The Business Forum

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Access to Information Technology


Author: Shaila H. Mistry


Originally presented in The House of Commons, British Parliament. London England



I remember vividly my first job in California as an Account Executive. I had been at home with my children for five years, so going back to work was a huge shock .My first day at work found me hovering over the fax machine and copier, quite perplexed. All the technology had changed. Five years out of the job market and I felt like a beached whale.

A few days later, my boss came into my office and announced cheerfully that I was going to be in charge of the computerized accounting system. �Get yourself some classes.� he said and handed me a catalog of computer courses.

I waited till he left and looked at the catalog in sheer horror. I understood nothing - it was all gobbledygook to me, I realized I was illiterate. I held up the catalog to cover my face and wept. The fact that I held three degrees paled into insignificance. That was fifteen15 years ago.

Today I am Vice president of Jayco Interface Technology, Inc. in California, United States.  Jayco is a leading supplier of control panel assemblies and components for professional electronic equipment applications in the medical, military, avionics, industrial, communications, security and GPS industries. Jayco also serves the high-end appliance industry and other commercial applications. Jayco�s primary strength is in developing cost-effective solutions for complex applications. Thus Jayco plays an important part in the evolution of its clients� products by designing and engineering products to fit each client�s needs, and then manufacturing them in volumes from a few parts to hundreds of thousand. Among Jayco�s control panel components are membrane switches, rubber keypads and touch screens. It takes these products and many other components such as displays, encoders and other electronic devices to produce complete assemblies often including sheet metal and plastic molded cases and bezels.

My role is to build, develop and maintain the infrastructure of the company. My specific areas of responsibility are in policy and resource allocation, finance, human resources, legal issues and administration.

Today the same technology that made me weep all those years ago fills me with excitement.

Each time I use my computer to write reports or to analyze numbers, I am still in such amour at the capability of Technology.

Town Hall Meeting

Recently I was invited to a historic Town hall meeting on Terrorism with Mr. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State and Mr. Kofie Annan the UN General Secretary.

10 Cities were linked together via video conferencing to enable a joint meeting to ask questions of Mr. Annan. This could not have been accomplished without current state of  the art Information Technology. In an instant it was possible to simultaneously communicate ideas and share opinions across the nation on a very critical current event. We sat in pin drop silence as history was being made. It was quite amazing.

On a personal note, although I had barely any notice to prepare, I was able to do the background research and collect the facts easily by tapping into the vast information available in cyberspace. And again upon my return from the meeting, in a matter of hours my analysis and evaluation was complete.

Areas of Focus

1.      The Evolution and Current Status of Women Leaders

2.      How Technology Has Become User Friendly

3.      Reality Of The Corporate World

4.      Action Plan

The Evolution and Current Status of Women Leaders

Women are successful as leaders of business organizations

There is a significant growth in the number of women entering the field of Science and Technology. Women have proven themselves to be capable leaders in every field. Indeed, more and more women are emerging as CFOs and VPs of small to large multinational corporations. Admittedly there are relatively few women in the role of entrepreneur leader.

Such women are successful primarily because of their strong leadership skills, product knowledge and strong affinity to technology

Leadership requires essential qualities and essential skills. Neither can be neglected

Women were behind men in the past and to an extent even at present. But there is no reason why they cannot be equal now and in the future.  To some extent women place themselves at a disadvantage when they do not aggressively acquire and stay ahead of IT. We need to eliminate some of the traditional resistance to acquiring such skills and so dissipate old prejudices.

Men and women have evolved differently in their respective rise to power and leadership. Throughout the technological explosion of the 80s and 90s we saw a markedly different response from each gender. The information explosion of the new millennium is the force that is sweeping aside the new illiterate

Men�s rise to leadership is very direct � It is based on strength, aggression and the ability to adapt swiftly to the demands of the economy and technology. This pattern is quite clear in the corporate world. Men already have a natural fit on technology and technical ideas. After all we know that boys show a natural curiosity towards how things work. Indeed we encourage them and consider this to be masculine. 

Women�s path has been indirect - they have been a step or two behind in keeping up with such demands. They have had to overcome the social and familial demands, problems of access to jobs and education, and finally lack of equal opportunity driven by prejudice. The same decades saw women quickly ascending on the changes in laws which offered them increased education and employment. Keeping ahead of new technology is critical to ensuring further advancement.

Technology drives evolution of leaders today. This is the key !

The ultimate direction of societal and economic change is necessarily the result of the forces of supply and demand. The demand for leaders with IT skills is growing. We need to ensure that life long learning and accessibility to IT Education is made available so that women do not once again fall behind.

Let us ask? Are we producing the right kind of leaders? Do we offer the right accessibility to the kind of education and socialization of ideas to women to encourage progress? We want more women leaders. Better accessibility to information technology will better enable men and women to work side by side.

Women need to be fully conversant with technology in order to reach top positions. Information technology is the wave that they can surf on to improve accessibility to leadership positions.

Technology is an enabler and a unifier. It helps eliminate many perceived social inequities and prejudices  

Technology Has Become User Friendly.

Computers and Information Technology now play a critical but supporting role.

Both are the bedrock of the work environment.

Traditional secretarial roles in administration record keeping, data processing - all traditional strongholds of women are now being replaced by software. This is the turning point of the new IT Revolution. Technology not only eliminates mundane processing, it performs these functions more efficiently and reliably.

In most corporations and across the board there are examples of employees who made their jobs go away because of their inability to adapt and learn the technology. Seniority or tenure in the organization is no security.

We understand that technology is the domain of engineering and medicine, but do we recognize that technology is as critical in the field of Law, Finance, Government, Education and administration? When I hire engineers, of course I expect that they bring a complete portfolio of technical skills and continue to keep them up to date. Even when I hire an account executive, I assume that he or she has the forth R:  Reading- Rriting - Rrithmetic and Re-booting!

Information technology has created new criteria of social class. Those that have access to information and those who do not. This division has no reference or regard for age, gender, race, social class or education. 

Technology is opportunity

Technology has been made user friendly, we just need to make sure that every girl learns to "click and drag".

Information technology and the simplicity of use of computers have made it particularly easy for women to learn; whatever their stage in life or their level of education.

I am beside my self with excitement because I want to shout from the pulpit �Ladies! Technology has finally become our friend�. We do not need to understand how or why the Internet works � we just need to know how to use it.

Women are proven to learn instinctively and emotionally and they learn better in non-linear terms. We are hearing so much of Emotional Quotient EQ and of Non-linear learning.

Learning about IT and computers is non-linear. Ladies, as we think in intersecting circles, information technology is made for us!

Education is through technology.  We can learn exponentially by the use of the web. The irony is this. That education itself is possible through the medium of Technology. It has become the forth R in every sense.  When making a presentation on George Washington my daughter produced a computer disc and used PowerPoint for her 8th grade history class.  Indeed it was she who taught her teacher, bless her heart, not to be afraid of computers. As mothers we need to keep up with and set a good example for our daughters so we can stay in pace with the new generation.

Leaders have to constantly market their solutions to their customers and to their corporations. We are expected to do this with the use of multimedia aids. No more flip charts or white boards. Credibility is associated with such modern visual media. The IT savvy woman has significantly better career prospects. Credibility is linked to Technology.  Empowering women through Education and Information Technology obviously increases such credibility.

The laptop and Palm Pilot have ousted the power suit and pearls as the new success symbols for women to display.

Communication has to be instant if not sooner.

In the Corporate world, a routine workday will witness a hub of communication with Europe, the Americas, the Far East and the Lands down under. Supply and Demand has grown exponentially because we are not limited by constraints of geography. And with perpetually shorter product life cycles brought on by the tireless march of technology and innovation, getting the product to market in the shortest time possible has created the need for round the clock development. Jayco, for example, maintains engineering teams in USA and Asia to take advantage of the time difference. When we go to sleep in America our engineering work is transferred to our team in Taiwan who continue the process. By the time we report for work the next day we can build on the work they performed overnight, and our development time is cut in half compared to our competition. Kind of reminds you of The Shoemaker and the Elves does it not?

Similarly, the demand for ever more expansive and accessible customer service has led to companies setting up call centers half way around the world in places like India and the Philippines. Local costs are no longer an acceptable constraint for resources. If you cannot do it here, find somewhere where you are able do it. Globalization is no longer just a buzz word, but it is all made possible by advances in communications technology that allow people thousands of miles away to work as effectively as if they were in the next cubicle.

Technology enables, unifies us and makes us more equal.

Even on a personal level, our families live in a global network. I have family across all the continents, as many of you do. With email I am able to stay in touch with them

I was a presenter at the 27th Triennial I.F.U.W. convention in Ottawa in August, where 1000 delegates from 71 countries participated. The theme was globalization and Education. There was such energy from the sheer exchange of knowledge, experiences and of warmth and emotion. Even after the conference we were able to continue that exchange through email and Internet. In America we created a chat room to have follow up on the convention. The Young Members Group from all parts of the world were able to form a close network that continues. What an opportunity for networking professionally and working together globally for common goals. 

We have made the World Wide Web the new corner shop and water cooler.

Information technology Gurus

Companies in the last few years have created the new position of Chief Information Officer. In many companies the CIO is now second in rank only to the President. In the past companies were valued on the strength of their fixed assets. Now companies are evaluated equally according to the quality of their information networks. Thus the CIO becomes more important than the CFO in many cases. This in a way can be considered unfortunate because women are well represented as CFOs - now they are losing ground because of changes in technology.

Through this experience we learn that we need to keep up with Technology. There is demand for technologically literate people � we need to ensure that women are getting a piece of this pie.

Corporate Reality

The corporate reality is that we live in a world of information technology. Technology that is current is an essential not an option. Old technology is just as meaningless as absence of technology

When I look at the use of Computer Aided Drawing in my engineering Department over the last 10 years we have seen such innovation that it would have been hard to imagine a decade ago. A few years ago we were so excited to be able to create drawings on the computer, which dramatically increased productivity and improved the quality of documentation and record keeping. But now those early efforts look so primitive � we were just using computers as electronic pencils. Now we are already a few generations into 3D modeling. This was unthinkable for a small company just 10 years ago. The computing resources required seemed excessive and far too expensive and were solely the province of mainframes. Now advances in both hardware and software have made it possible to create complex 3D models and assemblies of hundreds of parts on our desktops using computers similar to those we give our teenagers to play games with.

Thus Jayco designs and �models� complex control panel assemblies on its computers today. It can create cross-sections, perform tolerance analysis, and demonstrate to its customers exactly how all the parts will fit together with full motion video. The use of technology here can be seen to not only increase productivity and accuracy in the engineering phase, but also reduce development time and save costs by reducing the number of design revisions and often eliminating the need for prototypes; and obviously it serves as a powerful sales and marketing tool as well!

To translate with a mundane example; two years ago when I went get braces I was impressed that in an instant my orthodontist was able to show me how I would look when it was all done. Now he even has a monitor in front of every chair so you can watch TV, pull up X-rays or pay your bill without ever leaving the comfort of the dental chair!

There is an overall need for increased efficiency

In today�s world of scarce resources, price warfare, time constraints, and speed of delivery, there is an ever-increasing imperative to be cost effective. Factor-in the globalization of trade and communication which requires higher standards of security, accuracy and record keeping, and it is obvious that only technologically literate people are qualified to function at any level in such an environment.

Take the Legal and social policies in place

Generations of women worked hard to earn equal opportunity in education and employment. Legal and social policies are now in place to ensure that these opportunities are translated into more female hires across the board, and even onto the Board.

Are we meeting this demand?

  • Are we ensuring that we are ahead by keeping up with technology?

  • Are we supplying enough IT literate women to fill this vacuum?

On the other hand if women do not have the opportunity to become IT literate, Corporations may have difficulty in meeting their own legal employment policies.

Technology is gender blind. In the corporate world we see that leaders with the strongest technological experience are more favored in the selection for senior positions. Therefore, we have no choice but to become more comfortable with the world of technology. The world is too competitive for the old prejudices to survive � corporations want to remain competitive, therefore they will hire whomsoever is best.

Technology is the new gender!

Action Plan

We need to have direction and a strong Action plan implementing accessibility to life long learning and to ensure the success of women at all levels.

  •       We do understand that there are many who simply do not even have basic access to technology. Something needs to be done to open up that population to IT education.

  •       Some women feel IT is something that they simply cannot learnWe need to understand that and then take steps to rectify it.

We need strong impetus from the policy makers in Education, Corporations, Government and even from Voluntary organizations.  We need joint action!

Suggestions for Action 

  • Formulate specific IT Education that serves women the corporate world.

  • Develop partnerships with corporate leaders to formulating such education programs.

  • Have discussions with HR professional who daily witness the dynamic of technology changes and how it affects the work force.

  • We need to reach women at all levels.

  • Girls in school

  • Moms at home

  • Women returning to work

  • Middle managers

  • Women in senior positions

  • Encourage community learning: link those who "know" with those that do not.

  • Voluntary Organizations should partner with Info Technology Companies to educate and start with humble beginnings for the usage of email technology.

  • We used to have Bingo. Let us now have cyber caf� meetings.

  • We should provide opportunities for discussion and learning amongst informal social groups such as PTA�s or Pensioner groups or Mom and Me classes.

Examples of Action in California

Women and girls learn better in safe environments and when they have no fear of ridicule.

Therefore, All-women�s classes may be an option. This is where women�s organizations have a critical role to play. I have worked actively on the following programs that I can share with you:

Math Science Convention

For the past 15 years we have been holding Math Science Conventions for girls from the age of 12 and up.  Girls are exposed to the myriad choices of careers in math and science and we encourage them to consider these options at an early age.

Science Summer Camps: Tech Trek. 

Summer camps for girls now exist at prestigious venues such as Stanford University. The curriculum offered is rigorous study of math and science. 

There is much to be done; there is much that can be done. The effort needed is small compared to the returns that are possible

Ladies, let us team together and access every opportunity to succeed.

Contact The Author:

Shaila Mistry
[email protected]

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