State Intentions, Win The Day: How Women In IT Forge Ahead

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 third of the series, including interviews with Jacki Monson, Chief Privacy and Information Security Officer at Sutter Health, and Lisa Tuttle, Chief Information Security Officer with SPX Corporation.

She spoke with vendor representative after vendor representative from the same company, each one of them looking her in the eye and asking, seriously, if she was truly a c-level executive and decision-maker for one of the nation’s largest healthcare organizations. They couldn’t believe it – they didn’t feel comfortable believing it.

“Needless to say, we didn’t sign on with that vendor,” said Jacki Monson, Chief Privacy and Information Security Officer of Sutter Health, speaking of a surprising experience she had meeting with a potential solution vendor at the annual HIMMS conference earlier this year. Monson acknowledges she’s part of a male-dominated industry, but said she never felt uncomfortable until that moment, lamenting the notion that females in high-ranking IT positions are still considered an anomaly.

Much like Monson, Lisa Tuttle, CISO for global manufacturer SPX Corporation, believes there’s an advantage to being the only woman in the room; it helps bring different vantage points and analytical thought processes.

For both women, the road to the IT c-suite had somewhat similar paths, but have certainly taken plenty of twists and turns along the way.

See related: Removing Self-Doubt: Women In Tech Take Top Spots

Tuttle, who grew up in southern Illinois, began her post-graduate career in St. Louis with a degree in business management. She became a paralegal, but it was the work environment that led her away from the field.

“While working as a paralegal, PCs were introduced into our field, and I realized I had an immediate affinity for computers,” Tuttle said of her early career. “I went out and bought Peter Norton’s book on Dos, read it cover to cover, and decided I wanted to get involved in IT.”

Tuttle, finding a new passion, pursued various certifications for servers, networks, and other IT mainstays during the dot-com boom, and became an IT consultant for three years in the early 2000s. It just so happened her past was marrying her future, as new privacy and compliance laws born from the Internet’s growth were implemented, and Tuttle found her experience was paying dividends.

“My legal background paid off as security grew; it was a nice niche,” Tuttle said. “I was able to manage those facets within IT – security, compliance, and the rest.”

For Monson, a similar starting point led her to the intersection of IT and law.

Wanting to become an attorney from an early age, Monson began interning with various companies at just 16. While in college, she began working for a local attorney who was the general counsel for a nearby hospital, and specialized in IT, compliance, and HIPAA – the latter of which was introduced to the healthcare industry while Monson was an undergrad.

“I’ve always had a niche for computers,” Monson said. “I started building websites for companies because they didn’t have the resources.”

Thanks to her internships and early work in the legal profession dealing with the burgeoning healthcare regulation laws, Monson was used to working with IT departments and felt comfortable making the transition into the industry full time.

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

For both women, gaining a seat at the table was not a matter of luck or being in the right place at the right time.

“I felt very much on my own as a woman when IT began evolving,” Tuttle said. “Back then it was largely network and server support, which was male-dominated. On the security side today, it’s still male dominated. I never felt alienated, and sometimes it was good to be the only woman in the room – it brought a different view to the table. But hard work wasn’t the only answer; hard work often leads to more hard work. My advancements came after stating my intentions, speaking up, setting goals and attaining them.”

“I didn’t see much diversity back then, and I still don’t now, especially on the security side,” Monson said. “I do think it’ll even out over time. When the baby boomer generation goes into retirement, there won’t be this preconceived notion about (women in IT). We need to continue to see females and males receive the same opportunities. The older generations need to embrace the females (in IT) and their viewpoints; it’s only going to make business better.”

Finally, Tuttle said, women are able to achieve success by looking inward and pushing forward.

“The level of diversity will improve,” she said. “Women are holding themselves back in some regard; they don’t think they have as much experience or have to balance what’s happening in their personal life. But if they managed their career like they would a project at work – set goals, prepare for scope change – and have that intention, they’d see a difference.”