Changing The Balance Of Power In Technology

by Sian Morgan

PWC’s 2015 annual global CEO survey indicated that the top six strategic issues facing corporate leaders are all technology related. That’s great news for an aspiring CIO.

A recent survey by EY revealed, unsurprisingly, that those CEOs are predominantly male. In fact, for every female CEO in the S&P 1500 you will find four men named John, Robert, William or James. Perhaps more surprising is the extent to which this gender imbalance extends to senior leaders in technology. Over the past ten years, the percentage of female CIOs has remained relatively constant at just 14%.

So what does it take for a female to join the ranks of male CIOs guiding the world’s biggest companies through the technology maze? It seems that the market for IT leaders needs a re-boot.

 The problem starts with education

To be a successful CIO requires a complex and holistic technical skill base. Day to day challenges include mobile technology for customer engagement, data mining and analysis software, cyber security and cloud name but a few. Alas, with only 18% of computer science and engineering degrees going to women, the ‘Jeanne’ pool is relatively small.

The problem starts at secondary school. Last year, only 15% of girls across the UK took computer science at GCSE and, whilst at A-level the subject grew in overall popularity, only 10% of students were female. This is an underlying problem that the government needs to address. By promoting the benefits of studying computer science at school and in further education, there is a better chance of young women choosing to forge a career in the digital workplace.

A great CIO needs more than an anorak

Where female candidates do exist, in the majority of cases they do not seem to be rising to the top. That said, there are some progressive talent managers who actively seek female candidates when hiring for senior roles in technology. They realise that they need a smarter way of assessing candidates’ ability to add value.  

To deal effectively with change management, for example, CIOs need multifaceted quotients. It goes without saying that intellectual quotient (IQ) is critical: however, to ignore the importance of emotional quotient (EQ) and creative quotient (CQ) would be hugely detrimental to ultimate business performance. In a collegial culture, companies need CIOs who can tune in to those around them, build rapport, manage conflict, influence outcomes and develop trusting relationships. Research suggests that up to 90% of leadership effectiveness is attributed to strong EQ; given that women tend to be programmed with a higher EQ than men, many businesses are missing a trick.

Women need to take the IT stage

With HR starting to fully appreciate the benefits of senior female executives, there should be a gradual pull factor that elevates more women to the C-suite. But women should not accept the slow pace of change, which is exacerbated by behavioural traits: whereas men tend to have a significantly higher sense of self, women are generally less forward and quieter about their abilities. Furthermore, a confident man is deemed assertive and powerful, yet the equivalent woman is branded bossy and overbearing. This is an attitude that needs changing.

According to Judith Humphrey, author of ‘Taking the Stage:  How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed’, women have an active role to play in driving the systematic change in the way they are perceived in the workplace. To ask women to be more like men would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem and a huge backward step, but women do need to be less apologetic and more blatant in advertising their competitive strengths.

The rules of the workplace must change

The solution to the gender deficit is merit, not quotas, but the work environment needs to be less masculine. HR management must change the office vibe to appeal to women, with more mentoring, an appreciation of personal fulfilment as well as career ambition and a focus on ‘value added’ instead of number of hours worked. 

Remote working helps, but senior executives are defined by visible leadership, so face time needs to be spent directing the team, problem solving, infiltrating the Board and earning their place in the succession plan. Flexible working hours would be a step in the right direction, allowing female executives to strike a better work/life balance that takes children into account.  Social attitudes need to change too; men who stay at home to look after children are still looked down upon, while women who work long hours are often viewed disparagingly as poor mothers.

The C-drive is starting to happen for women in technology. Talent managers have seen the light and are increasingly pro female. Acclaimed female CIOs such as Christina Scott at the FT are giving aspiring women the belief that they too can one day make it to the top and are attracting more women to the IT profession.  To support this impetus, the education system needs to encourage female students to pursue technology subjects and dispel the myth that ‘technical’ and ‘creative’ are mutually exclusive attributes.

The reality is that women are hard wired to succeed in senior IT roles. It’s now time to switch on the power.