Vision Acceptance and Race/Gender

Virginia (Ginni) Rometty was born as the oldest of four children in an Italian-American family. When she was 15, her parents divorced. Ginni looked after her siblings when her mother worked. Ginni went to Northwestern and earned two degrees: Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

She worked for General Motors Institute for two years after graduation before joining IBM. For the first ten years of her career, she did technical work mostly in the service sector of the economy. She was assigned more responsibility as her career evolved. This included sales as well as technical leadership.

Ginni became the general manager of IBM’s Global Services Division and in this position started shifting IBM into more of a service company. The $3.5 billion acquisition of the consulting group of PricewaterhouseCoopers was a huge move for IBM. This was a subsequent career move for Ginni as well as she took on more and more responsibility.

In 2011, Ginni became the ninth president and CEO of IBM and the first female chosen for this role. Ginni had a vision of moving IBM from a hardware focused company to one focused on information technology and services. She recognized that IBM needed to change its business focus in order to continue to grow. She led IBM to acquire new technology assets. She also formed partnerships with other leading high tech companies. The divestment of $7 billion of assets and the acquisition of new assets resulted in six years of declining revenues. But these were necessary to reposition IBM.

Ginni was also responsible for establishing IBM as a model of corporate social responsibility. These efforts included:

  • Increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of IBM’s workforce.
  • Creating a “returnship” program to make it easier for women to return to the workplace.
  • Redefining the purpose of organizations.
  • Co-chairing the OneTen organization – whose purpose is to provide family-sustaining jobs to one million African Americans over 10 years.

Ginni retired from IBM in 2020 once IBM had reestablished itself in the industry. Visionaries like Ginni are under a lot of pressure during the period of change that they initiate. There appears to be a difference in the acceptance of visionary changes based upon the race and gender of the person leading the change. During the time that Ginni was bringing about change at IBM, a male visionary was bringing about change in the automotive sector. Ginni was often criticized for her vision while the male visionary was lauded. Ginni’s vision has been proven to be valid while the vision of the male has yet to be validated.

Just imagine why the gender and race of leadership should have any impact on how we view the success of the visions of leaders? Is this just another vestige of our prejudice? Change is difficult. Why are we less prone to accept the need for change based upon race or gender of the leader?

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“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership.” – Warren Bennis (Organizational consultant)

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