In 1980, Gail Evans was a student at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, putting herself through school as a custodian at Eastman Kodak, the iconic and photographic film and imaging company. Almost two decades later, in 1999, Gail was still at Eastman Kodak, but in a very different role — she had just been named Chief Technology Officer.
Speaking with Gail, it feels more like you’re catching up with an old friend than with a seasoned member of the C-Suite. But her low-key demeanor doesn’t hide her love of tech, and she speaks candidly about the hard work she has put in to ascend the corporate ladder in a time and industry where female African American tech executives were unheard of.
“I always knew I wanted to be in tech,” she recalled. “I was just in love with the power. Once the Internet was introduced, I found my sweet spot and I knew I wanted to lead a technical team.”
After leaving Kodak Eastman as the company’s chief information officer of consumer products, Gail served executive stints at Bank of America, HP and Microsoft. In January 2016, she was named Chief Information Officer at Mercer, a consulting firm focused on talent, health, retirement and investments. At Mercer, Gail will lead the company’s technology strategy, transformation and innovation.
Gail credits her growth as a computer scientist and her professional development as a tech leader to a number of “angels” she crossed paths with over the years. Billy Cates, a mentor of Gail’s at Eastman Kodak, set her on the path toward an executive career when he encouraged her to launch the company’s Software Engineering Center of Excellence for Washington D.C. and Boston.
“When I first got the call from [Billy], I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke,” Gail recalls with a laugh. “I said, ‘Carla, stop playing. I don’t find this very funny.’”
Jokes aside, Gail’s leadership skills were uncovered in D.C. and Boston, and the industry took notice. Gail declined an offer to become an executive at Sun Microsystems — she wasn’t eager to leave Kodak just yet.
“I went to my manager and told him I would be crazy not to accept this offer, but I am in love with Eastman Kodak,” she said. “I need to be recognized as an executive in the work I deliver.”
Soon after, Gail was offered an executive role at Eastman Kodak.
“If you appeal to common sense and just doing the right things, typically things work out,” Gail explained. “I have a moral fabric and integrity that I never will compromise. There’s no job good enough for me to compromise on that. My manager knew that of me and it made the conversation that much easier.”
Navigating Tech’s Corporate Jungle
Gail’s strong values, coupled with her innate ability to pursue and succeed in challenging roles, have helped her navigate various corporate environments and the unique politics and cultures at different organizations.
“Microsoft was always on my bucket list of places to work – it’s so iconic,” Gail explained. “It’s such a huge company, so you really have to dig in and prove yourself all over again. But it was the best experience for my career working there with a group of really smart people.”
At Microsoft, Gail led the company’s Customer Knowledge Platform and Microsoft Studios’ Services and Operations team. Before that, Gail was at another iconic tech company, HP, where she lead the HP.com team and the company’s most ambitious website redesign project. And prior to HP, Gail drove mobile banking and technology strategy as Bank of America’s senior vice president of e-commerce strategy, sales & fulfillment.
As an industry veteran with technology experience across different sectors, Gail is all too aware that the corporate world has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to building welcoming, inclusive environments.
“We’re losing people too early in the pipeline, and the women who are squeezing themselves through have some battle scars they can tell you about,” said Gail. “Companies hire a female tech leader, but they don’t properly onboard her or give her what she needs to be successful. She has to figure it out for herself. Helping leaders and technical leaders early in their roles makes all the difference for them to stay.” ”
As she begins the next chapter of her journey at Mercer, Gail has sound advice for women leaders as they progress through different career stages.
“Female executives need to pay attention to what’s happening around them in a new environment. Really take the time to understand the dynamics of the world around you, and figure out who the key influencers are.”
She continues: “Sometimes you walk into a situation where you think you know everything because you’ve done it before, but that can blow up. You have to establish your credibility by balancing your strengths and listening to your team.”