Blog > June 2021 > 5 Reasons Not to Miss Debra Christmas at ASG’s Women Leaders in Technology Book Club

5 Reasons Not to Miss Debra Christmas at ASG’s Women Leaders in Technology Book Club

You have likely heard of Debra Christmas – and if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Debra is a Senior Executive Partner at Gartner, the Founder of Stiletto Gladiators, a nonprofit consultancy for mentoring women in IT, and a Hewlett-Packard (HP) veteran, having worked there for nearly two decades. She also co-wrote Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive & Thrive, which she and co-author Kelley Irwin will discuss at ASG’s next Women Leaders in Technology Coffee Talk and Book Club on June 8.

ASG was lucky enough to host Debra as a guest on the Digital: Disrupted podcast. Here are some top takeaways from her episode, underscoring why Debra is a woman leader in technology through and through.

How did you get to where you are today?
“It was a total accident,” Debra told Paul Muller, the host of Digital: Disrupted. “I wanted to be a criminal attorney… I fell in love with the law at a young age.” However, after the LSATs proved to be challenging, Debra decided to take a year off from test-taking and became an executive assistant at a high-tech company. After excelling at her work, the president of the company told Debra she was destined to be in sales. “’You know the business value of things,’ he told me,” said Debra. “’You ask the questions that matter: ‘so what?’ and ‘who cares?’ And I still ask them all the time.” In 1980, she shifted roles at the company, and by 1983, Debra was recruited to work at HP.

What inspired you to write this book?
“Throughout my career – for 15-20 years – I was the only woman in the room, nine times out of ten,” Debra told us. “I was a CIO in the municipal sector, and there were virtually no other female CIOs.” Debra said she could remember exactly when she came across another executive woman of color. “I walked into room, and we looked at each other thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s another one!’ It was the first time I met someone [professionally] who looked like me. Can you imagine?” This realization became the impetus for Debra wanting to understand why the tech industry didn’t elevate more women. She recalls being roped into the speaking circuit to present on the topic, since there were so few women employees. “I would be looking out at a sea of men at these speaking engagements,” Debra said. “But I made sure to talk about not only the challenge, but how we overcome it.”  

In 2018, Debra was introduced to Kelley Irwin at a Gartner dinner. “We closed out the place,” Debra said. “We were two kindred spirits who came together, talked about writing this book, and here we are.”

Many conversations focus on attracting women to tech, but your book is about retaining them. Why?
“As Kelley and I researched the issues women are experiencing, what surfaced was the number of women leaving tech,” said Debra. “The number from the National Center for Women in Technology was outrageous – 56% attrition. I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach.” From there, Kelley and Debra shifted their focus to retaining women in technology. “We can’t get enough women to come in, but for them to come in and then leave… we have to stop this exodus,” Debra said. As she pointed out, it would be harder to get young girls to pursue careers in technology if there were no role models. “That’s the diversity dilemma. If you don’t see people around you that look like you, it’s really challenging to aspire to those roles.”

Why are women leaving the tech industry?
It’s the environment,” Debra said. “It’s the male-dominated industry. It is not conducive to women excelling.” Debra explained that as women became more prevalent in the workforce, they tried to fit into the majority culture and behaviors, which was driven by men. Even still, women were sidelined and not getting ahead. “Societal norms show up at work,” said Debra. “Women are taught to compete with each other…. Women are predominantly responsible for home care, elder care and childcare. So, they aren’t offered the job because their employer is worried about them balancing work and home life, or having a child soon.” These perceptions create real issues for women – from hitting the glass ceiling, to being interrupted, to having male colleagues take their ideas. It’s no wonder some women have had enough. “There’s a long list of things that need to change,” said Debra.

Tell us a bit about the book.
“We decided to write 10 chapters around the issues that showed up most,” Debra told Paul. The book covers topics such as finding your voice, being courageous, dealing with women who are foes, not friends, and taking advice. “We didn’t want the book to be a memoir,” said Debra. “Our stories are in it, but we wanted it to include the voices of many women. There are 21 women in the book, from 17 to 64 years old. Every generation is represented, and each chapter shares a story or situation, how it was handled, and what the person learned.”
Debra has been a pioneer, mover and shaker, and certainly leader in tech for years. Don’t miss your chance to hear from her during ASG’s Women Leaders in Technology Coffee Talk and Book Club on June 8. Register for the Coffee Talk here, and listen to Debra’s full episode of the Digital: Disrupted podcast here.