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Noni Allwood, 50, has struggled with stereotyping against women and minorities in the field of high technology ever since she immigrated from El Salvador in 1982. She terms the small slights that alienate women like her--the inside jokes, the averted eyes, the overlooked suggestions--microinequities. She worked mightily to rise to director of European strategy at Cisco Systems but recently abandoned that role to become director of global gender diversity. Through a program called Girls Get IT, Cisco is trying to rally interest in technology careers among girls by funding workshops at urban schools and in poorer countries around the world. "It's fantastic," Allwood says. "Cisco is building a talent pipeline, and I get to feel valuable for who I am."
TEACHING BY EXAMPLE
When asked what career tool they lack but most need, minority women executives had the same answer: mentors. Although 66% desire mentoring from senior colleagues with similar ethnic or cultural backgrounds, 29% lack any such mentors.
When Meow Yee joined IBM in 1985, she did not receive a mentor, nor was she offered one over the next 20 years. Born in Malaysia and of Chinese origin, Yee was hired as a software developer and advanced to design in-house applications for IBM in Somers, N.Y. But like many other Asians, she felt stuck on a technology track. "There's this perception that technology is what we're good for," she says. "Opportunities are not really given unless you ask for them, and if you're a woman, I guess that's double." She worked hard and was prized by her manager, but when he retired unexpectedly, she "got lost in the shuffle." Yearning to break into marketing, she took matters into her own hands and approached that division's manager to talk up her expertise. "I didn't ask for a job right away," she says. But when one opened up, she got the call.
IBM began a formal mentoring program more than 10 years ago, but it does not specifically target minority women. So Yee helped launch the Asian Women's Leadership Network to offer mentoring and networking. IBM recognized her work, and when the firm decided to lead 50 other companies in studying how to best use their Asian talent to target Asian markets, Yee, 50, was handpicked to lead the project.
Demitra Jones was never in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. At just 18, she was placed as an intern with Pitney Bowes--a mail-and-document-management company in Stamford, Conn.-- by Inroads, a career-development group for urban minority youths. A member of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta who worked at Inroads was Jones' first mentor, coaching her on "how to behave in the corporate environment." At Pitney she met Michael Holmes, its African-American director of diversity and at the time a director of Inroads, who also mentored her. The internship continued throughout college and resulted in a job offer for Jones, who, now 31 and a human- resources generalist, expects a long career at Pitney, where the corporate emphasis on community involvement aligns with her own. When she glances into the upper echelons of the company, she sees faces like that of Sheryl Battles, 47, vice president of corporate communications, a Stanford University graduate and, like Jones, a Delta sister. "Seeing such diversity in the leadership," she says, "inspires me."
TAPPING INTO CULTURAL CAPITAL