Transforming Technology: Today’s Female IT Leader Is Tomorrow’s Change Maker

As we explored in our recent perspective “The Path to Professional Salvation for Modern IT Leaders,” the modern CIO must expand his or her horizons beyond IT expertise in order to compete. Today’s leader must engage, facilitate, and propel the organization to digital transformation or risk getting left behind. Yet if women still only represent 16 percent of those working in IT, would the role of the CIO benefit from greater diversity and stronger female representation?

In recognition of International Women’s Day, North Highland hosted “Women in Tech” event, with an inspirational all-female panel discussing the intersection between women in technology and women in leadership. Our own Julia Beaumont moderated the session, which captured the perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds and industries, including Adah Parris (futurist and public speaker), Catherine Luscombe (Dixons Carphone), Christina Scott (News UK), Gen Ashley (TECH(K)NOW Day), and Lina Kehlenbeck (Sainsbury’s). These women were brought together by one common passion and purpose: to advance diversity and inclusion in the technology sector. Here are some of the key takeaways and actionable insights that emerged from the discussion.

Why Women Are Hesitant to Explore Roles in IT

According to Adah, the answer lies in an “outward perception of the industry.” From the traditional “old boys club” to the startups with a culture of pingpong tables and foosball, women often struggle to be themselves and become alienated as a result.

In Catherine’s view, “lack of flexibility” is the main challenge. As an advocate of flexible work schedules, she questioned why many organizations still expect women to work five days a week in the office. Naturally, the need for flexibility is key for many mothers, but “more provisions are made for dogs than for babies," Gen added.

Christina shared an amusing yet poignant story of a childcare mix-up that resulted in her bringing her eight-year-old son to the office for the day. As a leader, being open and honest about challenges both at work and outside of it empowers others to do the same. All the panelists agreed that organizations need to build a culture where women feel encouraged to bring their best selves to work every day.

Ultimately, organizations that fail to address this challenge risk alienating a vast, diverse pool of potential talent. In an age when personal customer connections are paramount, we need reflections of all customers designing and developing services that are inclusive to all. Research shows that shifting from an all-male or all-female team to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by nearly 41 percent.

How Can We Break the Mold?

Lina is a passionate believer that the solution lies with educating and challenging gender stereotypes from a young age. Evidence suggests that women ask for pay increases as often as men but are 5 percent less successful. Lina shared that she broke the mold when requesting a pay raise. And Gen challenged the theory that women aren’t asking, detailing how she’d successfully coached a young woman to negotiate with confidence.

Breaking the mold often comes down to challenging preconceptions and our own unconscious biases. Prompted by a question from the audience, our panelists discussed various approaches to overcoming unconscious bias. Christina recommended attending training to bolster self-awareness, while Catherine advocated challenging day-to-day language.

Organizations that focus on people, and not solely on systems, by removing job bias from advertising and questioning recruitment processes are often more successful at attracting diverse recruits.

How to Effectively Bridge the Diversity Gap

The action-oriented event focused on activities anyone could implement in their professional and personal lives to drive forward the diversity agenda. Here are some key steps to success:

  • Find a mentor. For the majority of panelists, mentoring surfaced as the key to diversity advancement. Mentoring is beneficial for mentors and mentees alike. Learning from others’ styles and experiences can help you grow personally and professionally.
  • Celebrate your success. Identify and cultivate allies in your organization. Find people who can amplify your voice in meetings and support your career goals. If you witness someone being interrupted by a more dominant individual, be their advocate.
  • Be your authentic self. Take your whole self to work and encourage others to do the same. Make wellness and mental health a priority. Ask questions and be curious about your colleagues.
  • Negotiate with confidence. Don’t be afraid to ask for the pay raise or promotion you feel you deserve. Compile evidence of your performance and merit to reduce the risk of being unfairly challenged.
  • Introduce a diversity target. Help establish the diversity level you want to achieve within your work teams. Start the dialogue with HR and other colleagues to help propel the team or organization in the right direction. Work with your recruiters to challenge job descriptions and recruitment processes. Attend unconscious bias training or introduce an awareness campaign at your organization.
  • Forge partnerships. Work with organizations offering “back to work” assistance or set up your own group to help attract women who have been on extended leave.

Most important, don’t wait for someone else to take a stand for society to change or for another organization to take charge. Boldly lead from the front and be proud of the path you pave.

Read more from our experts in the True North Tech Journal here