Strength in Numbers — Leads to Positive Disruption

The IT Center of Excellence is proud to announce a Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC)  interview series featuring female I.T. leaders from businesses large and small throughout the Gopher State. Some women are relatively new to their roles; others are veterans, leading multi-million dollar companies. Each executive has a unique story and journey that has led to a rewarding career in information technology.  And…..they share the desire to inspire and empower young women to become the next, best Minnesota-grown technology talent!

Lisa Schlosser, chief technology officer and vice president of FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business, came on board to support the series because she believes many women are missing out on some of the fastest growing and highest paid occupations. Thomson Reuters has been a MNAiC partner and event sponsor since the program launch in Minnesota in 2012. Lisa is excited to leverage her platform to highlight the gender equity gap in tech and draw attention to some really awesome opportunities for local businesses to lead the positive disruption of information technology in Minnesota.

If you are a hiring manager or tech leader, your support is needed to Drive Change…and Disrupt Tech.

MNAiC: Tell us a little bit about your current role.

LS: I am the Chief Technology Officer for FindLaw, which is a Thomson Reuters business. To put it simply, FindLaw offers resources and information for consumers and professionals with legal questions and connects them with our customers, who are attorneys. We advise our 17,000 customers how to grow their business, for example, by helping them build a website, manage their paid advertising and write blogs, and we also provide SEO expertise, and help them with social media. In addition, we have the data analytics to show them how these products are performing. We also have the most well-known legal attorney portal, Findlaw.com, which contains attorney directories and free legal content for attorneys and consumers.

I create and drive the technology strategy and implementation to align with the FindLaw business. The technologies I own are a mixture of customer-facing and internal applications.

I asked my kids several years ago what they thought I did, and they said “you meet with people,” and they were mostly right. A typical day would usually involve some combination of these three things:

  • Collaborating with business partners on priorities, project status, financials, or incidents;
  • Working with my team on personnel concerns, team building, setting direction, and white boarding projects. (I have teams in Eagan, MN; Sunnyvale, CA, and Bangalore, India, as well as contractors in Eastern Europe and Mexico who work alongside our teams); and
  • Attending sprint demos (we moved to agile about two years ago, given the speed of change in this industry).

 

 

Lisa Schlosser,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?

LS: I have been with FindLaw for three years and with Thomson Reuters for thirty years. I started as a computer programmer with West Publishing in downtown St Paul. All through high school, I loved mathematics; however, I was not sure what career path I would follow. St Mary’s University in Winona had a very good mathematics program (plus I could play basketball) so that was where I attended college. While taking math classes, I realized I only needed a few computer science courses to get a double major, so I graduated from St Mary’s with majors in mathematics and computer science. Computer science gave me another career avenue to explore. My numerical analysis class really tied the two disciplines together for me. I wanted to solve interesting problems using technology. I get to do that every day.

 

MNAiC: Women are an under-represented group in the Tech industry. What do you think  are some of the barriers to women entering and/or staying in the field?

LS: When I graduated from college, 34 percent of people earning computer science degrees were women. Today that number is about 18 percent. Women are missing out on some of the fastest growing and highest paid occupations. There is much research available on why this is happening. I serve on the board of trustees for the Anita Borg Institute (anitab.org) where their mission is to make sure the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it. I encourage you to check out their research.

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, has increased the number of women graduating with computer science degrees at her school to over 50 percent. They did this by redesigning their Introduction to Programming course (making it mandatory) and emphasizing practical uses for programming, as well as running the course through team-based projects.

Progress has been slow but there are pockets of best practices working to overcome barriers.

 

MNAiC: A significant number of women in the tech industry report that their gender has affected the way they have been perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation where you thought this? How did you handle it?

LS: I have been fortunate to have supporters, both men and women, who have helped me along in my career. It is not uncommon, however, to be talked over, overlooked, or ignored along the way. My way of handling these situations is to pay forward positive support and call out bad behavior. I recommend women for promotions or new roles, suggest women for succession planning roles, and make sure women feel their ideas are being heard. It is equally important to call out bad behavior. Sometime our unconscious bias gets in the way and people do not even realize their choices are not inclusive.

 

MNAiC:  A female technology talent ‘leaky pipeline’ undermines the goal of IT workforce gender balance.  What are the contributing factors, and what strategies need to be executed to minimize the loss of quality female IT talent?

LS: School-aged children are very impressionable. Minnesota Compass, led by Wilder Research, has some very interesting data, cradle to career, on differences between girls and boys in STEM. In fourth grade, boys and girls interest in science is about the same. By eighth grade, we begin to see a significant gap, with a higher percentage of boys pursuing science activities.

If it were up to me, I’d build the pipeline as early as possible. If we can get more girls interested in STEM, those numbers will flow through to college and career. Thomson Reuters hosted a programming class for children of employees. In the first session, nearly every girl dropped out before the last class. When we offered the same class for girls only and added that each girl could bring a friend, the class filled and all students completed the class. There is strength in numbers.

 

MNAiC:  In the last several years alone, there have been incredible digital transformations in business and society.  What is forthcoming, which presents a special opportunity for the next generation of female technology talent?

LS: Since I began my career in technology, our computing power has grown exponentially and our production and access to content is significant. Back then, self-driving cars seemed to be the thing of sci-fi movies, not the reality we are experiencing today.  What is interesting to me of late is the interaction of technology and humans. Technology isn’t about replacing humans, but rather enhancing our existence. Technology needs to carry the values and serve the needs of all humanity. What brings humanity to our technology teams is diversity.

 

MNAiC:  What would your advice be to young girls who are interested in the field?

LS: You can do it! The opportunities are limitless!


About Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters enables professionals in the financial and risk, legal, tax and accounting, and media markets to make the decisions that matter most, all powered by the world’s most trusted news organization. As The Answer Company, we know that data on its own is not enough. Without insightful people and intuitive technology, data has no source and no direction. It’s just noise. Learn more…

 

To learn more about 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, at russell.fraenkel@metrostate.edu or call (612) 659-7224.

Become an MNAiC Sponsor & Partner!

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!