The male-dominated world of IT networks

Women are in a minority in information technology and even more so in IT management.

Over the past 30 years, Wendy Merkley has worked her way up from data entry operator in her native Canada to global head of IT at reinsurance company Life & Health, based for the last two years in London. She has spent much of the last year traveling the world to consolidate data centres run by Life & Health — company supporting 80 different systems.

Her travels have highlighted different rates of success of women getting into IT management in different countries.

"In Canada, being a woman had little impact on my career. I was taken seriously quite early," she says.

"My North America management team is four men and four women. In the UK, it's five and two — and in Zurich it was orig­inally nine men plus me; now it's 12 men and two women."

She believes that companies can benefit by having more women managers.

"It's possibly more natural for a woman to relate to what peo­ple are going through in their personal lives." she says. "I've coached many husbands on my staff in juggling children, home life and work. Men seem to be more comfortable discussing these things with a woman, who's probably been through it her­self. They often find it easier talking to me than they have to a male boss in the past."

She adds: "I'm not women's lib about this. Anyone can get to management —just get on with it."

"We need IT skills but not just people who are in IT for the sake of it," Mrs Merkley says. "More importantly, we need peo­ple with the right attitude, who want to work for a global organi­zation and add value to the business."

"Most people can learn new technology; the challenge is to get their heads into a business and into a business team attitude. Sometimes their work has to be adaptable so it can be used else­where. Sometimes we need them to travel to Zurich or New York for a couple of days. Not everyone wants this. In fact I've actual­ly talked some job applicants out of joining us."

Her own travels take her between the main data centres in Zurich, the City of London, New York, and other cities.

She has 60 IT staff in London and a similar number in New York, with 24 in Zurich and a dozen in Johannesburg. Each centre has local management, and they all meet three or four times a year.

All this is now changing quickly. "We had three data centres in North America; we now have one in New York. We also now have one database tool, Natural, running on IBM mainframes."

"The basic system is also being ported from New York to the UK, so we will have the same core technology in both centres — the same databases and data dictionaries. This means 65 per cent of our business will then be handled by similar systems."

Further consolidation of the main centres is possible as Mrs Merkley looks at moving the Life & Health Division systems in Zurich to London.

Investment in mainframes and the client data it manages is al­ready being built on through substantial data collection activity, which Mrs Merkley refers to as knowledge management.

"The life and health insurance markets are changing rapidly at present," she says. "With the continuing decline of the welfare state in the UK and growth in popularity of private medical in­surance, long-term care and other related policies, we have had to adapt to change rapidly and develop the ability to manage vast amounts of information on risks. Indeed, the reinsurance market is all about managing risk."

"To do this successfully we need access to all the information available to enable us to make critical decisions. This means Life & Health is ahead of the rest of the group in developing data warehousing and other information and knowledge management capabilities. We are using our expertise across the whole of the group to raise the level of awareness and capability in data ware­housing."

IX. Answer the questions.

1. For how many years did Wendy Merkley work her way up from a data entry operator to global head of IT?

2. Where does she work now?

3. Why did she travel the world last year?

4. How many men and women are there in her North America team and in the UK team?

5. Does she believe that companies can benefit by having more women managers?

6. Why are men more comfortable discussing personal things with a woman?

7. What kind of people does she want in IT?

8. Why do the people who are in IT travel often?

9. Where do her own travels take her to?

10. How often do the representatives of differ­ent centers meet?

11. Is it beneficial for her company to have the same core tech­nology in different centres?

12. Is further consolidation of the main centres possible? In what way?

13. Are the life and health insurance markets changing rapidly now?

14. What did the company management do in this changing mar­ket conditions?

15. What kind of information did they manage?

16. What is required to do this successfully?

Unit 12

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