From CIO to the boardroom: What’s the tech sector like for a woman?

From CIO to the boardroom: What’s the tech sector like for a woman?

Chetna Bhatia, CIO, PE, discusses her journey to becoming a CIO and outlines what benefits women can bring to the technology sector.

Chetna Bhatia, CIO, PE

As a senior executive, serving as both CEO and CIO, I have almost 30 years’ experience in energy trading, derivatives markets and risk management, industries of which are notoriously challenging for women to break into and excel.

I joined the tech industry in India back in 1995, where it was extremely difficult for women at that time due to it being a male dominant sector. Things have only really started to change and improve in the past decade or so, as increasing numbers of women enter the tech industry. However, even with these improving statistics, there are still very few women in senior positions, with CTOs and CIOs remaining predominantly male.

Although I’m one of a minority of women at CIO level, my journey to get here has been challenging. Certainly in the initial stages of my career, I found it very hard, with many people having difficulty accepting a female CIO or CTO. Over the years, I’ve been undermined, with some even suggesting that someone ‘did me a favour’ by giving me the position!

Not only do these kinds of examples put young girls and women off entering the tech industry, for those that do enter the sector, often they feel pressure to work harder to constantly prove themselves.

As CIO at PE, I oversee our SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, cloud applications and managed services. Thankfully, PE is a big advocate for inclusivity, so the fact I am a woman plays no bearing on how people interact with me, or their belief in me as a senior team member. This enables me to focus on my job and deliver the technical roadmap and future visions for the business without any kind of gender barriers.

Being CIO means I also sit on the board at PE, and this is another area of business that needs gender parity. Compared to men, there are still very few women on boards, especially in the tech sector. Not only does this mean that once again, women feel obliged to prove themselves as they feel under constant scrutiny, it also means the recommendations made by women on boards can often be undermined or dismissed.

This lack of female representation means a lack of diversity of thought. Women bring a different perspective to the boardroom and have an alternative way of looking at things. For example, women can easily multitask and some are born leaders and managers; women who enter technical fields are usually very strong in technical skills and are often very committed to what they decide to do.

That’s not to say their male counterparts aren’t, it’s just that by empowering women to become board members, the senior leadership team can be strengthened and bolstered by new viewpoints that may otherwise not be considered.

What can be done to attract and retain women in tech and at the boardroom table?

To be truly inclusive, and reap the benefits of a diverse talent pool, it’s vital for the tech industry to provide fair and equal access to opportunities to women, and evaluate them on their skills and experience, rather than the fact they are female.

Inclusive recruitment practices and entrenching equality into your culture sets a really strong foundation for this, and will send a clear message to potential female candidates that your firm is a good place to work.

There are a lot of women out there who are very strong both technically and managerially, it’s up to organisations to appeal to them in order to win the race, not just for female talent, but talent in general.

My message to fellow women in tech is to go ahead and seize those opportunities, apply for promotions, sit at the boardroom table; there’s no need to shy away from opportunity – be confident, sell yourself, be committed and showcase your capabilities. Build your network, make industry contacts and find a mentor who can help elevate your skills and career, as well as cheerlead and support you along the way.

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