IBM’s Rometty Almost Turned Down Promotion in Career Life Lesson

  • CEO offers advice to young, career-focused women in technology
  • ‘I learned growth and comfort never coexist,” Rometty says

Ginni Rometty almost turned down a promotion 25 years ago, a move that became a defining lesson early in a career that led her to become chief executive officer at IBM in 2012.

Speaking Wednesday at the Grace Hopper Conference celebrating women in computing, Rometty told the story as part of three pieces of advice she wished to impart upon the attendees, the majority of whom were female. At the time, Rometty’s manager told her he wanted to recommend her to replace him. Her first reaction was that she wasn’t experienced enough and didn’t feel ready for the role, she said. But in the end, Rometty did take on the promotion and said she learned a valuable lesson.

“I learned growth and comfort never coexist,” she said. “It is true for people, for countries, for companies.”

This is Rometty’s first time at the conference, which drew more than 15,000 attendees, a 28 percent jump from last year. She said she decided to appear at the event this year after IBM employees who attended in 2015 sent her a letter asking her to go.

As of 2015, women comprised about 32 percent of International Business Machine Corp.’s global workforce. The company said more than 26 percent of executives are women, and about two thirds of female executives also have children.  

Diversity has been a major issue for Silicon Valley startups and large tech companies, which have been criticized for hiring practices that appear ageist, sexist and racist. White males continue to dominate technical roles and leadership roles in the industry, even as companies have made efforts to hire from underrepresented populations. Only 22 percent of women hold technical positions in 2016, based on a study of 60 companies conducted by the Anita Borg Institute, a nonprofit geared toward women in technology. 

The organization also produces the three-day Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, which includes panels and workshops about trends as well as diversity issues and a career fair for women seeking roles in the industry.

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