E-commerce needs the feminine touch

E-commerce projects demanding co-operation between company departments are creating a new need and new opportunities for women, according to one of the...

E-commerce projects demanding co-operation between company departments are creating a new need and new opportunities for women, according to one of the most senior executives in IBM, writes John Kavanagh.

But employers need to help all their staff get a better balance between work and home life to keep them, says Linda Sanford, worldwide head of the industry leader's data storage systems division.

"Today we look for a solutions approach in IT, which means much more teamwork," she said during a day's visit to the UK last week as part of a tour to meet European customers.

"These days a solution combines hardware, software, services, industry knowledge. You need to bring people together from different parts of the organisation so they can do what needs to be done with their piece of it.

"Women bring a different perspective to teaming, and have good skills here.

"The industry desperately needs more skills, and women, now in a minority, can be a source of these skills, especially as the need for teamwork grows across all industry sectors."

Surveys have shown that women are better than men at managing people and time in particular, and generally have better personal skills.

Sanford has certainly needed all these skills since joining IBM from university as an electronic typewriter engineer 25 years ago.

She was running the S/390 mainframe hardware laboratory when the company switched from bipolar to Cmos technology.

Later, as head of the entire S/390 division, she proposed and saw through the opening of IBM's MVS operating system to run Unix software. This marked IBM's move from dominating the central computing market with its own hardware and operating systems to going with the flow of Unix.

"The biggest, and with hindsight, the most rewarding challenge here was dealing with the internal culture change," Sanford says. "We'd all been trained for a very different world. We had a terrific team which rose to the challenge and reinvented themselves to deal with the new dynamics."

Sanford's work has won her awards from US magazines Fortune, Money and Working Woman, and brought her membership of the Women in Technology international hall of fame.

She praises IBM as an example of an employer with the policies needed to keep staff: "IBM has programmes to help balance home and work. These include working at home where appropriate, flexible start times, so you can get children to school, and, in the US, help with finding child care.

"This all creates an environment for women to have careers and a family - and these days such programmes are used increasingly by men too, because they also want balance in their lives."

Sanford and her husband, Jim - who works in display technology research at IBM - have benefited from these programmes, having brought up two children.

"IBM has always been very encouraging as an employer, and it's a very comfortable environment for women to work in - that's why I've been here 25 years," Sanford says.

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