Women in Charge

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by Robert W. Scott

There is a new crop of female leaders in technology companies serving the accounting market.

It would not take much of a memory to recall when there was no woman executive in the top spot of a major accounting and tax software company—just over two years, as a matter of fact.

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But now, women occupy the top job at two companies: Nancy McKinistry, who just took over as chairman of the executive board of Wolters Kluwer, and Lorrie Norrington, who occupies one of the spots in the Office of CEO for Intuit. Another, Tami Reller at Microsoft Business Solutions, has been pegged as a future star.

It’s not an avalanche, but it is certainly a different picture from the male-dominated accounting and reselling firms that use these companies’ products.

But the image of technology companies as providing more opportunities than other businesses may also be overblown. Technology has a reputation as a woman-friendly business, far more so than many other business sectors, but that may not be true, according to Catalyst, a group that studies women’s roles in different markets. (See related story, page 16)

The challenge of being young and a woman is doubly hard, says consultant Jennifer Wilson of ConvergenceCoaching. Wilson, who was vice president of sales at the former State of the Art while in her late twenties, says that, “I had one customer who kept saying I reminded him of his daughter.” She believes that to be taken seriously, women must work harder and longer and produce more deliverables.

Women Don't Keep Pace in Tech

Technology companies aren't any better at providing opportunities for women to advance in their careers, according to a study from Catalyst, a research group that is dedicated to advancing women's careers.
In a study sponsored by Microsoft, Dell, IBM, and Intel, Catalyst reached its conclusions based on discussions held in different regions. The discussions were held with 75 senior executives who identified four primary barriers to the advancement of women:

• The corporate culture at many high-tech companies is exclusionary and does not support women's advancement.
• Companies don't strategically and objectively identify and develop talent.
• Women feel isolated because they lack role models, networks, and mentors.
• The demands of work and career are at odds with having a commitment to family and personal responsibilities.
Catalyst president Ilene H. Lang says that high-tech has the same barriers to women's advancement, despite the fact that the industry tends to think of itself as a meritocracy.
Catalyst identifies four guides to advancing women in the high-tech environment:
• Get a handle on issues.
• Identify and manage a woman's own talent.
• Make work/life effectiveness work.
• Use mentoring and networks to win.
Among those hosting the winter and spring sessions were Orlando Ayala, now senior vice president of the Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group for Microsoft, and Lorrie Norrington of Intuit.

However, Ann Winblad, a partner in the venture capital firm of Winblad Hummer, says women often sell themselves short in thinking they must work harder.

“I think that’s a trap. This is something women tend to say,” says Winblad, who founded accounting software vendor Open Systems in 1975, “when there was no ceiling” in a young software business. Winblad, who sold the company in 1984, says top women execs get their position because they work smarter. “You cannot run a company unless you know how to work smarter,” says Winblad, whose firm’s funds include a $420 million software-only fund.

Beyond that, do women bring different talents and skills to business than do men? The opinions of the women profiled for this article cover a wide range. Both Norrington and Susan Sheridan, senior vice president of marketing for Accpac, think many women fall behind because they are not taught basic relationship skills that men use routinely.

“Women do not network as naturally as men do,” says Norrington, the most active of this group in promoting women in business. She was one of the hosts for a series of roundtables on the barriers to women in business hosted last winter by Catalyst. She says companies must provide flexibility and mentoring—things she believes Intuit does well.

Sheridan believes that men don’t understand the unwillingness of many women to confront someone with whom they are having a problem and discuss it candidly. “This behavior is misunderstood by men and therefore is ineffective,” she says. “Business tends to work under men’s rules. One of the things that women have to learn to do is be direct and go in unemotionally and say, ‘I have a problem with that and here’s why.’”

The women in this article are doing well under men’s rules, playing the game, and some of them are winning—big time.

McKinstry: New Job, New Land

In things that can be measured, Nancy McKinstry stands at the top of the list of women executives at technology companies that serve tax and accounting professionals.

She chairs the executive board of Wolters Kluwer, a title equivalent to the American term CEO, which gives her responsibility for a worldwide staff of 20,000 employees in 25 countries, a job that she took over in the fall. Below her are the operations of the former CCH, along with Aspen Publishing. McKinstry has taken over the job at a time

of major changes—changes in corporate organization, corporate names, and the very role of Wolters Kluwer itself.

She has also taken over a company whose numbers have fallen over the last two quarters; her most recent actions have included the decision to lay off 1,600 employees worldwide. For its third quarter ended September 30, revenue was down 14 percent and EBITA earnings were off by 27 percent from the year before. The company is also changing the nature of its product—50 percent of U.S. revenue now come from electronic products.

“We are moving away from being an information provider to being a provider of software and tools,” notes McKinstry.

Just as Wolters Kluwer and its CCH operation have changed, so has McKinstry.

Perhaps no one else in this market has willingly restructured her life so completely to follow her career. Upon her election to the position, the 44-year-old packed up her 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter and left New York City to live and work in Amsterdam.

“It’s a wonderful place to go to school,” says McKinstry. And as far as the language, “the linguistic skills of the average Dutch person are tremendous. I’ve been learning Dutch and it’s not a requirement.”

McKinstry has done a lot of things at WK fairly rapidly. She worked at CCH starting in 1991, and in 1996 was appointed vice president of product management and a senior CCH officer. After it bought CCH, WK named her president and CEO of CCH Legal Information Systems. She left briefly in 1999, but returned as CEO of Legal, Tax & Business North America, the division that oversees all of the CCH operations. She took over from Hugh Yarrington, a BNA and CCH veteran, who is the other American on the four-member WK supervisory board.

McKinstry rose to the top as WK was changing the way it works as a company. A few years ago, a CCH staffer remarked that a visit by American reporters to the company’s Dutch headquarters would provide little value because the employees at the parent company “are a group of bankers” who had little direct involvement in the tax and accounting community. That will change rapidly as McKinstry and her team turn WK away from its traditional role as a financial holding company. “We need to move more aggressively to be an operating company,” says McKinstry.

The change from holding company to operating company stems from the need to balance growth by acquisition with organic growth. Trying to blend together the companies that have been purchased means that “as it relates to sales and marketing, you have to have more organized control,” she says.

Norrington: Getting Your Hands Dirty

If there’s any doubt of Lorrie Norrington’s commitment to advancing women in leadership roles in technology, consider her record at General Electric, where she worked for 20 years.

In 1997, she helped form the Women’s Network, at first a group of 10 women at GE offices in Connecticut. When she left, “we had almost 9,000 women in India, Europe, China, and the U.S., and I think we had one in Indonesia,” says Norrington.

Small wonder that if she could be that involved in an extracurricular activity, she could rise to the job of executive vice president at Intuit. But that title is less meaningful than her status in the Office of the CEO, which she shares with Intuit founder Scott Cook and CEO and president Steve Bennett, with whom she occasionally worked at GE.

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