Sheila Talton: Advancing Women and Minorities

FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - In 1986 Sheila Talton founded Unisource Networking Services, a Chicago-based telecommunications and networking consulting firm.

When not meeting with Fortune 500 clients, she is active in several advocacy and networking groups that help advance women and minorities in business and high-tech.

CIO: WHAT DO YOU THINK ACCOUNTS FOR THE LOW PERCENTAGES OF WOMEN AND MINORITIES IN SENIOR IT JOBS?

Talton: Most people in senior executive positions have been mentored by someone within their organization who has promoted them. Most senior executives are men, and men are still uncomfortable mentoring women. Overall, people tend to befriend people who are like them. But it's more deeply rooted than workplace [dynamics].

Traditionally women and minorities have not pursued education in computer science, engineering and math. That's because kids still don't get the broad picture of what it means to have a career in technology. They think you have to be a gee-whiz genius to be in the industry, when there's a wide spectrum of what you can do. We don't do a good enough job of explaining that.

CIO: WHAT HELPED YOU IN YOUR CAREER?

Talton: Very early in my career I thought if you worked hard and were really good at what you did, the rest took care of itself. But what's truly important are relationships with people who can be your supporters. In this industry the boys still very much stick together. So, I've been fortunate to have had some male mentors; it really has helped me. There's clearly a lot of value in someone taking you under their wing and helping you develop. Hopefully you'll have in each position someone who is developing you for the next. You can't progress in your company, let alone in your career, without that.

CIO: COULD CORPORATIONS DO MORE TO FOSTER DIVERSITY?

Talton: What I find interesting is that you have large companies like Sun and Oracle and HP all creating application development shops in India and Korea and third world countries--yet the same level of capital investment is not going into urban areas here, where investment could create vocational schools, for example. That's a big missed opportunity for all of us. I think it would be worthwhile for our government to put programs in place to encourage companies to make that level of investment at home. We're in a global economy, and we compete globally. We can't afford to not make use of all our potential workforce.

Tell us about your mentoring experiences at interview@cio.com.

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