Inaugural WiTWA Female CIO Leaders Forum hits high notes for Women in Senior IT leadership

Women in Technology WA (WiTWA), in conjunction with host and event partners KPMG, recently hosted the inaugural Female CIOs and IT leaders Forum – “The Changing Face of Technology”.

Why a CIO event

The concept of the Forum was borne out of an identified need by women in IT leadership roles in Western Australia for robust discussions, effective networking and information sharing mechanisms particularly focused at senior female IT professionals.

 

It is well-known that despite a gradual rise in the number of female role models in leadership positions in the technology sector, the industry still struggles to attract women into IT and technology careers. IT is still largely perceived as a “geeky” male industry and just 28% of employees in the sector are female. In leadership positions this discrepancy is even greater, with only 14% of CIOs being female. The reasons for this are multifaceted and complex.

Over 75 female CIO’s, CTO’s, Chief Digital Officers and IT Project Managers from a diverse range of industries and government came together on 23 March 2016 and shared their experiences around working in the IT and digital sector. Topics of discussion included the unique challenges faced by senior female IT professionals, the availability of qualified female candidates for senior IT leadership roles, entrenched gender bias and other drivers for lack of women in IT leadership roles, the value of female mentorship, the role of Corporates and government in addressing gender balance in the IT sector, and the importance of male leaders in the IT diversity conversation.

 

James Edwards, Partner in Perth’s KPMG R&D practice kicked off proceedings by providing insights into KPMG and how it is looking at the way in which technology is changing the marketplace. Some examples of their internal new ventures include Formula 1 and Barclay’s venture on Data Analytics; KPMG Marketplace platform to enable broader productivity; the SR7 Social Media management platform; cybersecurity and applications of new technologies.

WiTWA was then delighted to welcome three fabulous female CIO’s to present and participate in an interactive audience panel discussion. Sara Braund, VP and CIO of Woodside Energy, Elizabeth Wilson, CIO of Edith Cowan University and Linda Pyrc, Manager of the Perron Group IT Division, which includes Toyota WA, shared their experiences and insights into their career journeys, the unique challenges faced in the industry and how women can actively position themselves to secure leadership roles within the IT and digital sector.

Sara shared her very personal career journey and her “Strategies for succeeding” as a female IT leader. She noted that her career path was fairly linear in that she had been in IT and Oil and Gas all of her life, but that this was perhaps a little atypical for many of the women in the industry which often have very diverse professional backgrounds.

Sara was originally recruited by a female IT leader, but has not had a female leader since.  As a result she spends conscious time networking with and mentoring women. Sara also stressed the importance of harnessing the power of networking.

The key is in building strong relationships and wide networks and to never underestimate the relationships you build – both internal and external to the organisation. In this context it is important to make sure you have the male sponsorship and the right balance of female networks.

Sh e encouraged the audience to not be afraid to “take the opportunities that are presented to you” and to be vocal and forthright, The value we bring is that  a woman’s thinking style is different to men, which adds a unique perspective to any discussion or decision making process. Sara concluded by saying that it is ok if your career does not take a linear approach and encouraged the audience to not be disheartened about sometimes taking a step backwards as this can lead to unexpected opportunities.

Elizabeth Wilson opened her presentation by echoing Sara’s comments and encouraged participants to “not close yourself off to opportunities”. She then proceeded to present an overview of some fascinating research into women in leadership roles. Research highlights the strong economic reason for women to be in business as there is a proportionate correlation between the number of women in an organisation and an increase in ROI.

She stressed that as we move into a digital era we need to use a Digital Leadership Model, which is more collaborative , enables a more responsive approach to meeting the customer’s wants/needs, and empowers the workforce to deliver.

 

Digital business requires more agility, therefore less hierarchy and less structure to respond to changing organisational needs.

Elizabeth also shared some insight from the  Study on Women are Better Leaders 2014 which shows that out of 16 categories needed for good leadership women were stronger in all but 2. Taking the initiative, drive for results, display of high integrity and honesty and the practice of self-development are competencies in which females ranked particularly highly.

The study also showed that for women life does begin at 40 as far as their career is concerned, as women continually self-learn and seek feedback, therefore making them much better leaders after the age of 40.

However the research also shows unconscious bias is alive and well and poses an ongoing challenge, particularly for women in senior IT leadership roles and more work need to be done in this space.

Rounding out the morning’s event Sara and Elizabeth were joined by Linda Pyrc for an engaging  panel discussion. Linda shared that she too had had very few female mentors throughout her career, but did have access to very supportive male mentors with the world of IT changing and opening up many more opportunities for women.

Crucial elements that came out of the discussion included the strength of women in driving better executive reporting, demonstrating the value in commercial terms and the ability to build trust and confidence, making it easier to have difficult conversations.  In terms of career progression it is important for women to look for the synergies within the business and to make sure that they truly understand the work levels required and educate themselves accordingly, or alternatively identify what other opportunities there may be to progress learning. It is important to look for opportunities and grow knowledge.

In conclusion it was agreed that workforce diversity is crucial and to maximise outcomes organisations need to transition from a traditional hierarchical to flat collaborative environment by bringing IT into decision-making processes across all aspects of the organisation. This involves a cultural change, which takes effort. The good news is that women are particularly good at driving this change as they often take a more holistic view.

“The interest in this Forum far exceeded our expectations and we have just scratched the surface on the discussion around issues facing women in senior IT roles” stated WiTWA Committee member and event coordinator Daniela Mattheys. There is clearly much more debate to be had on this important topic and as such we are planning to hold the second Forum in this series later this year. We would like to hear from anyone who may have suggestions around a specific topic and/or speakers to continue this important discussion.

WiTWA would like to extend its sincerest thanks to all of our event partners, sponsors and speakers, in particular our event host and partner KPMG, the State government Department of Local Government and Communities Women’s Interests Portfolio, Kinetic IT, People Bank and the UWA Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics.

For any queries, suggestions or to offer your support please contact:

Daniela Mattheys

Mobile 0434 609141

daniela@witwa.org.au