Gabriella Szasz had a quarter century as a technologist under her belt when she joined BNY Mellon as head of the global quality assurance center of excellence in 2014. Her bailiwick encompasses software testing, and she is also a specialist in off-shore vendor management.
Szasz is highly visible as one of BNY Mellon’s women in technology – a field where diversity is a work in progress for most companies. A higher-than-average 30 percent of technologists at BNY Mellon are women, but the company is not resting on its laurels. Women in Technology (WIT), a sub-group of BNY Mellon’s Women’s Initiative Network, works to engage women and men who are invested in gender equality in technology. Szasz is playing a leading role in this and other efforts to engage women technologists. Due in no small part to the leadership of women like Szasz,the Anita Borg Institute has named BNY Mellon one of the top companies for women in technology for the past two years. Szasz recently spoke with Behind the Scenes.
What was it like to embark on a technology career in the late 1980s?
I graduated from Carleton University with an electrical engineering degree and a minor in computer systems, and I was one of four women engineers out of 320 students who graduated that year. In my first job at Bell Canada, I was the only woman in a program of 40 interns. The company’s employees went on strike my first year, and I had to do strike duty. I was the only woman working on the network, and I was out there climbing poles. My colleagues thought it was hilarious. I found myself taking a different path through Bell Canada than other women had. For example, I was doing data modem design at a time when 9.6 kb per second was state of the art.
I met my husband in 1995. He was in the U.S., and we decided to move to New York City, where I went to work for Ernst & Young’s high-tech group. During four years there, I traveled and worked with clients all over the country. When we decided to have a baby, I took a step down to become a quality assurance manager. But I missed my career, and my husband and I decided that he would take over child rearing. He’s a university professor, and he was able to better fit his schedule to our child’s needs.
Another place I worked was Citco, where I traveled all over the world dealing with offshore vendor models. My work took me to the Philippines, Brazil, China and India. As I came to understand offshoring, that led to working in different financial services companies. I found I was good at trouble-shooting, problem-solving and corralling projects that weren’t working so well.
What brought you to BNY Mellon?
I’m a change agent, and I love making things better. I could see BNY Mellon was an organization that wanted to transform itself, and you don’t get the opportunity to be part of that every day in your career.
I oversee about 220 people – testers who are organized into working groups by lines of business. Some systems are easier to automate from a testing perspective, while older systems that are less documented can require more manual intervention in the testing process.
Who helped you forge your path?
At Bell Canada, I had two great mentors. Both were men who had daughters of their own and were very invested in my career. They wanted to leave their mark by putting a framework in place for women.
Because of their example, I focus a lot on mentoring, and on women’s programs here at BNY Mellon. Women need the mentoring because some of the things we do can significantly deteriorate our career paths. Finding paths around the pitfalls can help women do better.
We are very engaged with the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as a recruiting event and a networking opportunity for our professionals. It’s the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, drawing around 12,000 participants each year. We started attending four years ago with a tiny booth. At the latest conference in October 2016, we had the largest booth we’ve ever had and we conducted a number of interviews. We are preparing to double our recruiting efforts and increase our pipeline of potential candidates.
What are some of the challenges for mid-career women in technology?
By mid-career, women in technology start to realize that they could code anywhere, so women’s initiatives become even more important as differentiators for BNY Mellon. They are also seeking opportunities to network and gain recognition, and the Grace Hopper celebration as well as internal groups like WIT help to meet those needs.
Attrition is a challenge, because mid-career there are concerns with how to integrate career with family. As women consider where to plant roots, one thing I remind them of is that seniority brings you the ability to integrate. You can go to the softball games and dance recitals because you’re a leader. Mid-career women need Lean-In circles and fireside chats about the senior women’s journeys.
What is BNY Mellon doing to get young girls interested in technology careers?
We’re proud of our high school co-op intern program in technology, part of our community outreach to diverse populations. Young women tend to drop their math and sciences in high school, and that limits what they can do in life. We show them that working in financial services isn’t what they think it is. Next summer, we will have a full class of Girls Who Code, a pre-professional immersion program. We had one young woman who was here for two summers and asked to be mentored. She had a learning disability, and her school was not very encouraging about applying to a top college. She decided to apply anyway and went to New York University on early admission. She had straight As on her first report. That’s a great example of why I mentor!