Removing Self-Doubt: Women In Tech Take Top Spots

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 second of the series, including interviews with Rebecca Wynn, Head of Information Security at Matrix Medical Network, and Wendy Cofran, CIO of Natick Visiting Nurse Association.

One had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, the other a professional athlete. But those paths diverged, for one reason or another, and now Wendy Cofran and Rebecca Wynn lead IT teams for their respective healthcare organizations.

“I was in my late teens when I first became interested and knew I have an aptitude for information technology,” said Wynn. But that wasn’t her initial goal. The now-Head of Information Security for Matrix Medical Network majored in chemistry at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with plans to pursue further schooling at University of California, Davis for veterinary medicine.

“I finished all my high school requirements within two years and lived overseas for a while,” Wynn said, reflecting on her path. Despite her projected path toward veterinary medicine, her personal road map took a turn late in her college career. “(In college as a chemistry major) for three years, I decided I couldn’t handle seeing animals in pain so I gave up my dream of being a veterinarian and changed majors to Art & Design (Photography).”

See related: Breaking Glass Ceilings: Women In IT Carve Their Own Paths

Had her passion come to fruition, Natick Visiting Nurses Association CIO Wendy Cofran would have spent her post-graduate career playing professional ice hockey. In fact, she nearly found her way onto the United States Olympic team, before injuries derailed her pursuit.

“I loved the medical, business and legal fields, but playing three sports affected the time I was available for certain classes," Cofran said. “I decided on a major that gave me the opportunity to learn as much as I could. I learned enough about enough to become dangerous.”

Armed with a degree in Social Sciences from Providence College of Rhode Island, Cofran’s entry into IT was pure kismet.

“I was filling in (at Natick VNA) while the director of IT was on his honeymoon,” Cofran recalled. "When he got back from vacation, he said ‘I just married her, but I don’t want to work with her,’ and handed in his resignation.”

From there, Cofran took the reigns at the oldest VNA in the country and has enjoyed a career there of more than 20 years.

Wynn’s post-graduate career meandered before finding her niche. Switching majors that late in college forced her to lose nearly all her accumulated credits, but it was a blessing in disguise, she believes, as it forced her to study a wide swath of general education courses.

“That helped set the foundation for me being so well rounded in many areas,” Wynn said.

Wynn obtained her MBA and began working in financial services, but wasn’t following her passion. She found immense success working for Mutual of Omaha and New England Financial over the course of a decade.

“I really didn’t enjoy that career at all but enjoy the programs that I created to streamline my work,” Wynn said. “I decided that life is too short to not follow your passion so I resigned and went to DeVry University to obtain my Information Technology degree.”

See related: Can You Keep Up? InfoSec Expert Shares Healthcare Insights

Both have accomplished extensive and wildly successful careers in IT, but Wynn and Cofran know they’re part of the minority, and the glass ceiling for females in a male-dominated industry is noticeable.

While she says major strides have been made, especially since the start of her own career in IT, Cofran laments the movement of women in technology has progressed more slowly than she’d like.

Cofran cites her heavy sports involvement as a great accelerator for both her career and mindset. “I was one of the first women in my area to play male-dominated sports, and I see a lot of parallels between then and now in the business world,” she said. “I frequently draw on those experiences in my current career and realize the importance of being a strong role model for women of all ages. I have had some amazing female and male mentors and I believe that this is a very important time for women to make their mark in the industry. Right now there’s a great opportunity for women (to break through the glass ceiling).”

Looking back, Wynn believes her personal path and its deviations are the reasons she’s become so successful. “People ask me if I ever regret the journey that it took me to get here,” she said. “(Do I) wish that I could have fast tracked it? I honestly say no. I’m very well rounded in business, legal, compliance, risk, and technology. I wouldn’t have all that if I had taken a shortcut.”

Wynn reflected on her upbringing and how it made a difference to her at an early age.

“When I was young my mother allowed me to play with whatever toys I wanted to play with,” she said. “I played with blocks, etc., and she never told me that I couldn’t. Women and girls need strong female mentors, to see other women succeed, and to be allowed to excel in whatever field they are naturally suited.

“I do believe there’s a glass ceiling,” Wynn said. “It’s seen in some areas more than others. It’s much harder to see women in the roles of CIO or CTO, and seldom CISO, because generally (that position) doesn’t get the respect it deserves in a company. Personally, I only see one out of every 10 resumes come through from women. This isn’t because women aren’t qualified; women more times than not are applying for positions they’re overqualified for or underestimate their own abilities. They self-select themselves out of (IT) roles and many cases the industry.”

“Opportunity should be about the business, not the gender,” Cofran continued. “The more you can normalize growth and diversity, the more commonplace it’ll become.”