Ilene Fischer is a Partner at Mark Kamin & Associates, former CEO of WomenLEAD, Inc., a 2013 Mass Challenge finalist, and a 2013 Verizon Powerful Answer awards winner. She is also the CEO of nonprofit WEST: advancing women in STEM, Senior Consultant with Insigniam Performance and Sunergos LLC., and Managing Director for the Tom Peters Company, 'In Search of Excellence', Partner at Innovation Associates (IA), founded by Peter Senge, MIT Sloan.
Ilene began her career as a chemical engineer at Raytheon and Quality Manager at Honeywell. She has a B.S. in Chemistry and is a contributor to 'The Fifth Discipline Field Book' by Peter Senge. Ilene is also a regular blogger for Huffiington Post.
We sat down with her ahead of her presentation at the Women In Enterprise Summit, taking place in Boston this October 25-26.
How did you get started in your career?
I started my career as a chemical engineer, I was one of the first women engineers working at Raytheon in Andover MA. Early on, I realized that I was too people oriented to be working in a lab, so in my next job I was a Quality engineer and focused on redesigning manufacturing processes. In orchestrating process redesign work, I experienced the organizational resistance to change and that is when I changed careers to help organizations implement and adopt change - I became an organizational change consultant. I had the privilege of working with MIT Sloan’s Peter Senge and ‘In Search Of Excellence Tom Peters and incorporated their philosophy and tools into my consulting work.
What do you think is behind the lack of women in senior positions? How do you think companies could do more address any imbalance?
I think there are certain positions and industries where you find more women in senior positions eg: HR positions, Chief Administration Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and in the Healthcare and Education industries.
Technology seems to be the industry that is suffering most from a lack of women in senior positions and the lack of gender equality. The Harvard Business Review study: The Athena Report shines light on the issues for women in STEM careers - it points to 50% of women leaving their STEM careers mid-career because of a lack of role models, mentors, uncertain career paths, and non-supportive work environments. In all of my research I have found that women do not ask for what they want at work and in fact, in 2014 there was a McKinsey report that showed that all things being equal, women will ask for 30% less salary than a man. Given these two studies, I think companies, should offer mentoring for women to help them in their career, provide them role models and to help women to learn to ask and negotiate for what they need at work.
How do you think HR departments can encourage women into leadership?
HR departments can identify women that are ready to grow in their careers and support them in taking on new roles and work with them to get promoted. Many women need operational and financial backgrounds and experience to move into senior positions and HR departments can help by offering training and development in those areas and by identifying jobs that will provide women with the experience they need in those areas to get promoted.
Progress has been slow for gender parity in many industries, particularly STEM. Do you see improvements coming anytime soon, or is it likely to be a long journey?
I think it will be a long journey. Men are predominantly in top management roles in technology companies. Until there is a shift in the culture of technology companies we will likely see the same decline in women in senior positions. I think the pharmaceutical industry is better than technology in promoting women to senior positions. The biggest decline is in technology.
What will you be discussing in your presentation?
We have years of experience in working with organizations to create a context for high performance. We do this by weaving together innovation practices with individual transformation work causing a shift people’s relationship to Integrity and authentic communication and as a result, we have seen strategy implementation teams produce extraordinary business results. In my presentation, I will discuss the secret sauce of creating a culture of high performance, one that creates a structure for extraordinary business results. the foundation for these results are integrity, authentic communication and innovation processes.
You can hear more from Ilene, along with other leading women in enterprise, at the Women In Enterprise Summit. To register, click here.