Leading Women, Part 2: Advances in Technology cont.
“Where you are is not who you are.”1 Growing up in the Lower East Side projects of Manhattan, Ursula Burns regularly heard this crucial reminder from her mother. A tireless worker, her mom cleaned offices to put Burns through private school. She never let her daughter believe poverty could prevent achieving greatness. Nor could skin color, nor sex, she taught Burns.2 The lessons stuck. Burns ignored the so-called “three strikes” people so often said were too much to overcome and pursued her dream of engineering.
After high school, Burns landed a spot at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, first studying chemical engineering before discovering her love for mechanical engineering. She has acknowledged struggling with serious self doubt at the time, but she persevered. “Ever so slowly,” Burns said, “I regained my footing.”2 The driven young woman not only found her footing; she began a steady run to the head of the pack.
First joining Xerox as a mechanical engineering intern for the summer of 1980, Burns landed a full-time gig with the company a year later—just after gaining her MS in mechanical engineering at Columbia University.3 Discussing her shift from engineer to executive assistant, Burns cites an argument with a senior executive as the key reason for the move.1 Had she not voiced her disagreement with Wayland Hicks during a big-time company council meeting, he would not have called her into his office to discuss the matter, which ultimately resulted in Hicks promoting her to his assistant.1 Talk about a Lean In moment. An insistence to be heard sent Burns down a path featuring numerous influential positions including vice president for global manufacturing and senior vice president, Corporate Strategic Services.
These days, Burns is stationed at the very top of Xerox, serving as chairman and chief executive officer. She points to “the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to lean in” as the most important reasons for her success.2 Thankfully, for the sake of young professionals, Burns is dedicated to working with “organizations that help minorities and women gain the education and self-respect they need to take risks […] and dream big.”2
With leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Meg Whitman, and Ursula Burns setting such stellar examples, we at deep are confident newbies in the tech field will have plenty of impressive role models.
- “Xerox’s Ursula Burns on Her Career Path and Changing Company Strategy.” (Aug. 08, 2013). Hymowitz, Carol. BloombergBusinessweek website. Retrieved Aug. 05, 2014, from businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-08/xeroxs-ursula-burns-on-her-career-path-and-changing-company-strategy.
- “Ursula M. Burns.” (2014). Lean In website. Retrieved Aug. 05, 2014, from leanin.org/stories/ursula-burns/.
- “From Intern to CEO: How 3 Execs Climbed To The Top.” (Sept. 09, 2013). Forbes website. Retrieved Aug. 05, 2014, from forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2013/09/09/from-intern-to-ceo-how-3-execs-climbed-to-the-top/.