When we hear the inspiring stories of women in STEM, we can’t help but question the current scenario of women in the tech fields. The gender gap is most apparent in the stem professions. The gap is defying gradually but it will take more than just awareness initiatives.
Kimberly Smith is a strong women leader who is vocal about gender disparity and demanding equal treatment for all. Being part of the tech and finance industry—which is also suffering from the gender gap—she first handily witnessed the gap in leadership. Since she started her career, Kimberly has been dedicating her efforts to minimize this gap and strives to deliver excellence to the consumers.
Our team was lucky to have an interview with Kimberly Smith, Global Vice President, Cloud Innovation Services at IBM we were able to learn about her background, how she got to where she is, and what obstacles she had to overcome in the journey.
How it all began?
Kimberly pursued her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and minor in International Business & Economics from the University of Delaware working full time to pay for her degree. During this time she had the opportunity to represent the Junior Achievement SUCCESS NOW executive leadership team recognized through the Presidential Thousand Points of Light. The program covered the much-needed life and job skills for at-risk high school students. Kimberly went back to her high school to mentor and inspire students facing unimaginable barriers to their life success.
She began her career in technology and financial services— two industries that have been lagging in women leadership representation, yet Kimberly had an interesting and rewarding journey. Over the years, more often than not she has undertaken roles with no job description. “That can be a daunting place to start if you think about it.” Kimberly has often been on the role of envisioning what success would look like, designing the journey to get there, then executing against that while bringing others along. “That isn’t always easy to do when many times there is a perception that you cannot be what you cannot see.”
Kimberly shared one of the early experiences in her career when she was working for a CEO, Rosemarie Greco at $47B CoreStates Bank, the 18th largest bank recognized as one of the most profitable and efficient during her tenure. Rosemarie’s leadership guided her immensely. Her journey was remarkable and set the vision for Kimberly which she could achieve someday as an executive. “So, while there wasn’t someone who forged a path exactly like mine, I was able to see through Rosemarie’s path, what mine could become.”
After working for Fortune 100 companies, and bringing unique value and immediate impact to every role she undertook, Kimberly was inspired to approach entrepreneurship.
Empowering People and Organizations
Over the past 30 years, she had the opportunity to pioneer cloud and digital innovation to empower people and organizations through nascent technologies and accelerators as they redefine themselves, radically grow, and extend their reach exponentially by re-envisioning business models critical to driving profitability. In her journey, she has worked for renowned organizations like The Bank of New York, Microsoft, Adobe, Capgemini, and IBM as well as several start-up organizations. She has been responsible for $40B+ lines of business, has led game changing mergers & acquisitions, represented global corporate and non-profit boards, as well as served as Corporate Social Responsibility Officer overseeing programs, investments, and initiatives to create empowerment through diversity & inclusion, community engagement, and sustainability.
Having an inspiring professional journey, she has been recognized with several awards.
- Ideagen for Global Leadership leading collaborative innovation with Fortune 500 companies in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030
- Constellation Research Business Transformation 150 top leaders for demonstrating the ability to understand how the business environment is transforming
- Insight Success lists her as Top 10 Most Influential Women in Cloud
“I never could have imagined at 18 what I would be able to achieve with a strong support system. This inspires me to pay it forward.” Currently, Kimberly is the Global Vice President, Cloud Innovation Services at IBM.
IBM is an organization driven to help its clients thrive by tapping into the immense power of hybrid cloud and AI. What makes IBM unique is the ability to continually renew itself, create new markets, and enable the transformation of existing industries with highly complex businesses leading the charge.
The secret to Thrive in Crisis
Kimberly’s role is to lead IBM’s growth in cloud strategies such as cloud native, hybrid cloud, and managed cloud services across a multitude of the market’s top performing platforms. The company’s growth is driven by strong partnerships with clients and ecosystems. She spends most of her time working across diverse teams worldwide to advance and accelerate solutions in anticipation of the significant demand for cloud technologies.
“I find that inspiration is exactly what is needed in a crisis.”
A leader is always tested under pressure, and no one thrives in panic mode. Kimberly understands this since the day she started her career in the risk management industry. The industry taught her that challenges are often unanticipated. You can establish a risk mitigation plan for many scenarios but not all of them, it is not statistically possible. She advises that it is important to remember that when things feel like they are going in ‘hyper acceleration’ mode risking the objectives at hand, it is important to balance your reaction with intentional response. Relying on the facts and having a clear head help to generate more impactful solutions and outcomes.
Another factor to consider is having transparency. Being upfront when there is a crisis allows others to have space and grace to respond with their best selves. “That’s when we collaborate most effectively. I find teams I am a part of thrive more when we operate in a proactive, intentional, mindful, and transparent manner.” This same approach was followed by the team amidst the pandemic. Moreover, a special corner was created to outline the company’s effort in tackling the challenges of COVID-19.
Efforts towards Minimizing the Gender Gap
In 2020, another challenge that was highlighted by IBM’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Report was: In 2020, we saw that the convergence of racial injustice and the global pandemic amplified the stark need for swift and greater progress from society and businesses. At IBM showcased its annual 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Report outlining the initiatives and results it has witnessed by incorporating these key metrics into the core business imperatives. “It makes me proud to be part of a company so invested in the success of our people.”
IBM shares a rich heritage in diversity and inclusion, and yet it is learning and growing with time. Keeping the eyes on the future, the team of IBM makes relentless efforts to reach the desired goal. IBM aims to be the gold standard in good tech, leading positive change in the world.
As an inspiration to several aspiring women professionals, Kimberly also dedicates her efforts to minimize the gender gap. She is maintaining a seat as an active board member of iGiant focusing on the impact of gender on innovation and nascent technologies, Women in Cloud for the advancement of economic advancement for women-led businesses & entrepreneurs, and Ideagen Impact & Thought Leadership Council partnering with the United Nations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.
Furthermore, Kimberly has run Innovation Jams and spoken at the United Nations World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE) and participated in the United Nations Commission for Science, Technology & Innovation. “I continue to be a multiyear executive sponsor and keynote for the United Nations Tech for Good Summit, Empowering Women & Girls 2030 Summit, and Fellowship at the European Union United States Delegation and United Nations Headquarters.”
My Perspective on Women Leadership…
In more than three decades in the industry, Kimberly has observed some notable changes in the industry. Among the several changes, the three key changes in the role of women leaders have been an upsurge in women workforce, slowly improving economic benefits, and growing awareness about challenges that women face.
“It is remarkable to see the increase in women entering the workforce across all industries, obtaining technical degrees, and moving through the ranks more than ever before,” said Kimberly. Though there has been a rise in awareness and intention, the leadership gap is still there. For the people assuming that we have attained gender equality, Kimberly is busting the bubble by stating the facts. “Make no mistake, there is still more work to do. While awareness is raised, execution is lacking. There are still gaps in areas like financial services, manufacturing, health care, technology, and media & entertainment to name a few.”
Kimberly highlights that despite the noteworthy improvements in mid-level leadership, the graph drops significantly at partner levels. She adds, “What has changed is that the commitment to the vision is there, the intention is there. The path toward execution needs to follow.” This means asking the tough questions and solving for them for solutions— ‘what barriers have we created that stand in the way of advancing for a female leader that is not there for a male leader?’, ‘are we rejecting strong female hires, not finding them, or not looking in the right places?’, ‘does an organization walk the walk but not follow through?’, ‘what are the harder issues that no one wants to talk about but everyone knows and how do you take them head-on?’
How does gender diversity benefit the company economically?
Economically it is becoming more apparent that gender diversity is good for business. Organizations that invest in senior leadership gender diversity perform better. The more an organization commits to diversity and inclusion in its foundational values – and lives those values – the higher likelihood there is trust and commitment to the success of that organization by employees, customers, and partners. We’ve seen trends that support this in companies that make the news, good or bad. This has direct implications on the bottom line with shareholders and brand adoption.
What is your favorite part about being a women leader?
As a female executive, I enjoy most the opportunities I have to learn from others and grow to become a better leader. There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not faced with some inequity or witness someone else I trust and respect have to face it. My voice has an impact where perhaps 20 years ago it would not have created the same opportunities or results. I am appreciative of the growth I have seen and encouraged by the pipeline of next-generation leadership that will not tolerate anything less than the equitable balance and mutual respect in the workforce.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism to me is equality in gender identity and expressions in support of the rights of women driven by thoughts, ideas, believes, words, movements, initiatives, actions. I believe there is a time and place to apply appropriate pressure or visibility to drive change when this equality is not represented.
2020 has brought several changes, what are your expectations from 2021?
I see 2021 as an opportunity not to just hit reset but to reimagine, reinvent, redesign so that we can work collaboratively to achieve the art of the possible in everything we do. If we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned that it is no longer sufficient to survive.
Now is the time to work together. We must strive to thrive.
Read full issue: The 10 Game-Changing Women Leaders of 2021