I have the power to whack stuff around if I don’t like it,” she said. Consequently, she has to be careful to ensure that people aren’t intimidated by that.

“You have to create an environment where people view you as just having a different role at the table, so they speak up and talk about their new and creative ideas,” she said. “The most creative people are not always the strongest-willed.”

Finally, I noted that there’s always been a lot of head-scratching about how to attract more women to study computer science and to pursue careers in IT, and that my own observation is that we just don’t seem to have been able to crack that code. I asked Padir if she agreed, and if so, what the bright minds at WPI are doing to crack it. She said she did agree, and that cracking the code will require a focus on attracting girls to technology from an early age. She recounted a story about being in the third grade, and bringing her report card home and showing it to her mom, who was the director of a high school math department.

“It said I was ‘good in math, for a girl.’ That was the teacher’s comment,” Padir said. “I really didn’t know what that meant, so I asked my mom, and we talked about it. But it’s that notion that early on, they’re not focusing girls on these STEM careers.”

Padir said WPI has “a bunch” of programs to attract women, like an “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” that’s geared toward girls in high school.

“I have two daughters, and I would love for them to go to WPI and become engineers,” Padir said. “It’s a matter of getting it across early that these things can be fun and interesting.”

Padir also shared her thoughts on the importance of retaining the foreign talent that comes to the United States to study in this country’s colleges and universities. I’ll cover that in a forthcoming post.

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