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Ingram Micro Speakers Say Success for Women in IT Demands Self-Confidence and Smart Career Strategy

Speakers at the distributor’s Cloud Summit event, including Morgan Stanley executive Carla Harris (pictured), agreed that to thrive in an overwhelmingly male industry women must both expect and strategize to win. By Rich Freeman

Women can make their way to the top in IT, but it will probably take more than a little grit, according to Carla Harris, vice chairman for global wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley.

“If you want to maximize your success, you must both expect and strategize to win,” said Harris, who was the featured speaker at yesterday’s Women in Cloud session during the Ingram Micro Cloud Summit, currently taking place in San Diego.

Harris should know too. In addition to being a senior executive at a major financial institution, she’s also the author of two books, Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career and Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace. Both offer practical career advancement tips informed by Harris’s 32 years on Wall Street.

A regular part of the agenda at Ingram’s annual gathering for cloud partners, the Women in Cloud session is designed to “honor past successes, and embrace future challenges” for women in the technology workplace.

Harris directed her presentation squarely at the future challenges part of that formula, providing concrete advice on realizing professional goals, including the importance of amassing two critical resources she calls performance capital and relationship capital.

Performance capital, Harris explained, is the reputation you establish for yourself by producing outsized results. “It works just like the stock market,” Harris said. The more regularly you exceed expectations, the more highly you’re valued by those around you. Performance capital is especially important early in your career, Harris continued, because it can attract mentors (who will provide candid advice) and sponsors (who will advocate on your behalf behind closed doors for promotions, raises, and key assignments).

Eventually, though, when your reputation becomes so strong that it’s hard to earn any more performance capital than you already have, relationship capital—who you know in the organization and how well you know them—becomes the more critical currency to accumulate.

“Your ability to ascend to more and more senior positions will be a function of somebody’s judgment, and … judgments are directly influenced by relationships,” Harris said. “You cannot afford to just keep your head down and work hard and not engage with people who are within your environment.”

You can’t afford to let fear of failure keep you from reaching for ambitious goals either, she added. “Fear has no place in your success equation,” Harris said. “If you consider yourself a leader in the 21st century, you must be comfortable taking risks.”

Participants in a panel discussion after Harris’s talk, however, observed that the self-assurance required to take chances can be difficult for women to muster when they’re vastly outnumbered in the workplace.

The biggest problem that women have is confidence in themselves, stated Cindy Kennedy, west region president of Converge Technology Solutions Corp., a hybrid IT solution provider headquartered in Toronto. “We’re very confident at home,” she continued. “We get into the workforce, and all of the sudden we lose that confidence.”

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