Early in Theresa S. Wilson’s career, as one of only a few Black women computer programmers at Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), she was told that she would head a project after gaining a year’s worth of experience. But 12 months later, her manager reneged on his promise. Instead of calling it quits in an industry where she was serving as a role model to change corporate culture, Wilson was more determined than ever to prove him wrong.
Slowly, she built his trust and gained respect from the other managers in her nearly 34-year career. Today, as Wells Fargo’s CIO of operations and recently promoted executive vice president of technology services, Wilson leads a 700 person team and is responsible for overseeing technology strategies, development and implementation.
“I take on challenges and learn things very quickly,” she explains. This is a tactic that has led her to be one of the highest-ranking Black executive women in technology. Wilson also suggests observing “white male counterparts to see how they get things done,” noting that doing so has taught her how casual conversations help to build trust at work.
Wilson knew she had broken race and gender barriers several years ago when her white colleagues were jockeying to oversee a $50-million project to leapfrog their careers. Although Wilson didn’t campaign for the assignment, “it was just handed to me,” she says. “When you have a really good leader, they look past race and gender for someone who’s going to help them be successful.”
As a hiring manager, she seeks a mix of candidates who have been exposed to adversity, among other things. “I also mentor talent already in the organization, especially around gender and race, to make sure they’re recognized by leaders,” says Wilson, who has been involved in formal and informal mentoring pairs for several years.
In addition, Wilson is a member of Women In Science & Engineering to help support other women pursuing STEM careers.
Click here to see this article as it originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of DiversityInc magazine.