‘On equal terms:’ Laurie Graham, senior manager

Laurie Graham smiles at the camera

Laurie Graham, a production control operations senior manager for UC Berkeley’s Office of Information Services and Technology, is one of 18 “unsung heroines” being honored this month. (Photo courtesy Laurie Graham)

In honor of the “150 Years of Women at Berkeley” project, each day until Aug. 18  Berkeley News is hosting a series of Q&As featuring 18 unsung heroines on staff from all corners of the campus. The series will culminate on Aug. 18 with a special edition of Berkeley Campus Conversations, featuring four remarkable female staffers:

  • Cruz Grimaldo, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office
  • Sunny Lee, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students
  • Mia Settles-Tidwell, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Equity and Inclusion
  • Charmin Smith, head coach of Cal women’s basketball

The fourteenth woman honored as part of this series is Laurie Graham, a production control operations senior manager for UC Berkeley’s Office of Information Services and Technology.

You were nominated for being a ‘thoughtful leader who is always supportive of her team and goes beyond expectations and commitment.” You’re known for being a very intelligent, transparent and thoroughly creative thinker who promotes a healthy working environment while also giving others’ ideas due consideration. How have you created such a positive work environment?

I started my career in IT back (way back) in 1978 with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, the Hurricane Hunters). They had offered me a permanent position, but I was told that I would only be working on the systems at the Miami Airport. I wouldn’t be able to fly on the hurricane planes and manage those computers. That was the interesting part of the job. The wives complained that I was the only woman on the planes with their husbands. So, I said no thanks. I then was lucky enough to get a job at Burger King Corporation in the systems department, working for an amazing manager. He became my mentor. He was always there for me, even if I screwed something up at 2 a.m. during testing. He’d say: “No problem. I’m on my way in, and we will fix it together.” He allowed me to fail, figure it out myself and ask him for advice. He got me training when I asked for it. He supported me always, with a smile, even when I was up on my soapbox about being the only woman on the team.

I was stalked by a previous manager there (not my mentor). The police were involved and this individual kept tabs on me for the next 14 years.

When I was testing new mainframe software and found a problem, I would call the Help Desk and they would respond: “Lady, you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” But I did. I found a serious problem. But my team there was a family. We all backed each other up, cared about each other, listened to each other, helped each other, even when I was learning and kept asking tons of questions. I know what a healthy environment is. I know what a “thoughtful leader” is. I know the type of team I want to be part of and the kind of leader I want to be. It also helps that my current director, Dave Browne, is exactly like the leader I want to be. My teams here at UCB are the best. I take pride in what they do, not because of me, but because they have the ability to do their best, without me breathing down their necks. I give them the same benefit I had, allowing them to think for themselves, care about each other, back each other up – knowing that I will always have their backs.

What advice would you give to other staff members looking to move individuals, teams, units, or improvements forward at UC Berkeley?

I have been here for 7 years, managing a Production Control Shared Support Center handling work for UCB, UCOP, UCSC, UCSF and UCPath. Two years ago I was asked to lead the Endpoint Operations Service team, brand new technology for me. Give your teams the ability to be themselves, to learn for themselves, to figure things out themselves. But always be there to listen to them. They will grow because they want to, but you have to support them in their endeavors. I get pride when I see my team members succeed in their careers.

Who is a female staff member that you admire on campus and why?

Jenn Stringer, associate vice chancellor for IT and chief information officer. She has come so far in her career, but she is just like everyone else in her department. She doesn’t walk around with a chip on her shoulder because of her position. You can talk to her as an equal. She cares about all of us. She cares about diversity, inclusion, women in IT, transparency and a positive culture.

What obstacles have you faced based on your identities and how did you overcome them?

As I mentioned, I have faced sexual discrimination my whole career. Being a woman on the systems side of IT is very difficult. There were never any women on my teams. I have faced sexual harassment and stalking. But I am a tomboy from Brooklyn, New York, and I am tough. I speak my mind. I stand up for myself and my teams. I never let anyone put me down in public. I never let anyone put a team member down in public. Watch out because I will take them down if they do. If there is a problem, we talk about it privately. I look for constructive criticism. That’s how I think I have gotten this far, I always look to learn and improve.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with other female staff on campus?

Believe in yourself and don’t let anyone put you in a corner and forget about you.