To gain more perspective for women in the tech industry, Mediaplanet checked in with Eileen Sweeney, who leads Iron Mountain’s data management business—the first woman to do so with the company—and who also holds both an MBA from the Kellogg School of Business and a master’s in industrial engineering.  

Beyond your academic background, what characteristics have led to your success?

Eileen Sweeney: Hard work, perseverance and learning from your mistakes. I give this advice to my kids, younger professionals and other women who ask, “How did you do what you do?” Work hard, and when obstacles arise, persevere. There will be setbacks, but you need to learn from your mistakes and be able to pick yourself up and try again and brush off the negativity from those who don’t want to see you succeed.

It’s also about knowing how to trust your instincts; this is especially important when you’re contemplating a new career path. There’s obviously no one way to approach your future, but being in-tune with your instincts and passions will lead you in the right direction.

Another important piece of advice is to find someone who believes in you. I also keep in mind the difference between a sponsor and a mentor (and both are important). I think of a sponsor as an experienced individual who will look out for you in the organization, tell you what is going on behind the scenes and tell you how to succeed.

A mentor might be someone totally outside your organization and industry, but it’s someone who can give you sage career advice on a more personal level. Your sponsors and mentors may change as your career changes and progresses, but it’s critical that you have someone who believes in you. Lastly: You can’t do it all by yourself. Build a team that complements your skills and shares in the climb up the mountain and the rewards at the top. You win with a great team.

"You could say that our work is about being the trusted guardian of our clients’ assets..."

What advice do you have for women in the technology industry? 

ES: There are fewer women entering the technology industry now than 20 years ago, so it’s especially important that the ones starting out have the right tools. Aside from the other advice I started with, I would single out a few more items: first, don’t let others take credit for the work that you are doing. Also, keep in mind that the technology field is pretty wide open at this point. With new digital platforms coming on board, as well as things like open source code, there is less that you need in terms of a structured academic environment.

Many of the more successful young technology professionals are self-taught to some extent. An analogy would be to the music industry: the fundamentals of songwriting have not changed, but the production and distribution landscape has changed tremendously. A tablet is a more powerful editing tool than anything that existed just a few decades ago, but it’s up to the creators to leverage these tools in the right way, and that can’t just be taught in the classroom but can be explored on your own.

How do you take your passion and apply it to your work?  

ES: Well I’d say that hard work is one of my passions. But equally important is the passion for people. If you treat people the way you want to be treated, the universe has a way of shining it back on you. You could say that our work is about being the trusted guardian of our clients’ assets, in a clinical way, or you could say that it’s about the preservation of things like music and history – truly the work of people. That’s where my passion lives.

This leads into what should be an important goal for any organization: giving back to the community. Ourt sponsorship of organizations like the GRAMMY Museum, the GRAMMY Foundation and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York, are an example of that, applying our expertise in preservation to help ensure music and entertainment treasures endure for generations to come. We also look to sponsor organizations who share that same philanthropic mission, like CyArk, who are utilizing advanced technology to preserve world cultural and heritage sites threatned by natural or man-made forces.

Based on your firsthand experience, how is the entertainment business transitioning into the next era?  

ES: The preservation of the music and film industry has taken on a different lens than just the physical storage of the original masters, for instance. How do we keep these items in relevant formats? How do we help keep a body of work fresh and alive? Physical storage is paramount, yes, but keeping formats current is one of our core initiatives, and that has led to some very forward-thinking developments over the last ten years.

We have transformed our company from a storage business to a technologically advanced operation with extensive capabilities in the digital space that address the needs of our music, film and entertainment clients. We help them in making the transition into the digital age, enabling them to take advantage of monetization and streaming opportunities for their vast and valuable content libraries. And, because many of these companies are already storing their assets with us,  their work can remain within the Iron Mountain facility without taking a chance for loss or damage during transport to an off-site studio for editing. Ten years ago this was not possible, which is why this transformation in the interest of preservation has been one of our top initiatives.