Strength in Numbers — Leads to Greater Entry at the Ground Floor

Strength in Numbers — Leads to Greater Entry at the Ground Floor

Across the country, the underrepresentation of women in tech and leadership roles is a significant issue, with cascading impact.


As part of our Strength in Numbers and #MNGirlsDisruptTech campaigns, the team at Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence is leading a movement to hurtle the barriers to gender diversity in Minnesota’s Tech industry. As part of this movement, we’re asking technology leaders to share their thoughts on what Minnesota businesses can do to help pave the way for more women tech executives.


Nicole James, Director at CBRE Asset Services & Financial SystemsIn our second interview, we spoke with Anne Worrell, Division Vice President at BI WORLDWIDE (BIW). This month, in our third Strength in Numbers feature, we speak with Nicole James, Director of Financial Systems at CBRE.


MNAiC:  Tell us a bit about your role.

NJ:  I am the Director of Financial Systems at CBRE.  Currently I oversee a team of men and women who support our real estate finance group across the Americas in financial systems.  



MNAiC: What were the greatest influences on your technology career choice and direction?  If something specifically happened that triggered your career decision, what was it?

NJ: Technology is something I gradually moved towards over the years.  I started out in a business role and realized that technology was something that I was interested in, and that I had a talent for.  I moved into the technical arena after taking classes outside of work at night.  I was able to move into an entry level technical role within company I was working at.  I then worked to grow and advance into leadership positions within the technical arena.  The key was to gain the technical knowledge and experience, along with business and leadership skills.  Having the combination of technical and business skills has been the key for me.  I believe you need some of each if you want to succeed in technology leadership roles.


MNAiC: As a whole, women in tech in the U.S. leave the industry at a 45% higher rate than men, further reducing the potential for women to assume leadership roles. What do you think are some of the unique challenges women face in this male-dominated industry?  

NJ: I am guessing that some women may not see the same opportunities for themselves in the tech arena that they view the men have, so they adjust their trajectory and move into more of a general business role.  I assume they feel that they would have more opportunity for growth and advancement outside of such a male-dominated area. Advancement takes a lot of time and effort, and if someone believes they have less opportunity in a certain area, it is only natural to move on the path of least resistance.


MNAiC: Have you ever had to overcome (or help other women overcome) these challenges?  If so, what did you do?

NJ: I have had great opportunity within the organizations that I have been a part of.  I do not believe that I have lost out on any promotions or movement because of my gender.   However, I have been in meetings that clearly were male-dominated and that can be intimidating.  Another area that reports inequity between genders is compensation. It is hard to know if you are compensated fairly across the board (based on performance) since you do not have access to that information.  If you rely on what is reported, the genders are not paid equally for the same role.  This could deter a woman from going into or remaining in the technology arena.  Again, I do feel fortunate that I have not had the difficulties that other women in technology report.


MNAiC: What do you think are 3 things Minnesota businesses can do to help remove barriers in order to promote and retain more women leaders in technology?  

NJ: 1) Promote internships and entry level tech jobs to the incoming female workforce.  Women need to get in at the ground level so they receive the same education and experience as their male counterparts.  2) There are very few female college graduates in the tech industry.  There needs to be an effort made to go and find these women while or before they are in college.  Encourage those degrees, internships, and entry level positions in the tech industry. 3) Get your experienced female tech leaders to promote and show what is possible.  Illustrate a path for female tech leaders to follow.


MNAiC: What barriers do you think are most challenging to address and why?  

NJ: Equal pay for the same roles and work.  Since pay is not usually shared within a company, it is hard to know if there are discrepancies.  It does seem that the wage gap is closing, but it is something that women will consider when selecting their field of study.   If women foresee that they will not be welcomed or treated fairly they are more likely to avoid that industry rather than an industry that has a history of being equally represented.


MNAiC: What can young aspiring women technologists do today to prepare themselves for a future career in leadership?  

NJ: Get well-educated, get experience, raise your hand for opportunities, establish yourself with a solid and positive reputation. Don’t be discouraged and find your network.  Get in on the ground floor and continue to learn, move and grow. Great work ethic and dedication is incredibly important.  You need to be a role model to everyone, both males and females.  That is where leadership is found.


MNAiC: Why do you think it’s important to move toward more gender consciousness in tech leadership?

NJ: I believe it is important to be equal in all industries, not just tech.  I do believe there are other industries that have the same issues that the tech industry has.  If we work together in the tech arena, that will help gender equality across the board.


MNAiC: What advice would you give to women who aspire to advance their career in tech?

NJ: Be assertive, professional, hard-working and don’t be afraid to try new things.  Challenge yourself with problem solving, innovation, productivity improvements.  You need to put yourself out there with ideas.  Not all will work, but some will, and that is how you will get additional opportunities.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there.  No one is going to come and find you for opportunity.  You must go and seek it out.


About CBRE Minneapolis

CBRE Group, Inc. is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, with 2016 revenues of $13.1 billion and more than 75,000 employees (excluding affiliate offices). CBRE has been included in the Fortune 500 since 2008, ranking #214 in 2017. It also has been voted the industry’s top brand by the Lipsey Company for 16 consecutive years, and has been named one of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” in the real estate sector for five years in a row.  It shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “CBG.”

CBRE offers a broad range of integrated services, including facilities, transaction and project management; property management; investment management; appraisal and valuation; property leasing; strategic consulting; property sales; mortgage services and development services. Learn more…


About Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC)

MNAiC collaborates with businesses, organizations and schools to inspire and empower young women in high school to become our next, best Minnesota technology talent. Want to get engaged with the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing program? To learn how your organization can support the computing interests of young women in Minnesota and lead the movement to disrupt gender equality in tech, contact Russell Fraenkel, Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence, at or call (612) 659-7224.

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The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program, partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to honor and support young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests. Support the movement to disrupt gender equity in Tech, become a Partner today!