By Michelle Greene, Chief Information Officer
This Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a variety of leaders’ perspectives on leadership, work culture and the power of diversity. Today, Michelle Greene, Cardinal Health’s CIO, shares her experiences and calls on her industry to help cultivate diverse talent for a more equitable future for all.
Since I became Cardinal Health’s Chief Information Officer last year, I have been overwhelmed and gratified by the outpouring of support from colleagues and peers across the industry, particularly from women and women of color.
I realized that after years spent as the minority in my career, I’ve honestly become a little immune to how unlikely it is that I’m in the position I am in. However, the data tells us that, though women make up just under 50% of the U.S. workforce, fewer than 28% of women have jobs in technology. Black female talent in tech is even rarer – Black women account for just 0.7% of IT roles, according to BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
It isn’t surprising that many women don’t even pursue opportunities in this field, because they believe, based on a lifetime of experiences, they won’t be considered. But it is my goal to ensure that past realities do not stand in the way of future opportunities. The truth is that technology is shaping our future in dramatic and profound ways, and we need more diverse perspectives to create solutions that drive changes that are fair and equitable for people and populations around the globe.
I want to use my voice and position to help lift up other women and girls, and empower them to pursue, with unrelenting force, careers in technology.
Break through barriers
My own story did not begin with the dream of being a CIO. Indeed, I like to say that technology found me. A business leader at heart, I was drawn in by the challenge to simplify the complexities of technology and demonstrate its value in ways that resonated with other leaders and their business needs. This passion to cultivate high-performing teams with deep expertise, and, at the same time, bridge the gap between technology and business, led me to where I am today.
As you can imagine, not being the most technical person in the room only increased my need to get comfortable being sometimes terribly uncomfortable.
The first time I realized I was breaking barriers, I was at another company, visiting with a strategic partner. As we wrapped up a leadership meeting, one of my colleagues pulled me aside and said, “Something happened today, and it sent a chill up my spine. I realized you were the only Black woman in a room filled with White men.”
Honestly, if I’d thought about it ahead of time, I might have been intimidated. Certainly, fear of being the “only” – and the repercussions that may create – keeps many women from stepping up. We need to challenge old ways of thinking, and help empower our peers to be the first, and often the only, so generations that follow can see more women and people of color in the shoes they aspire to fill.
For myself, I have learned to use my passion to override my fear, focusing on what I do bring to the table and cultivating a belief that my perspectives are meaningful to this field. I have faced more than a few setbacks along the way and encountered people not always open to my presence in the room, but staying grounded in who I am and what I offer has given me the courage to persevere.
Find your people
Let me be clear: I’ve never tried to achieve success all on my own. I can’t overstate the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are willing to lean in and take a chance on you – and that is something I’ve done throughout my career. I have often relied on the support of others who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
For example, I’ll always be grateful to a previous boss who encouraged me to pursue the role as director, business infrastructure, leading a global team of 250 people. I wouldn’t have thought twice about pursuing the opportunity, but that leader’s trust in my expertise empowered me to take a risk that transformed the trajectory of my career.
There’s power in seeking out champions or mentors who will take the time to learn about your career goals, support your personal and professional growth, and offer a different perspective about the opportunities available. I like to call this group of confidants my “personal board of directors.”
In addition, I encourage aspiring leaders to find a circle or community that inspires them to express their most authentic selves. Whether it’s at work, in an outside organization or within your friend group, you need a place filled with people who are deeply aligned with your passion and goals.
For example, I am always energized after spending time with members of Black Women on Boards, who understand the obstacles Black female executives face when pursuing board membership, and who join forces to remove those barriers for future leaders. My involvement with The Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) has also given me the opportunity to develop close bonds with other executive leaders and collaborate to cultivate the next generation of Black technology professionals.
Inspire the next generation
This notion of “lifting as I climb” – or empowering future creators, innovators, and leaders – has become a deep passion of mine as I consider how inspiring it would be to see more women who are eager to make an impact on the technology industry.
We must reach into our communities and show other women and girls what they can become. As leaders who are breaking down barriers, it’s our responsibility to demonstrate what’s possible, get involved in STEM initiatives, and open doors to new dreams, new stories, and new markers of history.
I also believe if we want to drive diversity in tech, we need more leaders willing to cultivate the unique skillsets of their employees to make the industry one that enables all people to thrive. We need leaders who are bold enough to give honest feedback to their employees, regardless of their gender or race – knowing that honest, open communication is what truly helps others to develop and grow.
A personal goal of mine is to not only increase the representation of women of all colors in technology, but also to cultivate bold and active leaders who will support the growth of diverse talent.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is a business imperative to be embedded into the hearts and minds of all leaders across every industry. And we need to embrace all aspects of diversity – not just diversity of gender or race, but also the diversity of thought, background, perspectives, and experiences.
At a recent event hosted by BOLD, our Black and African American employee resource group (ERG) at Cardinal Health, my former colleague and guest speaker, Kristin Harper (photographed with me on the landing page of the Newsroom), expressed: “I’m more human than I am Black. And I’m more human than I am a woman.”
I believe there is so much power and truth behind that statement. As leaders, we need to see and honor that we all deserve to be valued and heard – simply because we are human. Leading with this fundamental truth in mind will drive more collaboration and inclusion as we embrace the unique, diverse perspectives of every human being.
I’m proud to use my platform as a leader and role model to influence the future of diversity in the technology industry – which will help enhance and speed innovation, create better solutions, and promote opportunities for women and traditionally underrepresented groups in this field.
As we reflect during Women’s History Month on the countless contributions women have made, I encourage leaders and aspiring leaders to be inspired by the actions of those who have come before us and continue to leverage that inspiration to fiercely pursue the boldest dreams themselves – and in those who will lead in the future.
Michelle Greene is chief information officer at Cardinal Health, where she leads the Digital and Commercial Technologies, Pharma and Medical segment IT, Global Business Services and Information Security teams to harness technology and innovation to better serve customers and evolve healthcare delivery. Prior to joining Cardinal Health, Greene was vice president of information technology at Masco Corporation based in Livonia, Michigan. Earlier, she held a variety of technology roles with increasing responsibilities at companies like Johnson Controls and Sony Ericsson. She serves on the board of Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin, is vice chair for Goodwill Manufacturing, Inc., and is on the board of GreenPath Financial Wellness. She is an active member of ITSMF (IT Senior Management Forum), Chief and Black Women on Boards.