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Students share ideas with IBM manager

ibm--roundtableOne of the top managers of IBM came to Groningen for a discussion with fourteen female students of RUG and Hanze. The tantalizing topic: how to get more women in IT?

‘I was eight months pregnant and had a number of job interviews. That was 27 years ago. The people that interviewed me, all of them men, were staring at my belly not at my face. One of them even asked if I was married. There was only one company where I was treated as a serious candidate: IBM.’ In the IBM Service Center at Gedempte Zuiderdiep four female Hanze Honours students and ten  from RUG hang on Joanne Collins-Smee’s every word. The General Manager of Globally Integrated Capabilities of IBM has come to the Groningen Service Center for a roundtable focussing on how the company can be more attractive for women. ‘IBM allows its female employees to take care of children and elderly parents, and to give priority to family life whenever that is necessary. But you have to create the boundaries. IBM will be respectful of that. It a great company to work, especially for those who like to travel. You start in Groningen, but two jobs later you might find yourself in New York City.
‘Presently fourteen percent of our employees are women’, the global manager explains. ‘In the not too distant future we want a fifty-fifty mix. Somehow we must get it across to women that IBMise a good employer and that we do not only need computer scientists, but many other disciplines as well:  healthcare specialists, consultants, people who studied Chemistry or Business Administration.’
‘What is your perception on IBM?’, Collins-Smee’s management assistant Heena Jethwa asks. ‘Many of my classmates think IBM is a grey, male-dominated firm’, says Marlies Hijkoop who studies Computer Science at RUG. ‘A dusty image. The things you told us about how woman-friendly IBM is somehow don’t reach us.’

Sonja Beekman, an honours student of Change Management at RUG, nods. One of the companies that has an excellent reputation among students is Cap Gemini. Joanne Collins-Smee’s reaction is one of total shock and disbelief. ‘Ouch, really, wow. Cap Gemini… why?’ They are always present at fairs and events that student associations organize, Sonja replies.
The students in the room agree and come up with examples of events where IBM should have been present. ‘You should really invest in student associations like MARUG, a RUG-student advises. ‘It wouldn’t be expensive for a big multinational like IBM and it will guarantee that students will know you for a long time.’
Honours student Alessandra Requena Martes suggests that IBM should admit interns who work on their bachelor, PhD, or master thesis. That impresses the top manager. ‘Without getting a salary? Very interesting!’, she laughs.
Sonja Beekman is writing a master thesis about leadership styles in companies switching to new software applications. ‘I would like to do that at IBM. Maybe I can link my research to an organisational question you have.’ Joanne Collins-Smee looks impressed again and points at Human Resources leader Zoe Pewter. ‘Zoe, check if we have a match here!’
Another student still entertains some doubts. ‘Like many women I want to do something that contributes to improving the world. I still do not see how I can do that at IBM. Women should be attracted by pink. But the IBM logo is totally blue.’
‘It’s clear that we are not on your radar and we should be’, Collins-Smee admits. ‘Thanks for a bucketful of brilliant suggestions. On my next visit to Groningen, I hope to see some of you working here.’ ‘And I hope that, by then, you will have recovered from that Cap Gemini shock’, HR manager Zoe Pewter giggles.