The Sticky Floor for Aspiring Female CIOs: Interview with Tina Rourk, Wyndham Vacation Ownership
Tina Rourk, CIO of Wyndham Vacation Ownership, recently completed a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership from University of Phoenix. Her dissertation was based on a phenomenological study which consisted of telephone interviews with 19 female Fortune 500 CIOs, for which she used a semi-structured open-ended questionnaire.
The purpose of the study was to explore the life experiences and career strategies perceived as critical to overcoming the challenges and obstacles for women in achieving the CIO position in a Fortune 500 company.
I was able to catch up with Tina and ask her about her findings.
What is the current percentage of women in CIO roles?
It is somewhere between 7 and 10 percent and declining.
Why is the number so low?
First, the number of women who are graduating with computing degrees is decreasing. Between 2009 and 2010, it decreased by 13 percent, while the number of men with computer science degrees has increased by 10 percent.
|"Women [in IT] are less concerned about the glass ceiling than about the sticky floor.. "
You don’t necessarily need a computing degree to go into IT, but the majority of the IT workforce does come from that source. Because of these declining numbers, we see fewer women in the IT workforce.
Second, many women see IT as an unattractive career choice. They have a perception that a career in IT will require them to work long hours, and that if they take a break to have children, they will have a tough time getting back in given how quickly technology changes.
Women also perceive that because IT is dominated by men, they will not be able to compete successfully for advancement opportunities. It has been my experience, and was also noted by many of the participants that men are more apt to advocate for themselves and promote their own successes than women. So this can put women at a disadvantage when it comes to promotional opportunities.
In other words, women are less concerned about the glass ceiling than about the sticky floor.
What do you mean by sticky floor?
The sticky floor occurs when women themselves are not willing to raise their hand for risky challenges because they do not have the confidence that they will be successful. Senior leadership can interpret this lack of confidence as a lack of desire for advancement. The sticky floor is the women’s reluctance to move ahead.
If women do not want to be in IT, why do we care?
There is a considerable amount of research that shows that a diverse executive leadership team performs better than non-diverse teams. Companies that have diverse teams tend to come up with better products that are better suited to the population that they are targeting, which typically includes a large percentage of women.
Having a diverse leadership team also helps with talent acquisition and retention. If your CIO is a woman, you are demonstrating to potential female technology talent that you have the kind of environment where women can be successful.
From you research, what have you found to be the attributes of the most successful female CIOs?
Many of the attributes are similar to what you would expect of successful male CIOs, but there are differences, as well.
- First and foremost is the ability to execute. You have to do what you say you are going to do; you have to deliver.
- Project management is a critical skill. It is being able to take on very large enterprise projects and executing them.
- You have to build the right relationships with your peers and others in the organization.
- Communications skills are very important, which goes hand-in-hand with building relationships. With IT, that means that when you’re talking with your business partners, it is important to talk in language that resonates with them.
- Successful women CIOs are willing to take on risks and challenges, which does not necessarily come naturally to all women.
- Related to taking risks, is confidence. Successful women in IT have the confidence to put themselves in situations where they are not always comfortable. They understand that even if a high profile project doesn’t go well, they will still get credit for taking it on and for showing that they want to grow.
- The majority of the women in my research had spent many years in IT, and valued their backgrounds in technology, but when asked what they would recommend to others looking to follow in their path, many offered that IT leaders should also look to spend some time leading a business function. For four of the women I interviewed, their first role in IT was as CIO. They believe that they could be more effective if they had a stronger base in technology.
- Whether leadership skills are gained inside of IT or out, they are critical to CIO success.
- All of the women I spoke to share a passion for continued growth and development.
- The ability to promote your own successes in the right way, which means getting in front of the right people and talking about the value that you contribute to the organization. This includes the ability to ask for what you want and to make your aspirations known.
What can companies do to foster an environment where high-potential female IT professionals will be successful?
One of the first steps is for organizations to have a structured approach to mentoring and sponsorship. Sponsorship means having an active advocate who has respect and credibility with other leaders in the organization. A sponsor stands up for you when you are not in the room and actively looks to promote you into or recommend you for other opportunities. Many organizations have formalized methods for mentoring but not for sponsorship. If organizations can help educate their senior leaders about the importance of sponsorship and the need to promote and celebrate women, women would have more of a chance to thrive.
Organizations should be sure to have some female mentors and identify, as earlier as possible, high potential women. While that may seem biased, because organizations should also be identifying high potential men, we all need to recognize that women do face some different challenges than men. If we want to encourage women to rise through the ranks, we need to do more to mentor and sponsor them.
Organizations should also create an environment that let’s women know that their careers will not be negatively impacted if they leave to attend children’s activities at schools during the day, that they shouldn’t feel awkward about asking for that time, just because they don’t see their male colleagues doing the same.
Companies should provide opportunities for female IT leaders to serve in a business function, and offer a disciplined or a structured approach to provide them with some rotational opportunities. Finally, companies should foster internal groups that allow women to network with each other. It is through these groups that women can find their own mentors and sponsors and coach one another toward career advancement.
How have you managed to become one of the 10 percent of female CIOs?
Most of my employers did not have formal mentoring programs, so I found my mentors myself. I always identified the people who I thought were successful, sought them out, and learned from them. I am also an avid reader of leadership management books and am always trying to learn more and enhance my career. My approach is that almost everything can be a learning opportunity.