Here we interview three of the most powerful women in British IT. Among the women who didn’t quite make our top three, we found one attention-grabbing example that contrasts with a company’s male marketing image. Did you know that when it comes to the to job in IT, the man from Del Monte is a woman?
IT director. Abbey National
In Yasmin Jetha’s home there is a large diary in the dining room in which each member of the family writes down their evening engagements. That way Jetha, her husband and two teenage sons keep track of each other’s movements and arrange to spend time together.
Jetha’s life needs this level of organisation because she has huge responsibilities at Abbey National where she is responsible for some 20,000 POs and 200 staff. In 15 years with the bank, she has held 11 jobs switching from IT to general management roles such as head of mortgage marketing and director of retail services and operations.
Jetha was born in Tanzania and came to England at an early age. She studied maths and sciences at A-level before taking a degree in maths and a masters degree in management sciences.
After landing a first job as a systems analyst at the manufacturer Lucas CAV, she studied cost and management accounting in her spare time and is now a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting. Her part-time studies took place at the same time as her husband was studying to become an actuary.
After four years at Lucas, where she became a project manager, she took a two-year career break following the birth of her first son. She then spent two years as a systems analyst at the Nationwide building society before taking another two-year career break for her second son.
Jetha says she was lucky that she could afford to stay at home could have spent longer out of the job market but wanted to get back and keep up with IT.
She says her children keep her sane and keep her feet on the ground.
“When I get a promotion at work, my children are proud of me but to them it does not mean much. To them I am their mum and rightly so.”
Jetha is pleased that her father, who recently passed away, lived to see her become the first woman board director at one of the UK’s most successful banks. She has employed a cleaner, although not for a few years now, but does her own cooking because she enjoys it.
Her advice to younger women embarking on a career in IT is to have a “can-do” attitude.
“Be clear in your own mind what you want. Then go for it. Make the most of every opportunity that you get. Sometimes people feel that opportunity can only come with anew job at a higher level but there are opportunities every day whatever you are doing,” she says.
Business technical and delivery director, Legal & General
When, Margaret Smith was interviewed for the job of trainee programmer at construction company Alexander Howden, she came across as an excellent candidate. But there was one problem. “We want to offer you the job,” she was told, “but we are really concerned you are going to leave and have babies.” Smith managed to stay on for longer than most of her three trainee peers.
Later on, after spending six years with South East Gas, rising to the post of deputy programming manager, it became clear to her that she would never become head of programming because she was woman.
Smith feels that she may have experienced more discrimination than other women in the IT workforce because she is older. At the time of her interview for the trainee programmer job in the early 1970s it was still legal to ask discriminatory questions of women. And during the first 20 years of her career, when she went to IT gatherings she would often find herself to be the only or one of the few women present. Nowadays, there are more women around.
Smith has worked for more enlightened employers. She left South East Gas to join the Woolwich as head of programming and regularly got new jobs at the building society. At the Woolwich, Smith took maternity leave to have her daughter at the age of 37, and returned to a promotion. She only left the building society after managing the merger of the Woolwich’s IT systems with those of another society, ensuring that from the first day of the merger customers of one society could use their passbook at the other society’s branches.
After doing herself out of a job at the Woolwich, she joined Legal & General as a technical services manager, becoming IT director within 15 months. She served as IT director for four years, ran the company’s direct sales operation, served as e-commerce director for the last two-and-a-half years and has just combined the roles of e-commerce and IT directors into a single job — that of business technical and delivery director.
When Smith’s 14-year-old daughter was younger, she would generally limit her hours at work to 8am to 6pm, taking work home with her where necessary. However, two years ago her husband (“he’s brilliantly supportive”) gave up a high-powered job in the City to concentrate on being a magistrate and doing some consultancy and now spends more time at home.
Smith has now given up her nanny. She no longer has a cleaner, “mainly because I get irritated because they don’t do it very well”, she says. She does however love cooking and is a qualified chef, with an advanced City & Guilds qualification taken in her spare time.
Smith thinks being a mother has made her a better manager, as she now has more empathy with other people.
It was possibly not until her appointment as IT director of Legal & General appeared in the local newspapers that her family realised quite how successful she had become. As a result she was invited to be the speaker at her old school’s founder’s day. Previous speakers had included the magician Paul Daniels and the first woman police chief inspector.
Smith admits she is a workaholic but says that one of the reasons she got noticed during her career is that she is a rebel who will speak her mind.
She is also one to make the most of her time. In the early days of IT, when work tended to come in lumps with very busy periods followed by slack time, Smith used the slow periods to read manuals and experiment with new techniques while others played cards or read other kinds of literature.
Angela Morrison has rarely come across the perception that IT is not a career for women. But on those few occasions when questions have been asked she has generally found that having a degree in electronics has been enough of an answer.
Not that anyone would be asking these days. For in the last two years since joining Asda as IT strategy manager, Morrison has managed the outsourcing of a [pounds]100m contract with IBM, has moved into general business management setting up the shopping service ASDA @t Home, and has returned to IT as the department’s director. She is now overseeing the migration of all of Asda’s data to the systems of its new parent company, the legendary American cost-cutting retailer Wal-Mart.
After taking her degree in electrical and electronic engineering, Morrison took a year out travelling before joining Data Sciences (now part of IBM) and rising to the job of project manager. She then worked as an LBMS consultant and as a business systems manager at Coopers & Lybrand.
Morrison says it is important to her to enjoy her job whatever it is, to focus on the bottom-line when managing, to see IT from a business perspective and communicate with non-IT managers in language that a layman can understand.
At home, Morrison has a cleaner. “I don’t know anyone who works who doesn’t have a cleaner,” she says. She and her husband also have a “very good” nanny to help with their 15-month-old child.
It is a measure of the progress of equal opportunities in the workplace since Legal & General’s Margaret Smith began her career in IT, that Morrison hasn’t faced the same overt discrimination.
She describes herself as a, “you do what you feel comfortable with regardless of gender” person and queries the assumptions behind the questions asked of her.
“If you were looking at the top men in IT would you first ask them whether they had a housewife, a cleaner or children at home, or how they combined parenthood with work, and then as an afterthought ask them about their career?
“These are all interesting questions but to me as long as I do my job and Asda and I enjoy the benefits of that, then what happens when I go home is my responsibility just as much as it is for any male equivalent,” she says.
Tags: career ladies
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