Where do women in tech find themselves today?

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CIO Women’s Circle attendees discuss ascending the corporate ladder, revealing that empathy and purpose are a woman’s greatest superpower.

8 March marks International Women’s Day, and this week CIO South Africa saw it fitting to host the third instalment of the CIO Women’s Circle, where phenomenal women IT leaders gathered at Aurum Restaurant on the 7th floor of Africa’s tallest building, the Leonardo in Sandton.

What was on the menu? How women have fared thus far in assuming leadership positions in the highly competitive and male-dominated corporate world, especially in the IT industry.

One attendee referred to a report on women in business, highlighting that in medium-sized enterprises, women sit at 42 percent in terms of holding leadership positions or sitting on boards. “Let’s lift each other as we rise,” they said. “It looks like we will only reach partiality in 2053: not women in ICT in particular, but women in corporate overall.”

The goal as far as skills are concerned for one IT leader is focusing on talented coders, talented black women to be more specific. “That’s a skill set that we want to grow in our girls,” they added.

Guests also discussed the barriers that women encountered. They pointed at the lack of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace. “Now that ESG is the new focus in recent times, DEIB has ended up taking a back seat,” one IT leader noted. “There needs to be a deliberate move to make positive strides in DEIB.”

When at the helm

Attendees also shared advice in regard to others in leadership positions: understand business language, don’t be afraid to ask questions, exude confidence, be intentional about breaking the culture of fear that’s brewing underneath the surface.

However, on the opposite side of the table, one guest suggested that building an army of men around you who support and believe in you as a woman is also a good strategy.

What about getting the actual job? “Let’s focus on meritocracy – appointment on merit: quotas should be a benchmark and not a standard, and being aware of tokenism and window dressing,” one CIO said.

“Don’t attempt to fit the mould: you are a woman, so act like one, don’t morph yourself into a man, and don’t lose your authentic self. Draw boundaries from the onset.”

Guests also encouraged breaking boundaries and exploring uncharted territories, but admitted that’s easier said than done, and “not having a reference point as pioneers can easily create self doubt,” they added.



A purpose behind the wheel

They offered solutions to how women IT leaders can bring their whole selves to the table. “If you are purpose-driven, that will inform how you perform at work,” one leader said. “Purpose means knowing who you are and showing up as your authentic and holistic self.

“Not asking for permission to bring yourself as you are: creating belonging and not just for yourself but for others too. I repeat, boundaries are key, especially in corporate,” they added.

According to another guest, people often lack a full appreciation of how important representation in the workplace is.

Lead, lead, and lead some more – that was the overarching message of the evening. “Lead in purpose, lead the GenXs: embrace the popcorn generation, and be intentional about creating a pipeline of capable women.” However, uplifting other women, the women all agreed, can only start with focusing on self and being kind to ourselves, and showing up for yourself.

The attendees agreed that the CIO Women’s Circle sessions are crucial, especially now – they foster courage among women, and as the movement brings them together, it also helps women to stay true and united to journey through the tough times.

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