Good news for women in tech: There are now more female CIOs

August 23, 20194 minute read

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Here’s news worth celebrating: According to a recent study from organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, the number of female CIOs and CTOs at major corporations has increased by 2 percent in the last year. While that may sound like only a modest bump, it’s a promising sign that women in tech may be on their way toward achieving better parity at the C-level. Here’s a look at what’s behind the rise of female CIOs and how businesses can ensure fuller representation at the top.

Advance women in tech to the C-level

Women comprised just 16 percent of the CIOs and CTOs representing the leading U.S. companies in 2017, but they now make up 18 percent of C-suite tech talent across all sectors. There is a fair amount of variation within specific industries, however. Female CIOs and CTOs occupy 25 percent of the CIO and CTO slots in financial services, while they hold just 7 percent of those roles in the professional services sector. Major firms ranging from JPMorgan Chase to PepsiCo already count women as their CIOs, but there is more work still to be done—particularly when it comes to elevating women of color to these executive technical roles.

In order to advance more innovative women in IT, a broad cultural shift will be necessary, according to the Wall Street Journal. CEOs and their boards will need to embrace a culture of diversity fully and hold themselves accountable for its success. To start, notes Craig Stephenson, managing director of Korn Ferry’s North America CIO/CTO division, companies must prioritize diversity when hiring new talent, and they must also provide diverse employees who are already at the firm with ample opportunities for advancement.

As CIO Magazine points out, using gender-neutral language in job descriptions can help companies attract more diverse talent and fill open positions more quickly. Since women are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t already have all the required qualifications listed, removing non-essential criteria from a job description can invite more applications from exceptional women. Korn Ferry also notes that establishing similarly unbiased criteria for evaluating the competence and experience of female tech leaders is also key to supporting women who occupy CIO and CTO roles.

Set brilliant female IT pros up for success

According to the latest full from the National Center for Women in Technology, only one in four of the women surveyed indicated that their organizations supported their leadership aspirations. That was back in 2016. In a late 2018 report by Paychex, 67 percent of women in tech (a weighted average of 74 percent in the tech-heavy Bay area, and 64 percent nationwide) felt underestimated or not taken seriously at work. These findings are roughly consistent with each other despite being published two years apart—a grim reminder that progress is slow. Companies can address this challenge by publically providing their female IT employees with professional development opportunities and training in the fastest growing tech jobs, making their qualifications undeniable to those around them.

Organizations can also set brilliant female IT pros up for success by reducing the professional barriers that women (especially women of color) face as they attempt to rise through the ranks. Internal corporate training for executives and managers, for example, can help management mitigate cases of unconscious bias that may block women from landing innovative IT roles or keep them stalled in jobs that are focused on execution rather than creativity.

Benefits packages also matter when it comes to recruiting and retaining talented women. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Indeed, 28 percent of women felt they had been passed over for a promotion because of their parental or familial obligations. As Women in Tech International notes, offering generous parental leave to employees of all genders can have a tremendously positive impact on gender equality in the workplace and help to stem the rate of attrition.

Attract more women to the fastest growing tech jobs

There are many opportunities for women to get started with promising IT careers. IT automation is taking off in a variety of areas, including basic office processes like printing, and it will need experts who can manage newly automated workflows. With organizations like Black Girls Code empowering young women to gain cutting-edge software development skills, IoT and machine learning could be other promising areas of specialty as well.

Tapping female tech talent isn’t just the right call from an egalitarian perspective—it’s beneficial to the bottom line. According to Deloitte, companies that have more women in leadership positions enjoy enviable financial performance, improved team dynamics, and higher productivity. Welcoming a diverse workforce also aids in recruitment, which can help to close the IT skills gap.

By advancing women into CIO and CTO roles, companies can demonstrate that their talent is valued. This encourages ambitious young women in tech to shoot for the C-suite, which gives companies access to a deeper talent pool. When women in tech have an equal shot at excelling in IT leadership positions, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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