March is Women’s History Month and ITS is celebrating by highlighting women and nonbinary Tar Heels in technology. All month long, ITS News will share profiles and Q&As to share the breadth and diversity of the Carolina women-in-tech experience. For the full list of profiles and to read some historical perspective, visit Celebrating Women’s History Month: Carolina women in IT.
What does your role as a leader mean to you?
To me, being a leader is about two things: setting a direction and influencing others to join you. It’s a team sport. I’m energized when I help create a climate where someone else can step up and achieve something beyond what I could have imagined.
What excites you about the future of your field?
What we now call digital transformation is opening more seats at the table to collaborate and drive change in more impactful, holistic ways across organizational structures, processes, capabilities and talent as well as technologies ranging from AI to analytics. Many projects aren’t fully centered in tech; for example, at the Gillings School, we transformed our student services organization, are adding systems to improve data management and communication and aspire to a more predictive and data-driven approach to student success. These kinds of transformations are happening all over UNC.
About Kathy Anderson
Kathy Anderson is the Associate Dean for IT and Project Planning at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Anderson has been with the Gillings School since 2008.
She has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Marquette University and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from North Carolina State University.
Has gender been a factor in your career trajectory, path or choices? How so?
I was a first-gen college student, and my grandmother was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She won a full scholarship to attend college in 1928 but wasn’t allowed to go. I felt I was standing on her shoulders, and I think that made me less afraid to go for what I wanted – degrees in chemistry, then a pivot to a career in technology – both male-dominated disciplines. It’s still not easy, but the more of us there are, the more things will change for the better.
Have you had a mentor in your career or someone else who made a difference for you? Have you mentored others?
There are a half a dozen people throughout my career – women and men — who each chose to take a risk by opening a door for me to try something new. I think each saw something in me — sometimes before I saw it myself— and I’m forever grateful to each of them. I try to be on the lookout for doors I can help open for others.
What would make it possible for more women to work and succeed in IT?
We need more people with a ruthlessly sustained commitment to equity and inclusive excellence, especially in the leadership ranks. I’m proud of our community and our leaders, though we still have tons of work to do. I recently learned of an impressive grassroots initiative at neighboring Duke University called DiversifyIT. It’s run as a collaborative, with multiple leaders providing support and advocacy. Both individual contributors and leaders are essential to drive a more welcoming and satisfying workplace for all, and especially for individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in IT. I hope we can collaborate to do more here at UNC.
What’s your career advice for women in IT?
As you cultivate all kinds of collaborators, make a special effort to seek out other women for strength and solidarity, because sometimes you need to lean on someone who just “gets you.” I have a treasured group of four wise women IT leaders who are both friends and former colleagues.
What resources do you recommend for women who are looking to start or advance their IT careers?
These aren’t specific to women, but I recommend self-reflection activities to better understand what you are good at and what inspires you to come to work every day. I like Edgar Shein’s career anchors model, which determines whether you are motivated primarily by technical excellence, managerial excellence, service, creativity or something else (for me: challenge). I also like the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment based on Gallup research (my strengths: strategic, maximizer, analytical, relator, responsibility).
These assessments can offer insights into roles, collaborations and career paths where you can shine. Conversations help too — for example, when people ask me how they could move into a new role or discipline, I can often point out skills they’re already using in their current role and suggest a few ways to grow.
Would you like to share anything else?
Flexible work is a game-changer for many of us with a keen need to balance professional and personal priorities. I’m a strong advocate for flexible work, but it is not without career risk to promotions or pay increases, especially for early-career professionals, and it disproportionately affects women. If we are to continue to build better career paths, we need to measure productivity and develop talent in ways that aren’t biased by who is in the office.