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Episode 15

transformed: Women in Higher Ed IT

Higher Digital has just published the next installment of its new audio interview feature, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promises represented by both. 

For this week’s episode, President Joe Gottlieb welcomed Dr. Saundra Williams, a leader in IT and higher ed for over 25 years. The two discussed the role women play in transforming the higher ed industry.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:02)

Welcome to transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new whys, the new whats and the new hows in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence culture, strategy and tactics planning, and execution people, process and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. 


Joe Gottlieb: (00:36)

My name is Joe Gottlieb, President of Higher Digital. And today I am joined by Dr. Saundra Williams. Dr. Williams is an accomplished senior executive in higher education with over 25 years of experience as a faculty member, mentor, coach, consultant, speaker, leader, and practitioner in enterprise training and development, instructional technology, information technology systems, implementation, information, technology, security, tech, infrastructure, hardware, software design, digital transformation, distance learning, and data systems. She is the former senior VP for the North Carolina Community College System. North Carolina is the third largest community college system in the US with 58 colleges and over 1 million students. She also has experience as a senior level higher ed leader in the leadership of workforce development and continuing education in these areas. 


Joe Gottlieb: (01:37)

She has set vision and goals for organizations, departments, and individuals. Dr. Williams is currently the CEO of WMS Consulting and Coaching, a company which focuses on the professional, personal, leadership, and career development for women in technology. She was also an adjunct research professor at North Carolina state university. Dr. Williams has earned several awards during her career as a C-level leader. She was named the Cyril O. Houle in Adult Education, Azusa Scholar and Divinity, North Carolina State University Sollege of sciences Alumni of the Year, North Carolina Chief Information Officer of the year, North Carolina’s Technology Woman of the Year NC ACHI magazine 2018 Woman of Achievement and 2019 North Carolina State University Outstanding Black Alumni. She’s a published researcher and author in her professional field of technology and adult education. And she’s written three books; The Ministry Within, I Can Have & Do It All: The 7 Pillars of Complete Life Balance, and 21 Days to Momentum. 


Joe Gottlieb: (02:35)

She is co-author of Woman Power Strategies for female leaders, the Female Architect, How to Rebuild Your Life, the Female Factor, a Confidence Guide for Women, Baby Boomers Secrets for Life After 50 Powerful Prayers for Purpose Filled Leaders and Dntrepreneurs, and You Are Enough. Her leadership has been featured in numerous books and magazines. She’s a graduate of North Carolina State University with a bachelor of science and mathematics master of science in applied mathematics and statistics and doctor of education in adult and community college education. She also holds a master of divinity from Regent University. She was also awarded the Honorary Associate of Science Degree from Richmond Community College. She’s a certified CIO with the state of North Carolina through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a certified strengths champion certified coach and certified transformation coach Saundra, welcome to transformed. 


Saundra Williams: (03:29)

Thank you, Joe. It is great to be here today. Now tell me, what do you want to talk about today? 


Joe Gottlieb: (03:37)

With all of that background, I want to talk about women in higher ed IT, but before we get into that topic, I’d love for you to share a brief summary of your journey that led you to form your views on that topic and really led you to this mission, assisting women in their IT careers at higher education institutions and beyond. 


Saundra Williams: (03:59)

Well, thanks, Joe. You know, I am from a small town in North Carolina called Rockingham, North Carolina. And in Rockingham, there are different communities and I’m from this community called little Philly, literally little Philly, like little Philadelphia, little Philly. And I’ll be frank with you. I was never exposed to technology as a youngster. I mean, no one in my family was in technology. My dad worked on the railroad. My mom worked in textile mill and neither of them were educated beyond high school. Actually, my dad dropped out in eighth grade to help his dad, you know, with the family earnings and that sort of thing. So I didn’t have the higher education the four year, two year, anything growing up. But, you know, although my parents were not educated formerly after high school, they taught us that education is the most important thing that you can have. 


Saundra Williams: (04:52)

Actually, one of my daddy’s quotes is “It’s good to work with your hands boys, but it’s more important when you can work with your head.” So we learned that very early. So again, I didn’t come from a tech background, but I did come from a hard working background. So for me, really, because of my dad, you know, going to college after high school was a given and I chose North Carolina State University because my cousin across the street went to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to go somewhere somewhere different. I had no idea that NC state was going to open up my eyes to all of the different worlds of technology. So when I got there, you know, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I actually majored in math because my math teacher in high school told me that I couldn’t do math. 


Saundra Williams: (05:44)

And I knew I could do it. I kept saying to myself, she keeps telling me I can’t do this, but I keep scoring a hundred on her test. I don’t get it. But anyway, so I went ahead and I majored in math, really not knowing what a math teacher, what a math major could do other than teach. But then when I got in to NC state and I start saying all the different areas of technology that applied math could actually be applied to. So when I graduated, I wanted more, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree. So I went on and went on to grad school. Now it was at graduate school that my whole lens of technology changed because I worked with an amazing researcher. His name is Dr. John Frankie, and we literally created a formula for a robotics arm. 


Saundra Williams: (06:33)

So we created the magnetical formula for a robotics arm, and that was my master’s thesis, but it was not until bed that I really got my first taste of how technology can change the lives of people. So I went on, I went, I worked, I worked for several different companies in engineering and in technology areas. And then I literally had a life or death experience. I realized life was short. And so I decided, you know, what I want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do. And that was to become a professor. And so, while I was in that professor role, I became a whole scholar in adult education. There’s only 27 of us and the world today, uh, in terms of being a whole scholar. And that’s where my research and distance education and how technology can not only change your financial life and those sorts of things, but it can also change your learning and how you learn. 


Saundra Williams: (07:30)

And so that’s where that comes from the distance learning. I’ve always loved that. And so leading is doing all of that and then being able to lead technology, lead distance learning. Then I got the offer to leave 58 community colleges in North Carolina. And that gave me a level of enterprise leadership that most leaders in technology don’t don’t have the opportunity to experience. So as a woman in higher education and in it in higher education, there were many challenges that I had to overcome. And I will tell you, most of those challenges were not specific to technology. They all, most of them had to do with other things. And so I had to use the skills and competencies that I had, uh, not only as a leader, but in other areas of my life, in terms of my experiences, to be able to be a successful leader in technology. So I’ll stop there. 


Joe Gottlieb: (08:23)

Well, I’m so glad you shared that because it really, it really tells, uh, many stories and I think triggers many, um, things that we can talk about, uh, about this topic. So I want to start with this negative programming that it’s been so typical. So you, you experienced firsthand what I would refer to as, as they sort of anti programming programming of girls and the anti programming of boys, by the way, let’s be, let’s be balanced about this, right? So the teacher that told you, you can’t do math, and yet here you are scoring a hundred on her tests. She was just repeating what was widely believed or assumed, or, or even if there were some doubt was just most supported, right. You know, sort of enabled, continued just because of patterns, right. And stereotypes, meanwhile, with boys, right. We’re pushing them into sports. And we’re, you know, we’re not worried about how sensitive they are. 


Joe Gottlieb: (09:21)

We’re worried about how competitive and, and you know, and how much they can win. Right. And how tough they can be. Right. And so we’re not programming sensitivity or, or the sort of people skills that also become very, very value. And I think it’s fascinating to me how there are some people that emerge from this poor programming, this, this sort of, um, imbalanced programming in their youth and found ways to overcome it. And then, and then make things happen that that could happen once they overcame that. And more and more, we’re doing less of this. We’re still doing plenty of it, but we’re doing less of it. But I think what’s fascinating love to hear your, some of your thoughts on just starting with that, right? Like this notion of how are we emerging from this programming and at what points in your life, you know, isn’t there still time to reverse this when you ponder up maybe a career change or you find some, some facility, some, some, some competency, some, some attraction to some of these fields. 


Saundra Williams: (10:20)

Yeah. You know, it’s really interesting because I literally remember the day that, and this was my, um, 12th grade math teacher. And back then it was called senior math. Now we call it calculus. And I remember the day that she told me that, and I was just like deflated almost, you know, because I really liked math. I didn’t necessarily like the biological sciences, cause I didn’t like the dissecting of a frog, but I’m a girly girl, you know? So I don’t like all of that. I don’t like all that dissecting and all that, but I did love the math behind chemistry, the math behind the physics. So those things were easy for me because I could do the math. And um, so when, when she said that it sort of deflated me and I was like, well, maybe I can’t do it. Maybe I really don’t know how to do it, but the best thing I could’ve ever done. 


Saundra Williams: (11:09)

And I always go back to my mom and dad as, as I went home and I told my dad what this teacher said, and my dad said, well, let’s go look at your report cards. Let’s see what your report cards say. And, and I had A’s in math. And he said, well, if you don’t really pay attention to what she says, just do what you know, you’re gifted to do. And so that’s why I continued in math because of what he said there. And then when I got to NC state, you know, because of what she said, I thought that professors and other people were going to do the same thing. They were going to tell me the same thing, but it was different. It was different. I had so much support in terms of professors and other people at the university wanting to see me succeed in math. 


Saundra Williams: (11:55)

And I don’t know if it was because there weren’t that many women in math or maybe that there weren’t that many African-American women in math at that point. But I still see today, you know, uh, girls not being, um, I guess you would say guided into the past of science and technology. And for me, you know, if someone says they’re majoring in math, they’ve got my heart right away, you know, male or female, they’ve got my heart right away, but I still see where, uh, girls are not necessarily encouraged unless they’re in a program that’s specifically for girls. Um, you know, I’m on the board for the girl Scouts, uh, here in North Carolina. And so they have a specific program that’s geared specifically towards, um, girls in technology. And sometimes I wonder if those kinds of programs, it programs like that didn’t exist. Okay. Where would girls be today? And then where would women be today in terms of technology? If we didn’t have something that sort of guides girls from a younger age, turning them into women who love technology back in my day, I didn’t have that. I didn’t, there was nobody around me, but now we do. So it’s not too late, it’s not too late. We just have to make sure that we guide our young women to these careers. And there’s lots of different avenues to do that today. Well, 


Joe Gottlieb: (13:17)

I think, yeah, I would agree with you it’s it’s it can never be too late. That would be too futile for at least an optimist sitting here to, to, to ponder. But, um, the fact is that still exists and, and, and we, you, you quote unquote got a little lucky because you could have even found it a college, right? Like let’s say, w we don’t, we don’t need to do the math on the year here, but, but, um, but, but that was still something that was a little hit or miss. Now you happen to wind up at a place that did encourage you and isn’t that great, right? That, that you, you had that, um, somewhat chance encounter, but thankfully, uh, boy, so hard to wrestle with these topics in the U S these days. Right. But thankfully there are macro level trends going in the right direction. 


Joe Gottlieb: (14:06)

Right. Where more and more of these things. I, I mean, I love the, the whole, the whole, the program girls that code, right. I just love that I’m sitting here in Silicon valley, and I think I’m in a bit of a bubble where we’re really, really encouraging of this because we’re super progressive. We kind of wear that on our sleeve. Um, and yet it it’s, it’s not the same in all places, but it is spreading and that’s exciting, but I want to turn this to, if we’re our listeners today are in their careers already, they’re too old for girls that code they’re past their girls stage. Right. And even if they’re boys, we know they’re going to, they’re going to get some balance out of this too. Um, but, but thinking about the pathways into it, right, we’re there still pathways into it once you’re an adult, but one must be mindful of sort of how to make the most of those, right? 


Joe Gottlieb: (14:58)

So one, you know, if you are interested in it and you’re interested in, let’s say an advancement, you’ve been very successful, rising to the upper ranks of leadership in information technology. You’ve been able to do that because a set of skills. And we’re going to talk about that here in a minute, but some of the pathways you might come in through coding, you might come in through system administration, which is more of a, um, um, well, it’s kind of a clerical work of computers. When I said that I, when I came to my head, it sounded like an odd way to describe it, but it really is like sort of keeping computers administered properly, configured properly with accounts and all that. And it’s not, it’s not hard science. It’s not like a coding skills required. You just need to be a good administrator and be not afraid of computers. 


Joe Gottlieb: (15:45)

So that one to me is one of the most open pathways into the it field. Of course, there’s tech support, which tends to require some additional technical expertise, but it service desk, right. Is another one where if you’re a good customer service, we see a lot of people getting into that field. And so if you want to make a switch and go into it, these are some of the places where you might, might wind up getting in sort of an on-ramp. Um, if you have an interest in you think it’s, um, something you want to develop, you had a, a life event that changed your career path. Um, this is always something that some, you know, people should be open to, right? 


Saundra Williams: (16:20)

Yes, exactly. You know, um, from my perspective, it’s never too late to make a change. It doesn’t, it doesn’t matter about, um, age. And what matters is, do you have the heart to be able to do what it takes? Go back to school because yes, regardless of what it path you’re going to take, there is there will be some, uh, schooling, some certification that’s going to be required. That that goes with it. You know, I think of a lady in my, in my church and, um, she is around my age and she wanted to make a change. I mean, and she came to me and she said, uh, Dr. Sondra, I really want to get into it. But I, I just feel like I’m too old. And I said, no, you’re not, no, you are not. Let’s do this. Let’s go to the community college at wake technical community college here in wake county, North Carolina. 


Saundra Williams: (17:11)

And let’s let them walk you through what it is you need to do. Now, once she saw that she was like, oh, I can handle this. You know? And so it’s, it’s more of, do you have the drive? Do you have the discipline to be able to make the change? And a lot of people do so it was never too late to go from one career into it. And as you said, there are different pathways to get there. Um, coding system, admin and tech support, uh, management, don’t forget eventually getting to those C levels as well. You know, that sort of thing. But in terms of getting there, I always tell people, if you not in it and you want to get into it, then make sure that you are enrolled in an institution of higher education that already has pathways to get you there. 


Saundra Williams: (18:01)

Some people have degrees, but they don’t have pathways that are in alignment with jobs. And I think that is very important. I know, wait, technical community college, um, or any of the technical community colleges here in North Carolina, North Carolina state university, of course, that’s my Alma mater go pack. Okay. I had to throw that in there. All right. Um, they have pathways that not only help you get a degree, but also you can see yourself sitting in a particular role as an it professional. And I think that’s very important because when you’ve been working for awhile in a certain area, then it’s hard for you sometimes to see yourself coding or system administration or whatever it is that you’re going to do. Sometimes it’s hard to see that, but when there is a clear cut pathway and, uh, someone gives that pathway to you helps guide you through that pathway, uh, provides mentors for you. 


Saundra Williams: (18:54)

That’s another huge thing that if you’re in another area and you want to go into it, then find a mentor that can help you along that pathway as well, as well as your own at your own academic journey. So, um, can someone change and go from where they are now and to it? Yes. Should they, of course they should. I mean, if you’re even thinking about it, look into it because especially at a community college or four year institution and ask what pathway do you have for me to be able to get a job once I go through your program. And not only that, you know, also ask in addition to all the technology, what else are you going to teach me about being successful in it? Because I contained and I’ve experienced this, is that being successful in it is a whole lot more than just knowing the technology. 


Joe Gottlieb: (19:45)

Yeah. So let’s, let’s, I think that’s a great, um, guidance for people that are, that are pondering this. I now want to, I want to elevate up a level to turn this around. So w when you were a CIO and you’re now faced with, you’re managing a large team of people that are doing it stuff right at your, at your school, at your institution, and let’s look at that lens into the ascendance of women in your organization and, and things that you might’ve done or perspectives you might’ve have on, okay. What’s my available market to bring women onto my team. And so, so you’re looking at these same, um, career pathways. Now I’ll depart from, I love the concept of pathways and in the college systems so useful, right? Well, that’s a whole nother topic, right. But, but now looking at the career pathways that you’re thinking about formulating trying to get people on these on-ramps inside your organization, so you can advance them to have more yield for your priorities and the things that you’re accomplishing with that organization. 


Joe Gottlieb: (20:59)

Let’s talk a little bit about, about how you saw that as a leader, pulling people in, because look at the end of the day, we have a digital labor shortage, and I’m sure you even experienced it then where you had scarce resources and not sure you have budget constraints, but filling people in roles was challenging and you may have even known. Then we certainly know now that we need the other gender helping us out of this problem, it’s a whole, there’s a whole side of the population gene pool that we need to activate for this mission. Right. So talk to me about a little bit about that. 


Saundra Williams: (21:35)

So let me give you a little bit of concept of how, um, how my job was structured. So in North Carolina, there are 58 community colleges and they’re autonomous, which means that, um, if you work for a community college, you don’t work for the state. You work for that college. It’s like its own little company. So my job as senior VP is I was at the system office and the system office is sort of the, uh, the governance, the administration, that thing, that sort of thing for all 58. So not only were 58 community colleges looking for I T expertise at all levels. Okay. But also the system office was looking for the same thing. So what, what I found in terms of trying to determine if there are women that I can put into these roles, um, is that from some of your areas that were, uh, more urban, like the, um, Charlotte or Raleigh or Winston-Salem those, those colleges didn’t have any issues. 


Saundra Williams: (22:36)

Sometimes it depends on the, on the area, but didn’t have as much of an issue finding women to fill roles. Okay. But it was at the rural colleges, the colleges that were in some of the rural areas in North Carolina that had a really big problem. And so, um, they would get, for example, a really great system administrator and maybe even a female system administrator, and then someone at a neighboring college would offer this person $10,000 more and they’re gone. That means she’s gone and now she’s gone. So one of the things that I think was really, really helpful is number one, technology had a female leader and me, so they had a female. And so now you had more, uh, women in the community college system, seeing technology being led by a female. So that gave them, and this is something that I had conversations with many women with it that were at the colleges and the system office. 


Saundra Williams: (23:32)

So when they saw me leading technology, they were like, well, you know what, maybe I can do the same thing at my college. So what I found was a lot of the women that were maybe in a, at a service desk capacity at the college, they would go back, take some courses so that they could do system administration so that they could do coding because keep in mind one of the things that I find, and this might be a little disruptive here, but one of the things that I find is sometimes, you know, we, as women, we will get in a particular position, especially in it. And because of, uh, some of the stereotypes in terms of technology and what has been said about women in technology, uh, some of your own, you know, negative, self-talk sometimes about what you can, and can’t learn. We stay there as opposed to taking courses or getting certifications in higher areas, that’ll move us up. 


Saundra Williams: (24:26)

And so, uh, being a, a woman leader in technology, many women in community colleges told me that the reason that I knew I could go back to school and get a certification so that I could move up even within the college that they were at. I did that because I saw your leadership. And, um, so I, that’s why it’s important, not only to have, uh, women in the technology areas, but also have women in technology leadership, because now you’re setting the bar and other women are looking at you saying, if you can do it, then why can’t I go back to school and do the same thing? So it is hard to retain women in technology, especially in the rural areas, uh, here in North Carolina. Because again, because, because the colleges are so close to get, some of them are very close together and some other states experienced the same thing is because when you have someone that’s really, really good, believe me, she’s going to move around from place to place. 


Saundra Williams: (25:30)

One of the reasons that kept me in Raleigh is because I didn’t want to be that far from my mom and dad, you know, and I wanted to be in driving distance of Richmond county. So that’s one of the things that kept me, kept me close, but other women don’t have that. So I always, and I love to tell women is that whatever level you are ask yourself, what will it take for me to get to the next level? And then don’t be afraid to step into that and do it. It may be a class, it may be a certification. Um, you know, it may be taking on some additional responsibilities at the job where you are. And we as women, we are accustomed to taking on many different things at the same time. I mean, you know, if you, uh, if you’re a woman and you have children and you have a household and you’re there, you have all these different things that you have to take care of. 


Saundra Williams: (26:21)

And those skills translate to the workplace. And no they’re not programming, but their organization, their administration, their management, and those same types of skills are needed inside of a technology organization. I mean, if you’re a system administrator, you have to know how to, and you have to have certain skills that are like skills and communication skills, and you have to have the confidence and all of that. You don’t necessarily get all of that just by being a system administrator. You walk in the door with that, and then you put that on top of your system, administrative job, as you can see, Joe, I can get really passionate and go on and on about, well, 


Joe Gottlieb: (27:01)

I think this sets up a thesis that I know you and I have talked a bit about, and that is this, that we talked about, the programming and then the anti programming that has tended to happen, but it’s happening less, but still happens plenty, right? You yourself called yourself a girl’s girl with the frog dissecting, right? So you, you continue to identify and that, I think that’s, that’s an important part of gender, right? That we do identify with the parts of it that we, we, we want for ourselves. And that w that are part of the way we identify with gender. And, and yet at the same time, we want to reject those things that don’t serve us, or aren’t particularly healthy. Right. And so that’s part of what this evolution is all about, I think, but the thesis that you and I have talked about a bit is that, is that, isn’t it interesting that if you really consider the programming that has existed for females starting with, you know, girls, and as they grow up through teenage years and into womanhood, right? 


Joe Gottlieb: (28:02)

Sensitivity, nurturance, maternal instincts, right? There’s a lot of default family responsibilities that fall to a woman who has a family, right? These are, these are emotionally, um, uh, centered skills. We’ve talked about high IQ. There there’s a, there’s a there’s there’s soft skills, right. As opposed to the technical stuff, which was often programmed, not anti programmed away from, but program towards boys. Right? So the net of this is the thesis being that guess, which one’s easier to learn. The technical stuff is easier to learn than the soft skill sensitive stuff, which has come from years of development and programming and role role. I won’t even say stereotypes, right. Roles that we play as individuals in society with the, you know, things that just happened to us. Right. And, and, and being a mother is one of them. Right. For sure. Right. It’s great training for a lot of things that can apply to business. And so I, we, we, we we’ve, we’ve kicked around this idea of superpowers. Like, so wouldn’t it be cool if you could align your superpowers, you know, learn the tech, if it didn’t come straight to you, but if it did great, that’s a, that’s a shortcut leverage the programming of the EQ and the sensitivity and the people skills and boil boy, isn’t that a great recipe for success in it. Let’s talk about that. 


Saundra Williams: (29:33)

Yeah. You know, I really believe that you, that it is one of those industries that you can learn and go back to school for. I go back to school and learn it and do well, but I also have experienced and believed that if you don’t have some of the soft skills, some of the leadership skills to go along with that, then you won’t go very far in it. And I have seen it over and over and over again. And, you know, I’ll have, I’ll have women. Uh, I’ve had women come to me and say, um, you know, Dr. Williams, you know, I had this one, this one incident in particular, and it just broke my heart. You know, this lady had been there 25 years in, in, in it. And she did the same job for 25 years, same job for 25 years. And she had been there long before I ever got there as, as the vice-president. 


Saundra Williams: (30:28)

So anyway, um, there came time for promotion and I literally promoted another young woman who had only been there about maybe about four years. She’d also gotten there before I did, but, but, but I looked at what they both had contributed to the organization. And so the woman who had been there 25 years, she came to my office and she said, I can’t believe it in promote me. I have been here 25 years. I have given my all to this, the system, I’ve done this for 25 years. And you come in and you promote somebody that’s only been here four or five years. And she was really angry with me. And I don’t want to say her name, but I, I said, wait, let me, let me, let me help you with something. I said, the person has been here for four years. They have done so much more, not necessarily in terms of the work. 


Saundra Williams: (31:14)

I know that both of, you know, the technology, but this person has applied themselves and gotten on committees. So they’ve gotten on teams. They they’ve done other things outside where I could see other skills that I knew would make that this particular person, a good leader. And then she said, then the woman says to me, but I have 25 years of experience. And it broke my heart to tell her this. But I said, sweetheart, you’ve been doing the same thing for 25 years. You don’t have 25 years of experience. You have one year of experience doing it 25 times. And so she looks at me like, so you’re telling me I should do something else other than my job. And I said, yes, if you’re going to move up, you’ve got, you must learn more than just your job. And if that is a super power, just knowing that and knowing the kinds of things that you can, you can add to what other value do you have that you’re going to add to a situation? 


Saundra Williams: (32:11)

I believe that women are, are, do better at building teams, because we know all, we look at the different aspects of people. You know, uh, this may be a little bit of a, of gender stereotypical here is I hope not. But you know, men tend to look at, uh, what it is the work that has to be done. Women tend to look at who are the people that have to get the work done and being able to work with and through people is a superpower because it allows to understand the people of your organization and then be able to use what those people have to be able to move forward, whatever project it is. And I found that there were times in it that I knew there were certain people that if I wasn’t in the room, I couldn’t put those two people in the same room together, you know, but I knew the people, you know? 


Saundra Williams: (33:00)

And so when you, when you are in it, you have to learn the, it, of course you do, you have to learn the technology. You must know, you know, what is coding? You have to learn how to code. I’m not saying that you don’t know that part, but there are other superpowers that when you have those, that’s, what’s going to make you a cut above everyone else. That’s, what’s going to make you as a woman and it stand out and be able to have those skills and competencies that are outside of the technology that will allow her to, uh, process up the, up the ladder. 


Joe Gottlieb: (33:34)

You know, it’s fascinating how it even itself has evolved to discover and even greater need for this, right. Would think about how we do more collaborative, even coding is more collaborative these days, right? More granular. And, and w you know, if you think about agile and scrum and these methods that are becoming increasingly popular, they’re not for everyone yet. They’re not, you know, they’re not household, particularly in higher ed. There’s, there’s still some, um, there’s some development to happen there, but the point is, is that it by its nature is a, it suffers from a bit of an antisocial history, right? And in fact, it is having more success. As more business teams become more comfortable understanding what technology can do, understanding just enough of the language to participate in teams and to, to articulate requirements, to iterate. That’s why I mentioned agile, like iteration frees you from the risks of making big bets without frequent communication and calibration. And so all the more reason for this, these superpowers of, of, of people skills becoming so, so important. And really, I can’t help, but say that the deck is kind of stacked for women, if you really think about it. All right. And you it’s, so you must’ve seen it scenarios when you’ve been building teams or helping your large distributed organization along where you’ve been able to see the payoff of this combination of skills and, and also navigated around some of your concerns about whether certain men are able to do it, right? 


Saundra Williams: (35:27)

Yes, yes. You know, it is, uh, it’s always amazing to me, every time I would walk into a room, you know, number one, people didn’t know that was a Dr. Williams, that that was supposed to be walking into the room. And so, uh, I would do things like, and like all of Mo everyone that reported to me with the exception of my, my executive assistant were all men. And so I had to do things that would even make me feel comfortable physically. And sometimes we as well, we have to think about those things. Yeah. And so I never went without heels. I mean, I always had on two or three, two or three inch heels. So I’m looking you in the eye when I’m talking to you, you know, kind of thing. And so, as a, as a woman in it, I could do the technology. 


Saundra Williams: (36:16)

I came up through the ranks. I knew that I could do that. But what I found out was as a leader in technology, and then mentoring other women that we really have to understand that there are super powers that we have just because we’re women, I’m not saying men don’t have the same ones, but just because we’re women that we must, you, you must be able to apply to that job of, of technology. Again, I go back to the fact that, you know, even though a lot of people, uh, or girls sometimes have that anti programming and people may say, well, maybe you’re not good in math. Maybe you should stay away from it or science or computers you have to do what really interests you, you know, what is it that you want to do, uh, coming in? And then if you want to change careers, what is it that interests you? 


Saundra Williams: (37:03)

And, and, and always know that as a woman, a lot everything, and the technology piece, you can learn, you can go to school, you can go to class and you can learn it. It’s all of those other things where your super powers come into effect and be able to do that. I mean, just having the superpower, I’ll give a specific example. I have a, um, a, uh, a leadership kind of, um, I guess you would say a framework that I go by, it’s called Bowman and deal is by Bowman and deal. And it is, uh, four frameworks of leadership. And I, and I live by this as a woman, as a technology leader, I live by it and they talk about four frames. And I don’t want to get very academic here, but I just want to give you the frames. And then I want to just talk about the superpowers that surround those. 


Saundra Williams: (37:51)

And so the four frames at Bowman and deal talk about our structural human resource, political and symbolic. Now the structural frame is that one is, uh, your, your, your job, what, you know, how to do, you know, you know how to do the technology. You’re a system admin, you know what to do, you know how to do it. And this is the one part where women do well, this is our starting point. We know our jobs. We make it a point that if I am working in technical support, I’m going to know everything about it. Okay. And so, and that’s great cause you go to school, that’s what you, that’s what you learn in school. So that’s our starting point. But if you look through the lens of the other three, this is where most women, I don’t want to use the word fail, but where we, uh, well, we are not as competitive. 


Saundra Williams: (38:40)

Let’s put it that way where we’re not as competitive, but this is where you must have superpowers. And these areas also, and you have them, you just don’t realize you have, you know, so let’s look at HR. Let’s talk about HR is human resources all about people. You know, it, uh, it has an emphasis on the needs of people. Now, as a leader, one thing that I had to do is I had to learn what I call the concept of leading up and the concept of leading down, because I had, uh, my, my president, I had community college presidents. I had all these people that were, uh, that were looking for something from me as a leader that was different than those people that are reporting to me. And so when you, when you understand that difference and you have to lead and two different ways, then that means that you have to understand the dynamics of 58 college presidents of my peers, of my, of the president, of the system, of men, the men and women in the legislature of vendors. 


Saundra Williams: (39:41)

And not only understand them, but understand who they are and what’s important to them because what’s important to a politician is not important to a vendor is not important to a community college president. One of your superpowers in terms of understanding people that, that you, you, we, as women have is understanding the depth and the heart of people because people, whether they want to admit it or not, most people lead from the heart, okay, they’re going to do what’s in their heart. They’re going to say what’s in their heart. And I don’t mean that to sound all, you know, mushy, mushy, but it’s just the way we are. You know, we, we have values, we have competencies and those things are inside of us. And we lead from that perspective. So one superpower that I’ve experienced that you must have is being able to lead with and through people. 


Saundra Williams: (40:31)

And that’s that whole concept of HR. Now, the third, uh, framework that Bowman and deal talks about is the political frame. And this is one where I have seen it. I have experienced and where I have seen so many women just totally miss it. When it comes to this particular framework here, and you have to understand, there are politics everywhere. There are politics everywhere. And you have to know who are the groups that impact not only your organization, but who are the groups inside and outside that impact the work that you do now, this is so important because when I was at the community college system, one of the things that I was doing, I was trying to get my work done and made sure that all the colleges were happy. They had everything they needed. But one of the thing that I totally kinda miss and thank goodness, but we had a phenomenal, uh, chief financial officer at the time, you know, was that I totally missed the whole budget process, you know, which was integral to what I was doing. 


Saundra Williams: (41:35)

You know, that, that every other year, there’s a new budget in North Carolina. And how does that budget, how do help politicians and them doing that, but to impact me. So then I had to go around and began to educate politicians on what I did now. My first thought was, you know, can I really educate them? Are they really going to get it? But what I had to understand Joe, was that I had to learn how to speak their language. I had to learn. Why was, why was what I did? Why was that going to be important for them? Not whether or not it was, it was important to me. I didn’t have to convince myself, but I had to convince politicians why it was important so that they could budget the funding that was necessary. So just understanding the political aspects of what you do, and I’ll go through the last one very quickly. 


Saundra Williams: (42:24)

And that is what Bowman and deal called the symbolic frame. And symbolic frame is really the culture of your, of your organization. It talks about purpose and meaning it kind of gets into all that, but it also talks about, um, understanding how your organization operates in terms of culture. Now I’ll give you a very, very specific example and I will never forget this one, as long as I live. So in government, you know, um, women, where w we wear dresses, you know, we were pantsuits, whatever. Well, one particular day, it was 98 degrees outside. It was 98 degrees and myself and the other VPs. We were invited to a, a, uh, barbecue, you know, Carolina, barbecue at the legislative building. Okay. So I come out of the elevator and I had on a dress. I had a jacket upstairs. I had on a dress, no sleeves. 


Saundra Williams: (43:15)

I figured this is cool. You know, I’m a woman. I can, I can do this. Walk across the street without the jacket. So my counterpart, who had been in government many, many years, more so than I had government and education, higher ed, more long than I did. She said, Sandra, where is your jacket? I said, Dr. Parker, it’s upstairs. It’s 98 degrees outside. And she says, go get your jacket. And so, because she was older and more mature, I consider her a mentor. I went upstairs, got the jacket. But I said, in my mind, nobody’s going to have a jacket on, well, the culture of the organization at that time, political and higher ed at that time was if you’re out and you’re going to be talking to politicians, you’re going to have on your jacket. I get to that barbecue. And I kid you, not everybody, male and female had on jackets and those little things about the culture. 


Saundra Williams: (44:09)

And that seems kind of minute, but those little things about culture of an organization, if you’re going to be successful, you have to know that. I mean, if you’re, if you’re in higher ed and like here in North Carolina, uh, NC state sits in the middle of the capital city, but NC state is its own own, uh, you know, microcosm of a macrocosm, really of a community. And so it was a community inside the community. But one of the things that I watch the leadership do there is make sure that NC state fits within the larger context of not only Raleigh, North Carolina, but North Carolina as a whole and the other 50 states and countries as well, and other countries as well. So understanding how you fit in organization, how the things that you know, that are about you, how that fits and organization is so very, very important. And so as a woman in technology, our ability to problem solve to coach our emotional intelligence, effective team building along with the tech skills, help us to become successful in these different areas that we have to operate in every single day. Again, Joe, I just believe that as you’re going to be successful in leadership specifically in technology, that you have to operate in all four of these frames. 


Joe Gottlieb: (45:30)

Wow. So that’s fascinating. I, I think, um, it’s a great way to sum it up, right. And I, I, we’re not closing the door on you fellas, right? So for you guys out there in the audience, hopefully we’ve kept you along here. Um, there’s a mirror image of this, right? That has differences, but also a lot of similarities and hopefully, uh, one can reflect on this from any gender, uh, angle. Um, but the net of this is ultimately what combination of skills, um, will truly serve. And, and guess what, there’s been a lot of negative programming, which have kept women out of these fields. We need them in these fields. And there’s plenty of women that have more than enough capability. In fact, as we’ve said, might have SU special especial superpowers to be able to, to really flourish. So looking forward to, um, to watching that develop, I’m sure, uh, it’s going to evolve over time. Uh, Sandra, thank you so much for joining me today. I know our guests will enjoy hearing these remarks about women in it and, uh, and thanks to all of our guests for joining us. And we look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of transformed.

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About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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