A conversation with ServiceNow's Vice President of IT Strategy, Planning and Business Operations Patricia Grant
“I was blown away,” recalls Patricia Grant of her first time attending the Grace Hopper Celebration. It was 2006, and 1,346 women from the tech world gathered in San Diego. “The theme was ‘Making Waves’ and it was very inspiring.”
For the past two decades, Grant—head of IT strategy, planning and business operations at ServiceNow—has made her own waves in the tech industry. She has overcome entrenched bias and other obstacles to advancement in prior leadership roles at PeopleSoft, Oracle, and Symantec before joining ServiceNow.
Grant’s career has flourished in step with the Grace Hopper convention. Last year, attendance at surpassed 20,000, making it the world’s largest networking confab for women. As she heads to this year’s GHC in Orlando Oct. 1-4, we talked to Grant about the challenges facing women in tech today, her personal and professional journeys, and her advice for the next generation of women considering or starting careers in tech.
How did you first become interested in computing?
After I graduated from college, I bought my first IBM PS1 computer. I got a printer and I was trying to figure out how to make it work. I remember calling tech support and they said, “You have to connect the cable and the LPT1 port.” I'm thinking, “I have a degree in communication and I have no idea what you're talking about.” Believe it or not, that was a pivotal moment. Months after that, I went back for a second bachelor's degree in computer science.
During your early days in IT, what forms of sexism did you deal with?
My first job was at a steel company working on the networking side of IT. I can't tell you the number of times somebody said to me, “Can you go get me coffee?’ or “Get me something off the printer.” And I'd say, “No, I'm here to fix your server.” I started getting frustrated with it and taking a broader look around the company, and I realized that there weren't any women in leadership positions.
I was also constantly tested by my peers. I would have these two guys come up to me—I still remember their names—and they’d do a little comedy skit testing my knowledge. “Patricia, we have a question for you. How would you…” Talk about a sense of not belonging. I wasn't one of the guys and I definitely felt I didn't belong there. It was time for me to move on.
It wasn't until I joined PeopleSoft that I really saw my career take off. I saw a company with diversity, women in leadership positions and felt that sense of belonging. I had growth opportunities, promotions and felt supported by my CEO.
What lessons can you share for women starting a career in tech?
One bit of advice I give to those early in their career is, “It's okay to be driven, but don't forget to enjoy life along the way. Balance your life with friends and family.” I was so driven to prove wrong the people who didn’t believe in me and pushed myself hard. I would go above and beyond all the time, seven days a week, to the point that it became muscle memory. Today, that muscle memory still exists, but I can remind myself to set boundaries. Work will always be there. Remember, life is too short, so enjoy it.
Put yourself out there. Take risks. Find a mentor early on. I always tell interns, “As an intern, you are empowered to go talk to anyone in the company. Take advantage of it. No VP is going to say, ‘I'm not going to talk to a young intern or recent college grad who's looking for career advice.’”
Build and recognize the power of having a network of work colleagues and peers who will help you as your career continues. I'll look at interns’ LinkedIn profiles and constantly remind them to “connect” with others, but do it with a personal message, not just the basic request. The goal is to stand out from everyone else.
And a key thing that a lot of people, even at my level, need to do is invest time in building your own personal brand. Who are you? What are you known for? No one's going to promote your own brand and career other than you, so go out there and do it. It is uncomfortable for most people but it will only help in the long run.
As you head to Grace Hopper, any reflections on what the event has meant to you?
I'm still amazed every year by the sheer number of women attending. I love seeing all these women getting together, networking, and looking at who they are going to be in their lives and their careers.
I’m even more amazed with the women that I talk to about career opportunities at ServiceNow. Their drive, their ambition, their background—wow, just amazing. This is a huge recruiting event and you will find the most talented women here who are ready to take on the world, and I applaud each and every one of them.
I didn't really have a Grace Hopper when I was starting out. I felt like I had to figure it out on my own. I remember early in my career, reaching out to female leaders for advice and mentoring and surprisingly I did not get the support from them that I was hoping for, which was disappointing.
Those of us who are moving up the corporate ladder owe it to younger women to give back, guide and mentor. Even though my schedule is busy, I have to remind myself, “Hey, I was there too, looking for somebody to guide me or give me advice.” We can make such a big impact by just grabbing lunch with someone looking for some career advice. We all need to eat, right?
My advice to those still early in their career is to be bold, take risks and don’t take no for an answer. For those of us who have overcome challenges and risen up in the ranks, my ask is to take time to commit to giving back. Be a mentor to someone. Trust me, even during any of your busiest days in the office, taking time out to mentor someone really teaches you a lot and reminds you of your own career journey. It reminds you to be human. I find it very humbling.