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Women CIOs say visibility is key to closing gender gap

Clint Boulton | Oct. 28, 2015
Women CIOs from Starwood Hotels, Ford and PwC credit their success to increased visibility, empathy and motivational leadership.

PwC CIO Sigal Zarmi says that she noticed gender bias as she advanced in her career, which included several CIO roles at General Electric. One key to overcoming bias is to demonstrate good leadership, which requires a delicate balance of listening skills, information skills, as well as “soft skills” for dealing with people. These skills are crucial as CIOs convince a team to follow and execute on the IT strategy. It's about "standing up for what you believe in and driving change," she says.

It's incumbent on women technology leaders boost their visibility, signaling to younger women that they can advance within their companies. Ames says that research has shown that women in senior executive and technology roles serve as "beacons" for other women. "Young girls and women are looking for places where they are welcome and can thrive." Failure to make tech leaders available can preclude young women from going into that field, she says.

Visibility matters as CIOs promote STEM

That's just fine for Poulter, who says one of her goals is to be more visible -- not just to encourage more women to follow in her footsteps, but to boost awareness of the values of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. "We need more girls and boys to be interested in this field," Poulter says. "We have amazing career opportunities, we have significant problems to solve and we don't have enough people to solve them."

The "significant problems," albeit unique to every business, are part of what Poulter and her peers are addressing as they conduct digital transformations.

Starwood Hotels, for example, is using big data analytics to trigger dynamic pricing for its 1,200-plus properties. The company is also using smart check-in technology, which sends guests a mobile message with their room number to bypass the front desk and go directly to their rooms. Poulter sees "miniaturization" of technology as an emerging opportunity. For example, she's considering ways to make the guest experience more enjoyable and convenient, such as by equipping dining carts with sensors so that hotel staff know when to pick up them up when guests are finished with their meals.

As it addresses the digital ways customers wish to interact with their motor vehicles, Ford is exploring ways to marry locational context with drivers' personal preferences, Klevorn says. Internally, younger employees "reverse mentor" senior executives on how to use iPads and other technologies. The company last year launched an innovation center in Silicon Valley to focus on connected and autonomous cars, mobility and analytics.

At PwC, Zarmi is supporting a globally distributed workforce, whose consultants cater to clients in more than 150 countries. She's implemented Google's enterprise software to allow employees to, for example, edit and collaborate on documents in real-time from any device. "Companies are looking at how they should disrupt themselves," Zarmi says.


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