WIT Best in Class CIO/CTO roundtable: progressing and leading as a woman in tech

The recent WIT Best in Class Roundtable featured leaders who were shortlisted for this year’s Women in IT Awards UK, in either the CIO of the Year or CTO of the Year categories. With women in tech leadership roles still being in the minority compared to their male counterparts, there is still work to do towards achieving gender diversity higher up in tech organisations, and the participants in the roundtable provided insight into how this can be improved.

The discussion delved into routes taken into the tech industry as a woman, how a scalable tech strategy can best be implemented, challenges faced during this process, and the importance of diverse workforces and skillsets.

Entering the tech industry

Whether it was through studying IT or similar subjects at school or university, or entering the sector later in life, there are now many ways that candidates can enter the ever broadening tech industry, which can help to bring a variety of mindsets to the workforce and improve problem solving.

Lucia Pino-Garcia, CTO of Ninety One, for example, described how a love of maths growing up led her on a journey to where she is today: “When I was 13, I participated in a Maths Olympiad and I won. The prize was a computer, my first computer.

“I started coding using this computer, a Dragon 32, which was a basic converter and interpreter, and from there I got into the world of technology.

“I knew you could solve problems much quicker using technology, and I’ve gone from development to development and program management, before becoming a senior leader in the sector.”

When it comes to role models to look up to while working their ways up in the tech industry, Sandra Taylor, assistant IT director of IT at Worcestershire County Council, leveraged her historical interests: “For me at the time, there weren’t that many contemporary role models, but as someone who’s a bit of a historian, my female inspiration was Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.”

Implementing a scalable tech strategy

With the global pandemic forcing innovation up the corporate agenda, it’s been vital for tech leaders to build a tech strategy that’s scalable, in order to meet rising demand and continue adapting to change.

Bilge Mert, CTO at iptiQ by Swiss Re, described how figuring out how to work with stakeholders has proved to be a lesson learned over the past year: “We needed to ensure that all business stakeholders were aligned with a common vision.

“But because we work in four different regions, each with their own tech stacks, it is important to get buy-in when you propose a global strategy.

“It was about making sure that we have something that brings commercial value, as well as bringing along those senior stakeholders on the board and building those relationships.”

Sophie Davies-Patrick, CTO of MPB, commented: “When you go from a start-up to a scale-up, you have multiple problems to solve at the same time.

“You haven’t yet got the maturity of an enterprise, nor the tradition of the public sector, so when I came in as MPB’s first CTO, I took a ‘people, process, technology’ approach to demonstrate how tech can make a difference in business.

“We implemented some basic infrastructure to make the organisation work in a more agile way rather than blocking each other’s progress, and when it came to the funding round, I could easily show the business value that can come with doubling the team and increasing investment.”

Taylor, meanwhile, described the strategy that she is leading at Worcestershire County Council, which was launched earlier this year: “We’ve developed a set of three sister strategies, which interlock: an IT strategy, an information governance strategy, and a digital strategy. These are all aimed at different audiences.

“The IT strategy defines the principles we need to adopt, in line with the council’s wider priorities. We’ve worked to make this easily digestible, and carried out a lot of publicity and engagement with senior leaders, councillors and staff.”

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Bringing together diverse capabilities

Finally, the roundtable discussion covered the importance of diverse capabilities when it comes to pushing a tech strategy, and how tech leaders can raise awareness of this.

When discussing the importance of diverse skill sets across the organisation, Sonal Rattan, CTO of eXate, commented: “We’re creating an aggregator of different privacy-enhancing techniques that work with a variety of technologies, so a diverse set of skills is vital to support our clients to reduce risk and accelerate their digital initiatives. These include securing APIs, protecting data on newer cloud technologies as wells as working with old legacy applications.

“This range of capabilities is a huge part of our strategy for dealing with the most common challenges that other organisations face.”

As well as gender diversity, Davies-Patrick explained how considering neurodiversity, an area that’s being researched at MPB, is just as vital for innovation: “When it comes to our industry’s talent shortage, the more we can do to celebrate people’s different ways of working and enable that, the better.

“For example, we should remember that not everyone is comfortable with writing documentation, or speaking up in meetings. There are so many different working styles to take into account, and awareness of this can go a long way in helping our current talent shortage.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.