Where Are the Female CIOs?

Hidden away – according to Anna Kopp, Head of IT and Regional Office Lead at Microsoft’s Munich Headquarters. Although headhunters scramble to tick quota boxes, they often miss the mark. And women themselves should make visibility a priority

by Anna Kopp (transcribed by Natascha Zeljko) | 30 Mar, 2023
Anna Kopp

Female CIOs and CDOs are in extremely high demand. And let's make one thing clear: They do exist. But there are far too few of them for our transforming world! I, myself, get proposals from headhunters almost every week. You might think that's good news. But it's not.

The problem is their approach: They often contact me merely because I'm a woman. Competence, industry knowledge, expertise? That doesn't matter as much. It’s an intellectual glitch. Yes, of course we want more women in leadership, and more women in technical professions too. That's why quotas are fundamentally the right way to go, as they level out gender-related disadvantages in the long term. However, it's not a matter of targeting any woman with a STEM background. That would create a horde of Quotenfrauen, as you often hear in Germany: Sub-par candidates selected just because of their gender. None of my highly educated, highly qualified female colleagues would like such a label attached to them. Neither would I.

The world, and the IT industry in particular, are much more complex today than they used to be – back in the day, you just had to wire a few PCs to a server. Today, it's all about processes. And that's what we have to consider when looking for a suitable candidate. We have to ask ourselves: Which technologies, in which industry and branch is she familiar with? Which customers has she worked with? It makes a huge difference whether you come from the automotive, chemical or pharmaceutical industry. Companies also have to think about how much authority the new colleague actually enjoys. Does she have the freedom to make decisions? This often leads to another common misconception. Many companies want to transform themselves, or rather believe that they want to transform themselves, but don't allow transformation to be pushed forward. The old paradox: Make me an omelet, but make sure you don't break any eggs.

Transformation goes beyond the purely technical or technological issues. First and foremost, transformation means a cultural change that will dramatically alter the role of business. The question is: How do I become a successful player in this highly differentiated ecosystem? The "One size fits all" approach no longer works. Just as an example, Microsoft has twenty-three different sales roles. This new approach impacts the skilling process and requires constant adaptation and learning. That's why my company recently introduced two new positions, the Chief Transformation Officer and the Chief Learning Officer.

What does all this have to do with women, or with the question of why we need more women in tech? One thing is obvious: Women are perfectly suited for this changing environment. Not only are they generally good at multitasking and keeping track of all twenty-three sales roles, they tend to be very good listeners – and this is quality is severely underestimated.

Innovation thrives in calibration. Build, Measure, Learn. You could also say: Build, Listen, Learn, Do. Because what good is a realization without its logical consequence, implementation? More and more often, this requires a communicative and collaborative approach. Our work is no longer about going to the customer with a finished product. We don't try to sell them anything. It's more of an exchange, between CIOs on the same footing. Our goal is for them to understand the whole program: How do we do CRM? How do we organize SharePoint and networks? We call it "Showcase IT." The great thing about this method is that it allows us to understand the customer very well, and I learn a lot about myself in the process.

All that's left to do now is look to the future. For one thing, let's get more young women interested in STEM subjects at university and jobs in tech. I'm already involved in such projects with the Munich Business School, and Microsoft also organizes coding days for girls. But in addition to fostering technical skills, it's imperative that we communicate on the issue of visibility. 

Yes, women are smart. Women are well educated. Women are dedicated and work hard. I'm not the only one to claim this; so does Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. In his experience, he says, female colleagues often do not advance in their careers after the first ten or fifteen years. I have observed this too. There is something that these women chronically underestimate: They don't invest in their visibility. They don't pay enough attention to relationship management. If they're asked to speak on a panel, they cancel because they have too much to do. That's very short-sighted and very wrong.

I know some fantastic female managers who handle their careers very well by combining visibility with immense professional expertise. Vera Schneevoigt, CDO of Bosch Security and Safety Systems, is one such example, and so is Hanna Hennig, CIO of Siemens. We need many more women who put themselves in the spotlight instead of hiding their shine.

This proactivity is important to get young women excited about these topics, and to show them role models from different industries. But that's not all. It's what pushes headhunters to call with suitable offers, and not just to meet gender quotas.



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