Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

You don't have to be a woman in IT to want diversity

This month Harvey Nash released its annual CIO Survey results, the sixteenth year it has published research on the CIO and the business/technology environment the CIO inhabits. There are many positive trends to report, among an overall theme of optimism and growth:

1. CIOs are more important than ever; CIO representation in leadership teams is 20 percent higher than in the years before the financial crisis.
2. Growth has sparked new demand for tech talent with software development, mobile solutions and change management skills most sought.
3. IT budgets are now growing at their fastest rate since 2006.

However, despite all the optimism, the poor state of the technology gender balance and diversity in IT teams remains a persistent issue.

As the Harvey Nash CIO Survey research highlights, over the last decade the proportion of women in the IT function has remained stubbornly low, despite the efforts of concerned leaders like Carly Fiorina and others to address this topical issue. And although nearly three-quarters of CIOs (71 percent) now recognize the gender imbalance in their organizations, diversity programs appear to be making little progress.

A recent article in The Economist titled "Women as CEOs: The glass precipice" outlined further gender balance concerns in business: "a mere five percent of the chief executives of the world's biggest companies are women. And they are more likely to be sacked than their more numerous male colleagues."

The article concludes that, eventually, the situation will improve. Citing research by Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co) which predicts that "women will make up as many as one-third of incoming CEOs by 2040." With demand for female bosses exceeding supply, proactive succession planning by CIOs now can help develop the next generation of female IT leaders.

If more young women can be persuaded to enter the IT profession, it looks as though both they and the industry will benefit. Therefore, a long term approach and a cross-generational solution is needed. The key to success lies with engaging both the present and the future female leaders in IT. And the best way to engage both generations in shared goals is through mentoring.

ARA is a group co-founded by Harvey Nash Managing Director and Vice President Jane Gilligan that aspires to Attract, Retain, and Advance women in technology by cultivating and nurturing relationships via mentorship and events/programs, thereby building strong female leaders to support and influence the IT community. I've seen it grow from a simple idea into a thriving community with hubs in Chicago, New York and, after a spectacular launch event recently with 300+ attendees, Seattle too.

The power of talent, networking and forward thinking that occurs within ARA events is incredible, and as the group develops in the coming years I am sure we will see more women advancing into IT leadership positions as a result of ARA support.

As a CEO I have seen directly how diverse IT teams perform better, often thinking more creatively and thriving off their wider range of experience than "identikit" teams. Managers frequently mention to me that diverse IT teams foster greater innovation and collaboration, which is so important for the digital age. And yet to achieve those diversity ambitions good managers also realize young women in IT need more than engaging work conditions and interesting assignments.

It is mentoring that has been the missing ingredient for so long. Only now are a majority of managers realizing how important mentoring is as a critical retention tool for aspiring women in IT. But with women making up less than one in 10 senior managers there are often not enough senior women to act as mentors for the next generation.

If this is the case in your organization do not despair. Female management-track candidates at Harvey Nash (who are all mentored) have long-recognized that it is not simply the gender of their mentor that is important, but the caliber of the mentor and how invested they are in their protégée's success that matters more.

The pace of technology change and the central role of IT systems in a digital economy ensure that the next generation of IT leaders will play a central role in the future success of all organizations. It is our responsibility to prepare them to lead.

Groups like ARA and managers, both male and female, who embrace the exponential value of mentoring are at the core of ensuring more young women see IT as a compelling career route. With the right support their talent and aspiration will take them to new heights, and I'm confident they'll change the world.