A post last week in which I raised the question of whether business intelligence is a good ol’ boys’ club caught the attention of Terri White, director of marketing communications at Information Builders, one of the oldest and largest BI companies around. White, in turn, brought to my attention an article she had written, coincidentally enough, about women in BI for the current edition of Information Builders magazine. The article profiles four women, including Melissa Treier, Information Builders’ vice president of sales.
I welcomed the opportunity to speak with White about her experience at Information Builders. In an interview on Monday, I asked her how she would answer the question of whether BI is a good ol’ boys’ club. She said sometimes, it seems that way:
From my own personal perspective, I’ve been in the technology space my whole career. It’s not unusual to have mostly men at the top in the senior leadership positions. It’s something that I’ve been kind of used to seeing. So sometimes it does seem that way. I think things are changing. In BI, I think it’s a matter of how the space has evolved. At Information Builders, we’ve been around for a long time, and a lot of the executives and the employees have been around a long time. We have a culture of amazing employee retention, so that’s just kind of the way that it’s evolved over time—we’ve been around for 35 years. So sometimes it does seem like a boys’ club. But for me, the most important thing is I never feel like it’s not possible to achieve that position. It’s all about making choices.
An interesting dimension of our discussion was the fact that if you go to the Executive Directory page on Information Builders’ website, you’ll find 34 executives listed—32 of them are men. (Melissa Treier is one of the two women, and the only one in North America.) I asked White what she attributes that to. She said it’s complicated:
It’s a combination of sheer numbers—more men in the field; women not “leaning in” enough, to borrow from [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg; and not as many networking opportunities, although I think this is changing. In our case, employee longevity also plays a role; we don’t have women in most senior VP positions, but women do have a strong presence throughout the company, and it is up to us to define our future success. It’s important to feel there is opportunity and room for advancement wherever you work.
I think women sometimes hold themselves back, through a conscious choice not to “go for it” because of the perceived demands of the senior jobs and the concern about work-life balance. And sometimes we just are simply not asking for as much as men—we tend to think we’ll get recognized for our achievements automatically. So we need to speak up. Finally, it’s clear that to hold a senior position, you need to have a support system, whether that’s a partner in your relationship, a network of your peers, a flexible work policy—all of the above, really.
I asked White whether she’s concerned at all that the company might be missing anything that having more women at the senior executive table would bring to the company and to its clients. She said she definitely thinks women would bring a lot to the table:
And hopefully, we’ll get there. The most important thing for me is that I don’t want to work in an environment where you feel that it wasn’t possible to achieve your goals and to be whatever you want to be. And I definitely feel like this is a great environment, and it is possible. I just think that we need to have passion and purpose, and continue to speak up and be heard, to get that seat at the table.
I mentioned that former Southern Company CIO Becky Blalock, whom I quoted in my post, had said that based on her experience, the reason women aren’t getting those top jobs isn’t due to any conscious decision to exclude women, but rather due to men not being proactive in seeking opportunities to network with women professionally, since such networking often takes places in situations like playing golf. White said that’s definitely part of the issue, and she cited a conversation she’d had with Cindi Howson of BI Scorecard, one of the women she profiled in her article:
She told me that early in her career, she was offered golf lessons as a way to help increase her success. And she was like, “Are you kidding me? No way. Give me a book club, maybe, but not golf lessons.” So I think that there is some of that. It’s hard when that’s kind of a natural way to exclude people—it’s unintentional, but it just kind of happens. But I do think that’s changing. Definitely when we have our events, there are all kinds of ways for us to network together, not just on the golf course. I think we also have to make a point of being part of the group, and not standing for it—just sort of making sure that we’re in there. Sometimes that’s not an easy thing to do. It might be uncomfortable, but you have to make yourself heard, and do whatever it takes to be a part of the team.
Getting back to White’s article, she said she wanted to inspire women to aim high, and show some examples of women in the BI field who have done so.
“My purpose in writing the article was to have a positive take on it,” White said, “and to embrace the success that these women are having, and the importance of us sticking together, supporting and mentoring each other.”
It is, indeed, an uplifting, informative article, and one I’d highly recommend.