Natalie Whittlesey is Director of C-Tech engagement at the The IN Group which includes specialist executive search brand InX and leading recruitment brand Investigo.
Natalie became director of C-suite engagement for The IN Group (TIG) in July 2023 after spending 18 months as director of InX, TIG’s executive search and interim management business. She has over two decades’ experience in connecting senior technology and digital leaders with organisations of every size, working in Korn Ferry’s EMEA Technology Officers Practice and leading the CIO Practice at Harvey Nash. A widely respected spokesperson in the tech market, Nat regularly organises events, sits on panels, writes articles and shares insights and data with her network of business and tech leaders.
It’s still a lonely place for women at the top of tech with an estimated 12 per cent of C-level roles being made up by women, a figure similarly supported by InX’s own View from the Top board research.
While other industries are racing ahead in gender equality, technology is struggling to keep pace. It is widely known that STEM careers are male-dominated, but despite gender advancements, half of women in tech leadership roles leave by age 35. The statistics of women in tech are still staggeringly low.
It is essential to encourage women into leadership roles in tech, not only to reduce the skills gap and boost productivity but also to create opportunities for women to encourage a change in the industry.
As women are traditionally outnumbered in the leadership teams of tech companies, connecting with peers outside of the organisation can be a good support mechanism and sounding board. It’s likely female peers outside of the organisation have been on a similar journey and faced similar challenges, and sharing insights and learnings can be helpful.
A common roadblock for aspiring women is ‘if I can’t see a woman as a CIO or IT Director, then it’s difficult to imagine myself being it’. The idea of having a path to follow can be reassuring to help guide the next generation.
Organisations like The IN Group place an emphasis on connecting female leaders as a result, providing that crucial touchpoint and inspiring mentors to support those becoming IT leaders.
Seek out mentors
Women rising through the ranks should be encouraged to seek out female mentors in order to share experiences and insights.
Mentors can be useful regardless of gender, but it’s particularly powerful for a woman to pick the brains of another woman who’s trodden a similar path.
That also applies to women already in leadership positions. Making time to support aspiring women in tech and guide them on their journey can be pivotal for their career and speed up the shift towards equality in the tech industry.
Despite the need for women to interact and support one another, there is a clear lack of female representation at events and on panels. This is not because women aren’t being asked, but because they prefer not to attend. This could be due to a variety of different factors; not wanting to be the only woman in the room, having an aversion to being the focus of attention, and so forth.
The senior women who do step up for event responsibilities are stretched thinly as they are so rare.
It is also important for event creators to consider inclusive formats and include women in steering teams to attract a larger range of diverse attendees.
Inclusive recruitment is everyone’s responsibility
Inclusive recruitment isn’t something that can be outsourced, it requires all parties to re-work processes and think differently.
The good news is that it is very rare for an employer to not ask for diversity on shortlists, particularly for permanent roles. But for true inclusivity based on equity rather than equality, it takes understanding and education for everyone involved, the recruiter, the employer and the candidate pool.
Many women don’t apply for roles that men with a similar skillset wouldn’t think twice about applying for. It takes change from all parts to re-frame our views to make a difference and encourage women into leadership roles.
Education and experience
Investing in education is never a bad thing, however, the cost of education is significant and isn’t the only route to success – thankfully.
A recent poll from The IN Group found that most people felt their education level hadn’t had much bearing on their career progress over the long term. There are many tech leaders that don’t have degrees, for example. It is important for women to seek out opportunities to get involved in visible projects or offer to take on additional areas of responsibility to increase their skills, negating the need to rely on education.
Many women enter tech by getting involved in tech projects while working in other departments such as marketing, or HR and then quickly rise through the industry. Tech leaders often remark that women have stronger communication and interpersonal skills than their male technical counterparts. Most women move into technology via a side-ways step and don’t set out on their career, or education, journey intending to be in IT.
For those following a leadership career route, roles will become less technical over time as a wider business view will be required and more time will be spent on leadership and strategic responsibility. For those who love tech, it may be better to progress as an ‘expert’ in software engineering, data or cybersecurity. Experts are still paid very well, are respected, and are also in demand, particularly when they stay ahead of trends and technological innovation.
A collaborative approach
Achieving gender diversity in tech leadership roles requires a multi-layered approach. Stakeholders at all levels need to champion inclusivity and foster an environment where women can thrive and contribute significantly to the tech industry, but women must actively seek opportunities, build supportive networks and challenge existing norms. Using this approach, the industry will come one step closer to achieving gender equality in tech.