Interview with Lauren States on Technology, Innovation and Women in Tech
For this month’s perspective, Mobiquity had the opportunity to sit down with Lauren States, former Vice President, Strategy and Transformation for IBM’s Software Group. Currently, States is an Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) Fellow at Harvard University. The ALI program is designed for executives who want to apply their experience to significant issues such as education, gender equality, public health, economic development, environmental issues or other ways to impact society.
Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
For me it’s very simple. I believe in inclusive leadership, collaboration and coaching. Motivated, passionate employees make anything possible. Watching people grow gives me great satisfaction, but more importantly it creates enduring organizational capability and capacity.
One thing I am so grateful for from IBM is the gift of leadership and management development that was a staple as I grew in the company. Coaching and mentoring was a significant piece of the job responsibility and we were trained for it. When you have that foundation it becomes a natural part of not just your work but your life behavior. To this day, I spend a significant amount of time weekly coaching both women and men from all over the world.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
I went to The Wharton School with the goal of becoming an accountant, just like my dad. However, it just wasn’t happening for me! I started searching around for other majors and took a course in programming. I loved it and ended up majoring in Decision Sciences. After graduation, I joined IBM as a Systems Engineer in New York. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, working with clients, helping them apply technology to their businesses and assisting them with the installation of hardware and systems software. I was hooked.
How has your unique background prepared you for success in the industry?
In my studies at Harvard, I’ve learned that you need access to high quality education, strong parenting and great teachers as early in life as possible to put you on a trajectory for success. Reflecting on my own career, I was lucky to have all three. My mom was my greatest advocate. She was an incredible woman and very keen on educational achievement, having attended Boston Girl’s Latin and then graduating from Boston University. When I was in fifth grade, she was unhappy with my placement in math class and was constantly at the school advocating for me until I finally was placed in the highest section. It’s so important to have people in your life who care deeply about you and will encourage you to achieve your full potential.
What was your most interesting job?
One of my most interesting roles was CTO responsible for strategy. It involved taking disruptive ideas, determining if and when the market would arrive, and then understanding the model it would take to be successful and the multitude of transformations the company would have to make to be embraced. The work led to a redirection not only on technology, but also to other areas of the business.
What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of computer technology?
Make sure you take the full math curriculum necessary to get accepted into technical degree programs like computer science, engineering and the new data science disciplines. Also find a mentor. Just reach out. You’d be amazed at how many women and men are passionate about this challenge and want to help.
What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
That’s a tough question because I have participated in several disruptive transitions, but I’d have to say the transition to client/server computing. It not only changed the IT sector, but also changed IBM. I had the unique opportunity to work as an ‘intrepeneur’ in the company, helping drive the change we needed to reposition the company for success.