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Where are the women CIOs? Three speak out

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | July 25, 2012
The number of female CIOs in the U.S. continues to decline. Is there an optimal education path/degree you need to become a CIO? According to a recent White House report, fewer women are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and women make up only about 25 percent of those in STEM-related fields.

HC: I think a solid understanding of math and science in grade school and high school is a good foundation. Future CIOs should have an understanding of and an interest in the businesses they run, so a solid business degree will be necessary. [Cousins has an MBA.] Two skills that have helped me in my career are finance and marketing. I did not come up through the technical side of IT, but I have always surrounded myself with strong technical people.

SR: I think years ago it was true you had to have some kind of background in analytics or analysis or math or software development or software engineering. But I think that's less the case today. In healthcare, a number of physicians have become CIOs. And that's because they understand the business so well. And they understand the potential of information technology. They are enormously successful without any formal training in the IT disciplines, and I'm sure the same is true in other industries.

If you're a really excellent business leader, making the leap into the role of CIO is not a difficult one. However, vendor management is an important part of my job, so it's important to be able to understand what technology limitations are and it's easy to be sold a bill of goods if you can't have a meaningful conversation with a vendor. Do you need an advanced degree to become a CIO?

SR: I have an MBA. I believe that my MBA has made me a much better leader, and much more able to have a meaningful conversation with my CFO or my CEO. I think my education, my training, has been helpful to me. I also think an advanced degree of some description provides some level of credibility. I think that's true in almost any industry. I don't think it's essential, but I think it's helpful. Are there certain industries e.g., healthcare, education that are more women CIO friendly?

TD: I don't believe there is any industry that [isn't] open to having a woman CIO. In fact, companies who may not currently have as many women in their executive staff may be looking specifically to add someone and the CIO role is an excellent role to do that.

HC: Any industry that affords both men and women a more flexible lifestyle will be one that women will more likely be drawn to. That being said, I think any industry that has a Board of Directors and a CEO that is looking for bottom line results, regardless of whether you are a male or a female, would be one that women can be successful in. I think it's important to encourage women to apply to some of these industries.


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