There’s an old joke Kristen Lamoreaux likes to tell other women in the IT industry: “Where’s the one place in the world where a woman doesn’t have to wait in line to go to the bathroom? At a CIO conference.” She was once again reminded of this adage while attending a 2006 CIO conference in New York City. “This was an unusual conference because it all took place in a single room — a large ballroom,” she recalled in an interview. Lamoreaux, who runs her own IT executive search firm, noticed the gender disparity almost immediately upon arriving, but she decided she wanted a more accurate count of the male vs female ratio. “At one point I scooted up to the upper balcony where I could get a bird’s-eye look of the entire room and started counting.” Of the 350 attendees, only 22 were women, and that number included vendors who had rented booths.
Lamoreaux may have simply chalked this off as an interesting anecdote to tell people in the future if not for an encounter she had in the women’s restroom during a break. “There were several women using the stalls and sinks, and someone just suddenly blurted out, ‘Really, how many women are here today?’” When Lamoreaux told the group the number, there were audible gasps. “And then when the women finished washing their hands, they didn’t leave. We just all stayed in the bathroom and started talking about the lack of women at leadership levels in IT.”
This was the lightbulb moment for Lamoreaux when she realized women needed a real venue — one preferably not located in a restroom — for having these sorts of conversations. As she continued to meet with female IT leaders as part of her job, she’d ask them a common question. “I’d ask them, ‘Who do you go to when you need help?’” she said. “Now, when I asked this to female CIOs, they’d say that they went to whoever could help them.” But vice presidents and directors — women who were on their way up through the ranks — provided a different answer. “They would say they they’d find another woman within their industry that they could explain the situation or challenge to and get their input. They wouldn’t just go to Bob down the hall because they were concerned with the perception of ‘not being in the know.’ And I was floored at the waste of time looking for this mythological woman who might be in a parallel position to give cogent counsel when Bob down the hall has the answer.”
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It wasn’t long before Lamoreaux decided she wanted to form a group through which women in IT could collaborate and mentor each other. She was already a longstanding member of the Society for Information Management (SIM), the organization for IT leaders, and figured it would be easier to grow such a group through SIM’s already existing membership and infrastructure. “I reached out to the then-president of SIM, Jim Noble, and said I wanted permission to use the SIM logo so I could create a group called SIM Women.”
Nearly a decade later, SIM Women comprises over 1,100 members and is one of the country’s most powerful professional networking groups for women in IT, but when Lamoreaux was first trying to get it off the ground its success was by no means apparent. Not long after the group was officially founded, while at SIM’s national SIMposium conference, she discovered that its funding had been pulled. “Over the two days I was at the conference I made friends with one of the gentlemen at Microsoft, and then Microsoft fully funded us for three years before it went back to SIM funding us with the help of additional sponsors. It was definitely a hard-won battle.”
Though it’s now a national organization, SIM Women started out within the New Jersey, NY Metro, and Fairfield-Westchester SIM chapters and slowly branched out from there as other chapters gained interest. Risa Fogel, now the Global IT Leader at Cushman and Wakefield, recalled being recruited to join SIM Women and immediately grasping its importance. “I remember the first time we had our initial meeting in New Jersey,” she said. “I think that was the first time I was in a room where I wasn’t the minority. Before that I couldn’t remember a time I was in a room with 45 or 50 other women in my field. It just doesn’t happen.”
SIM Women quickly began to expand beyond its New Jersey and New York roots, and so did its offerings. It would hold everything from monthly webinars to in-person networking events to even one-on-one mentorship when it was needed. “I think as women we don’t always take the time to do things for ourselves, but we can be very nurturing and look out for someone else,” said Fogel. “And that was our way of getting others involved, by framing it as a way of helping other women, whether it’s helping a member with a particular problem or going out and talking to a group of Girl Scouts who may not even realize that IT is a career they can pursue. That’s been really a key way to getting women engaged with us.”
Eventually, the group grew so large and spread out that Lamoreaux could no longer organize all the events herself. “So I created what we called SIM Women Champions in each chapter,” she said. These champions were responsible for organizing events at the local level and would help recruit new members into their chapters. “The Houston chapter added 50 members because of SIM women. That’s incredible.”
By now Lamoreaux has participated in hundreds of SIM Women events and met thousands of female IT leaders over the group’s nine-year history, but if she had to pick a standout experience, it would be an interaction she had with someone who wasn’t even a member. “A 16-year-old girl in Detroit reached out to me and said, ‘I just found out about SIM Women and I want to go to college. No one in my family has ever gone to college and I know I need to surround myself with people who will help me and mentor me in order for me to be successful,’” she recalled. “And then she asked, ‘Are there any women in your network who can help me?’” This was during SIM Women’s first year when it was still based in the Northeast, but Lamoreaux immediately set out and found local female leaders to connect the girl to.
In their correspondence, the girl remarked how she’d reached out after reading an article about SIM Women. Lamoreaux performed some of her own research and discovered that the girl was on the distinguished honor roll at her high school two years in a row. “I remember writing back to her and saying, ‘I researched you too,’” Lamoreaux recalled. “It was because of SIM Women’s existence that we made a difference in this girl’s life. That’s the reason we do this. It’s not just about how many women go from being vice president to CIO. It’s about the next generation of female IT leaders as well, because if we don’t each do our part to serve as a visible example others can emulate, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.”