Women Who Tech Are Dangerous — Janet Damen Cinfio
A Portrait Project by John Davidson
Janet Damen Cinfio
Job Title: Senior Vice-President and Chief Information Officer at Acxiom
Years in the tech industry: 20 years
On Acxiom, and her role there:
Acxiom provides the data, technology and services marketers need to power exceptional customer experiences. We provide a unified data and technology foundation for the world’s best marketers, and it is exciting to be part of an organization that’s a leader in helping brands better understand and engage consumers across all channels and a leader in ethical data use.
I lead the overall information technology strategy for the company and direct planning, architecture, enterprise applications, infrastructure, operations, security and risk management, workplace experience and sourcing.
I also love that Acxiom is passionate about enriching the pool of STEM talent. Acxiom believes diversity sparks innovation and encourages an inclusive and supportive workplace. Acxiom takes these values into the community by supporting girls in STEM, nurturing bright future leaders.
On a radical company culture shift — moving from Esprit (women and children’s fashion) to EA (video games primarily marketed to boys and men):
It definitely was a culture shift when I moved to EA from Esprit. The EA culture rewarded aggressive, boisterous and competitive behaviors, and there was a feeling that you needed to fit into some of these behaviors to succeed. As it was a game company, I expected a play-to-win culture. I am also focused on winning. At the time though, the wins at EA were more focused on personal wins or individual team wins, sometimes at the expense of others. This was around the time of the dot-com crash, so pressure was high to succeed in the digital space.
To their credit, EA began to recognize the need to focus more on inclusion to continue to win as a company. Women, along with some men — including my first manager — were helping to change the culture. I worked with amazing teams throughout my time at EA. I am truly grateful for the opportunities, learning and wonderful colleagues at EA.
On whether she felt isolated in such a male-dominated work culture:
No, I didn’t feel isolated or overlooked. I always ensured I had mentors and support along the way.
On women as role-models and mentors:
Yes! Many women have helped me. First and foremost, my mother. My mother was the first woman in her family to graduate college. She has taught me that it is most important to use your talents to help others, especially those less fortunate. I strive to make an impact in helping to advance opportunities for others.
In the workplace, two women in particular have been significant role models and mentors for me. They both encouraged me to make the move to technology and helped accelerate my leadership trajectory by guiding me to recognize the importance of the career lattice of taking roles in other disciplines. They also helped me to recognize my strengths and development goals early and how to take action. They were both great role models of women who had overcome a lot of gender bias in their careers and were able to drive to their goals. Their example and mentoring encouraged me to be the leader I am today.
On mentoring, and the challenges women commonly face:
One of the challenges I see over and over [when mentoring women…] is that many leadership teams are expecting those with potential to be like them versus looking for diversity. Many women have felt that they needed to change to fit in in order to be promoted into leadership. I encourage them not to feel pressured to fit into the mold, but to look to understand the expectations and drive to demonstrate the value of the diversity she brings.
As a mentor, my role is not to provide answers, but to help guide the mentee to a decision or direction that she owns. Sharing my experience in challenges and successes helps, but each mentee is unique, and it is critical to understand the goals of each mentee to be successful in the mentor-mentee relationship.
On Girlstart, and her role as a volunteer board member:
Girlstart’s mission is to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs.There are so many biases — conscious and unconscious — in our society that result in girls not being encouraged in STEM.
Studies show that even as early as first grade, girls and boys are already thinking boys are better at STEM than girls. Girls consistently perform similarly to boys, but have not been supported in STEM. Girlstart focuses on the critical age of impact in late elementary/middle school which is where many girls drop interest in STEM. Girlstart creates a fun, safe and exciting environment for girls to have fun learning STEM.
I feel it is important to work with girls to encourage them to continue STEM. Many companies will work with college level and high school level support, and that is good. But many girls have already opted out by then. We need to be working at all levels to grow women in STEM. Girlstart has delivered results of exposing girls to STEM opportunities they would not already have. Girls who participate in Girlstart programs outperform those who don’t. Girlstart provides girls the exposure and confidence to pursue STEM further.
On what young women entering tech might perceive in terms of work culture and opportunity:
I believe most young women arrive believing many of the barriers have been removed. However, the barriers that are there today can be harder to see. The barriers may not be as visible, which makes them harder to break down. This can make it harder for women to recognize and may cause more struggles.
On whether significant change is taking place in the culture to engender opportunities for women:
I am optimistic! I am always optimistic that any action, even small, can influence change. I don’t believe there is sufficient pressure to change the work culture yet, but I would describe it as increasing. Companies, especially public companies, are setting diversity and inclusion objectives and measuring themselves against that. The best companies are treating these objectives in the same way as other typical business measures. The more companies that focus on this, it sets the bar higher and puts pressure on other companies to follow suit.
On the changing attitude of male peers and colleagues in the age of #MeToo:
There has been a broader recognition that this happens more than most of my peers have thought previously. I believe the #MeToo movement has brought an awareness that accelerated change is needed.
On how women can contribute to lasting change in industry gender politics:
We can continue to drive diversity and inclusion within our companies and outside. It is important for us to work with young students of all genders to ensure they are exposed to the importance of inclusion.
My husband and I are raising two boys and educating them to encourage diversity and inclusion. We can all do this by setting examples and thinking about this in everything we do. Providing the right mentorship to young people will provide a foundation for the future leaders.
One more thing — on bias and inclusion:
Bias comes in many forms. The Women Who Tech are Dangerous Project is focused on women. This message of empowering and valuing women is critical for us to understand better. We can also leverage this message and mindset as it relates to all types of diversity and inclusion, e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+, political views, spiritual beliefs, abilities, personality types and life experience.
*Quotes may have received minor editing for purposes of length and clarity only.
Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: A Portrait Project
The project website, featuring almost forty profiles, may be found at:
I will be presenting the project at SXSW on March 8 2019 (International Women’s Day.
About the project’s title:
Encouraged by the rising tide of women making their voices heard on the subject of gender bias in the tech and corporate world, I’ve embarked on a portrait project that seeks to feature women with a stake in the issue, and hopefully, provide a platform for them to share their experiences and express their views.
The first suggestion of this project came to me via a book on my wife’s bookshelf — Women Who Read Are Dangerous, by Stefan Bollmann. It’s a collection of paintings from throughout the centuries, each focused on a woman reading a book — the very act of which has, at various points in history, been considered ‘subversive.’
Are women who tech dangerous? To those in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, who seek to perpetrate the hegemony that unquestionably exists in the upper echelons of tech at present, perhaps. One woman I asked referred to the project’s title as being, for her, about ‘the notion that I’m not supposed to be here because I’m a woman — but I am [here]…we are [here], and we’re not leaving.’ Still another women described the idea that women in tech are dangerous as being, ‘in this context, almost patronizing.’ Clearly there are a range of views and experiences to be expressed.
My goal is to put faces to some of these women, to compile a portrait of women at all career levels, to elevate their voices and contribute to the dialogue.