Lyla Perrodin, Vice President and CIO of MRIGlobal in Kansas City, can attest to the importance of teachers and mentors in encouraging girls to take up tech careers.
“I took a programming class in high school. The teacher saw I had aptitude and interest and introduced me to the IT executive at a local bank,” she recalls. “He gave me a part-time job while I was in high school, and that led me to pursue information systems in college.”
Perrodin went on to earn an undergraduate degree in business administration from Drake University and an MBA from Loyola University. In 2004, she joined MRIGlobal, then known as the Midwest Research Institute, as Senior Manager for Information Technology and Lab Support Services. She was then named IT Director, and promoted to the new role of CIO in October 2009. MRIGlobal is a nonprofit research organization for industry and government in areas such as energy, defense and the life sciences.
Perrodin has been active in mentoring others both inside and outside the organization. In 2011, KC Business magazine named her one of Kansas City’s most influential women.
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What’s your view of the landscape for women in IT?
There’s great opportunity for women in IT. In general, women have a balance of soft skills to go with their technical skills. That plays well in helping organizations understand their requirements and how to apply technology to advance their business.
Why do you think so few women go into college STEM programs, and into IT?
I think young girls are concerned about appearing “nerdy.” Young females can encounter social pressure not to excel in math and science. They lack female role models to show them that you can be a “techie” and still be “cool.”
So, what has to change to get more women into IT?
Those of us in the field have to get out there and be seen. We need to support established programs like Girl Scouts and others that have STEM initiatives. We need to be credible examples and coaches. We also need to mentor women in college and early in their careers to help them navigate obstacles they may encounter. Technical disciplines are still male-dominated, and that can be very challenging for young women.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a technology career?
The sky is the limit. There’s so much opportunity to excel in technology. While it’s important to develop deep expertise in a particular discipline early in your career, don’t lose perspective on the broader topics of project management, financial analysis, etc., that will be required as you climb the ladder.
What would you say to a woman who’s discouraged by the male-dominated tech culture and is thinking of changing careers?
Find a mentor. Join an industry or association group. Develop your own support system to be a sounding board and cheerleading squad when things get tough. Also, if you feel you are being treated disrespectfully, ask your male coworkers if they would want their sister or daughter or wife treated the way they treat you. Sometimes they lose perspective and don’t realize what they are doing and will appreciate the reminder.