Is Ceding the CIO Role to Men Just Another Career Inhibitor for Women?

Don Tennant

Last week I wrote a post following my interview with Martha Heller, an experienced CIO watcher and savvy recruiter specializing in placing IT executives, who expressed the view that women should consider pursuing a career in a female-friendly field like marketing rather than venture onto the male-dominated CIO career track. Heller noted that it’s difficult to fill a CIO vacancy with a woman, simply because the female talent pool is so low. It’s certainly a topic that warrants further discussion, especially in terms of how this gender divide relates to the disproportionately low number of women in high-profile, mission-critical corporate roles.

First of all, it’s worth noting that if there was any outcry or backlash from women against Heller’s stand, I didn’t hear it. If anything, I heard general agreement. For example, Sabine Everaet, CIO of Coca-Cola’s European operation, tweeted this in response to my blog post:

I agree: no pipeline of women ready, BUT as role evolves into digital, more women needed.

Meanwhile, Julie Lynch, principal at Uncommon Consulting and former vice president of human resources at Computerworld and InfoWorld, expressed strong support for Heller’s willingness to tell it like it is:

Just because you don't like something doesn't make it less real. And pretending something doesn't exist sets everyone up for failure. The best person for the job is the best person for the job. That said, run your organization with integrity, be a place where people want to work, be clear about job responsibilities, don't make assumptions and cast your net wide to recruit a diverse workforce. If you truly value diversity, like Martha says, if the needle is that important, you'll commit to spending time looking through the haystacks.

No doubt, Lynch’s advice to companies to cast a wide recruiting net is every bit as valuable as Heller’s admonition against insisting on filling the CEO position with a woman as a means of furthering diversity. In any case, it’s worth remembering that women have a disproportionately low representation in the jobs that are key to getting ahead in global companies.

Last month, Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, released the results of a study that found that women get fewer of the “hot” jobs that predict advancement — those mission-critical roles involving high-visibility projects and international experience — than men. Here are a few highlights from the study:

  • 62 percent of respondents said high-profile assignments that gave them leadership experience had the greatest impact on their careers, while only 10 percent cited formal training programs as most impactful.
  • Men reported leading projects with bigger budgets (more than twice the size of women’s), larger teams (more than three times as many staff), that posed higher risk to the company (30 percent of men vs. 22 percent of women), and had more C-suite visibility (35 percent of men vs. 26 percent of women).
  • Men reported having roles with more critical responsibility—for profit and loss (56 percent of men vs. 46 percent of women), management of direct reports (77 percent of men vs. 70 percent of women), and budgets over $10 million (30 percent of men vs. 22 percent of women).
  • International assignments predict advancement, and women get fewer than men—but not because they’re unwilling to relocate. Of those most willing, more men than women got those assignments (35 percent vs. 26 percent), and more women than men were never offered the opportunity (64 percent vs. 55 percent).
  • More men than women got “hot jobs” after being in formal leadership development programs, and more men were promoted within a year of program completion (51 percent of men vs. 37 percent of women).


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