by Julian Goldsmith

Women CIOs? Not one of us

Mar 12, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

Last week we published a story about International Women’s Day not really being celebrated much in the UK IT landscape, with only 19 per cent of the UK workforce being female.

At the upper end of the food-chain, it seems the balance is even more out, with this year’s CIO 100 only having five female IT leaders in the list.

They are: Jane Scott, Baker Hughes

Jane Moran, Thomson Reuters

Ailsa Beaton, Met Police

Yasmin Jetha, BUPA

Susan Cooklin, Network Rail

What’s going on here? Do women not have the skills required to lead IT departments? Do they not have the drive and vision to deliver innovative technology programmes that transform business?

Past research indicates that women actually possess some of the skills needed to be strategic business leaders in more abundance than men, but they are still severely underrepresented in senior management roles across the board.

Around 12-15 per cent of FTSE 100 company directors are women, so the straw poll of influential IT leaders is behind even that poor record.

The trends in IT departments point to the sorts of social skills in which women seem to excel, compared to men, becoming even more valuable in the CIO role.

These include negotiation and a rapport with other senior managers. They typically adopt a consultative approach to team-working, rather than a command-and control style, which is going out of fashion in the companies thought to be exemplars of business culture.

These are traits all CIOs are likely to need, as the role of the IT department becomes much more about managing supplier relationships and defining business requirements of technology, than about bashing out code in dark sweaty rooms, seldom visited by the rest of the business.

The lack of women senior managers has been perceived as such a problem that there has been increasing support for quotas of women directors to be imposed, in countries like Norway and France.

This sort of thing goes against the grain in UK business thinking though, where people prefer to avoid enshrining business behaviour in legislation.

With so few women joining IT teams at the bottom, it’s not so surprising that there should be a tiny number surfacing in IT leader roles.

So, if the next generation of IT leaders is going to be more gender-balanced, CIOs need to commit recruiting more women at entry-level positions now.

Research across business departments suggest that even when men and women start level at the graduate trainee stage, women tend to fall out of the race to senior management.

Other anecdotal evidence suggests that appointment boards tend to be filled with white, middle-class, middle-aged men, whotend to pick similar people for senior management positions. It’s human nature to like people who are like you.

So, in the effort to get a fifty-fifty gender split in the CIO 100 of 2032, I suggest a move for quotas of women in appointment committees, not boards, to be imposed.

Hopefully, a balanced board of directors and a less male-dominated CIO community will naturally spring from that.