Breaking Glass Ceilings: Women In IT Carve Their Own Path

Editor’s note: Enterprise Mobility Exchange is publishing a three-part series, titled Women in IT, focusing on the ascension of females who’ve risen to decision-making positions in a male-dominated industry. This piece is the first of the series, including interviews with Kristine Huff, Senior Wireless Mobility Architect for Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation, and Paige Francis, Associate CIO for the University of Arkansas.

Like most eight-year-olds, Kristine Huff enjoyed playing with toys and running around outside. After being selected to participate in a coding program at her grade school, Huff also learned she had an affinity for technology.

As part of a select group of students, the then-second grader began coding Atari 800 consoles. In Junior High School, Huff continued the activity and began programming the devices.

“Honestly I really liked it from the start,” said Huff, now the Senior Architect for Mobility at Caesar’s Entertainment Group.

Huff went on to pursue the technology space and studied Computer Integrated Science at Weber State University.

That background, however, varies widely from that of Paige Francis, Associate CIO for the University of Arkansas. “I had no grand plan when I left college,” Francis said. “I had almost no goals in mind; I was just going to get a job and do what I was supposed to do.”

After receiving her degree in communications, Francis took on a job at a financial company that was looking for a corporate concierge. “I knew I had to figure out how to make the most of the opportunity,” she said. “The job forced me to become a self-starter. I had no idea what the job was, but I had a bunch of ideas and I wanted to take every single one and implement them.

“The opportunity helped me get used to a fast-paced, never-ending buffet of obligations and timelines,” Francis continued. Without knowing, Francis was learning how to lay the groundwork in an IT-focused occupation.

For a short period, Huff also worked in the concierge industry prior to entering the IT department for a car company. From there, Huff went to work for CCAM in Utah, which upon merging with another business, moved into a large building. Her first enterprise-wide assignment was to wire the entire campus and control the network from a single server room.

The path was different for Francis, whose concierge company went bankrupt. Francis remained on board for a short period, but took a position as an executive assistant at Dave & Buster’s. From there she was recruited to work with the web team on the cusp of the dot-com boom, and her IT career path widened.

Huff continued forward but changed her location and scope as enterprise mobility expanded. She took on a position with Florida Tile in 2010 and configured the entire company’s BlackBerry cache, despite never having knowledge in working with the device manufacturer or its servers. Huff also moved Florida Tile’s entire mobility complex from Sprint to AT&T.

Over at D&B, Francis hit a wall. “They told me if I wanted to move up, I’d have to leave and come back,” Francis said. She then took on a job as the head of web marketing with Thomson Reuters, but the University of Arkansas grad had an itch to get back home, and moved over to the IT department at NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

“It was really fun to transform that environment,” Francis said. “That’s when I fell in love with (technology) in higher education. I’d like to be a lottery winner, but if I have to choose a profession, this is definitely it.”

Francis moved on to become the CIO of Fairfield University in Connecticut, and went back home (once more) in 2016 to her current position at the University of Arkansas, where she’s helping progress the campus’s 27,000-student enrollment enhance mobility through department-specific apps and the fastest public WiFi in the state.

Thanks to Huff’s newfound experience in mobility with Florida Tile, her career options had now become vast, and joined Toyota as a contractor-based Business Analyst. The car manufacturer uses smartphones to scan barcodes on parts and was in the process of expanding mobility exponentially. There she helped launch Android OS across the company’s mobile devices in a labor-intensive effort.

In the fall of 2015 Huff took her talents to the desert, where she now works as the Senior Wireless Mobility Architect for Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation in Las Vegas and is overseeing the deployment of wearable and other mobile devices on the casino floor, among other initiatives.

In 2013, slightly more than a quarter – just 26-percent – of computing jobs in the U.S. were held by women, which was actually a decline from 35-percent in 1990, according to a report from the American Association of University Women. Further, large tech companies that employ thousands of workers globally, are also behind the curve. A diversity report published by Microsoft in 2014 showed women comprise 29-percent of its workforce, but just 16-percent are in technical positions and 23-percent hold management or leadership positions. Those figures were similar at major web companies like Twitter and Google.

So is the glass ceiling real? Are women in IT a rare breed or growing commodity?

For Huff, who’s seen the inner workings of companies large and small, the glass ceiling is more evident in some environments than others.

“That’s part of the reason I left Florida Tile,” she said. “But at Toyota, the mix was very diverse and I felt everyone was treated fairly. Same goes for Caesar’s.”

Francis said the glass ceiling is noticeable, but having carved her own path for nearly two decades, believes obstacles are meant to be hurtled. “The glass ceiling solely depends on individuals making leadership decisions,” she said. “There’s a strike against a woman in the leadership IT position, but what you do with that is within you.”

Information technology is certainly changing, Huff said, and that’s a great thing. Younger generations – both male and female – are more heavily involved in technology naturally, especially on the mobility side and now have programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

“There’s no better time than now for females to take on STEM,” said Francis, who has a young daughter. “My daughter is in gymnastics, but would rather build on Minecraft. If the industry wants to shape this, they must support it.”