BY TERRI JENSEN | Chief information officer, Holmes Murphy

All right…truth time. Did you just sing that title in your head? It’s OK if you did. I’ve been singing it all day since I wrote this blog. I’ll get to how Aretha Franklin applies here in just a minute, but let me set the stage a bit.

I’ve read several articles about the leadership styles of men vs. women. These articles enumerate the ways that men work differently from women, how our communication styles conflict, or how one gender is better in certain situations. That simple word, versus, bothers me. Rather than looking at men vs. women, let’s think about how men and women can work together to celebrate their differences in the workplace. How do we enrich an organization through the strengths of each individual?

Information Technology (IT) can be considered a male vs. female field. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up 25 percent of the computing workforce. As a Chief Information Officer, I’ve had the honor of working with many talented men and women. Here’s what I’ve learned from my years in the technology field (and these lessons hold true regardless of gender):

  • It’s fun to work with smart, passionate people. As a leader, you should never be afraid of being challenged or questioned. Face it. You don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, you’re not even sure what questions to ask. Surrounding yourself with people who care about your organization and customers as much as you do breaks down the barriers to decision making.  

  • Different leadership and work styles bring new ideas to the table. It’s beneficial when men bring one set of skills to a solution, while women bring others. Leaders need to be sure that all ideas are considered, and each team member understands the value they bring to developing the end result. Creating a safe environment for tough conversations fosters better solutions.

  • Collaboration and cooperation are powerful. This is so true in IT. Partnering with the business is essential. If my department’s efforts don’t align with the vision of the company, we’re wasting valuable resources and the business is frustrated by our lack of results. Simple collaboration and cooperation keep everyone focused on the same goals.  

  • Compromise is not a sign of weakness. As a female leader, I used to believe that I may appear weak if I compromised on my ideas or proposed actions. I was wrong.  

  • Compromise shows that you’re listening to others, considering their point of view, and developing a solution based on the view of those smart, passionate people who surround you. Compromise is a sign of strength. With that said, never compromise on your values.

  • Attack the problem, not the person. A coworker shared this gem with me years ago, and I’ve lived by it since. No employee wants to be demeaned or disrespected. And most employees act to represent the best interest of their company. People make mistakes.  As leaders, it’s our responsibility to acknowledge the error and help the person rectify it.  Face the problem together. That’s how an employee grows.  

  • Communication is essential. Be certain to start your communications with the “why.”  When employees face change, they especially need to know why they’re about to be subjected to a new system, process, or standard. When you start with the why, they’re more willing to move onto the “how.”  

I absolutely want to see more women in the technology field, and I volunteer my time and make conscious decisions in my department to provide opportunities for this. But just as important, I want to remove the idea of us vs. them in the workplace. We all add value to our organizations. We all have unique strengths that bring diversity in thought and action. Celebrating these strengths creates the environment of “we.”  

It all comes down to this: Aretha Franklin knows best. It really is all about respect. Respect needs to reach across gender, age, and ethnicity. Finding each employee’s strengths and using those strengths to improve your work environment is a win for everyone.

Terri Jensen earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Drake University and her master’s in organizational leadership from Colorado State University in 2016. Prior to Holmes Murphy, Terri served as CIO at Central College in 2012-13, and The Weitz Company in2008-11. She previously founded and grew an innovative technology training and consulting company called Integrated Software Solutions. Jensen is on the board of directors for LifeServe Blood Center, DMACC’s DIAD, and Iowa’s Million Women Mentors. She also volunteers for Youth Emergency Services and Shelter.


Contact Terri via email or LinkedIn.