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Wayne  A.  Brown
Wayne A. Brown
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In Higher Education, Fewer Women Graduate To CIO

Plenty of women hold leadership positions in higher education technology departments. So why is the percentage of females in the CIO seat declining?

 8 MOOCs Transforming Education
8 MOOCs Transforming Education
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Over the course of my research at the Center for Higher Education CIO Studies, the percentage of women chief information officers (CIOs) in higher ed has been on a slow but steady decline. In the past, information from research on CIOs and tech leaders (TL) indicated that trend would continue. Tech leaders are people who serve in the next organizational layer down from the CIO.

From 2008 to 2013, the percentage of female CIOs declined five percent, from 26% to 21%. There could be any number of reasons why the percentage of female CIOs declined.

One reason might be a finding from the TL research that showed a consistently smaller percentage of female TLs who are interested in becoming CIOs than their male counterparts. In addition, female CIOs were retiring faster than male CIOs. Another reason could be the widely reported gender disparity in degree-major technology disciplines. And it could be the fact that female TLs and CIOs were retiring sooner than the male TLs and CIOs.

Despite this list of bad news for gender parity in the higher education CIO ranks, there might be positive change on the horizon.

[ In the battle for tech talent, small colleges and universities have a lot to offer. Learn Why Young IT Pros Should Consider Higher Ed. ]

The TL population is the supply pipeline for the higher-education CIO position. The graph below depicts four pieces of information: the percentage of female TLs, the percentage of female CIOs, the percentage of female CIOs planning to retire in the next 10 years, and the percentage of female TLs interested in becoming a CIO.

Female Tech Leaders' Career Plans
Female Tech Leaders' Career Plans

The percentage of TLs who are women has risen over the past five years from 33% to 40%. The percentage of female TLs who are interested in becoming a CIO, while low at 29% in 2013, has remained steady over the past three years. Another piece of good news is that the percentage of female CIOs who are planning on retirement in the next 10 years declined to a new low of 47% in 2013, and is no longer higher than their male counterparts. Despite these changes, the percentage of CIOs who are women continued to decline.

I took a deeper dive into the data in an attempt to determine if there were differences between the male and female TLs that are driving down the percentage of CIOs who are women. The CIOs and TLs in this research indicated that the two best ways to prepare for a CIO position were: using a mentor and on-the-job training (OJT).

Tech Leader Mentors
Tech Leader Mentors

There were some differences in gender for mentoring. Most notably, 45% of the male TLs used their own CIO as a mentor versus 34% of the female TLs. This significant difference in mentoring with a supervisor (CIO) may have an impact on the female TLs' opportunities and growth. Forty-one percent of the male TLs said no one was helping them, versus 32% of the female TLs. This will be a challenge for the male TLs as they try to prepare for the CIO role. The female TLs had higher percentages in every other mentoring category except "my peers," where there was an equal percentage of male and female TLs.

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12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT
(click image for slideshow)
The TLs were also asked who is in charge when the CIO is out of the office. Among the males, 23% said they are in charge, 34% said the role is rotated among staff, and 43% said they are not in charge. In comparison, 20% of the female TLs said they are in charge, 28% said the role is rotated, and 52% said they are not in charge. This difference in on-the-job training may be having an impact on the female TLs' preparation for the CIO role.

The individual's degree and major have also been important factors for the higher education CIO. The TLs are getting the message, as the percentage of TLs with advanced degrees continued to climb. The percentage of female TLs with advanced degrees was 74% versus 62% of the male TLs. This difference will have a negative impact on male TLs who aspire to the CIO role, especially when you consider that 95% of the institution management team (IMT), other VPs and presidents said that the higher education CIO should have an advanced degree.

In addition, 24% of the male TLs and 30% of the female TLs have bachelor's degrees, 1% of females and 7% of males have associate's degrees, and only 1% of the males and females have a high school or equivalent degree.

[ Are you willing to break the rules? See Rules For Radical CIOs Part 1 and Part 2. ]

There was less consensus about what major a CIO should have. The majority of CIOs have degree majors from five areas -- technology, business, education, leadership/management and administration. The TLs also claimed the majority of their majors from these same five majors.

Seventy percent of the male TLs had these majors, versus 68% of the female TLs. The one major that stood out was technology, where 38% of the male TLs have a major versus 20% of the female TLs. This could be a significant difference, considering that 51% of the IMTs indicated a technology major was required for the CIO role.

Tech Leader Degree Majors
Tech Leader Degree Majors

Overall, there are differences between the TLs' genders that might have an impact on their ability to be competitive for a CIO position. The male TLs without an advanced degree will not be competitive for the CIO job, and more of them indicated they had no one helping them as a mentor. The differences in female TL mentoring by their own CIO, leadership OJT opportunities and the technology major could play a part in the continued downward trend for the percentage of CIOs who are women. There might also be a time delay between some of the positive trends seen in the research and a change in the percentage of CIOs who are women.

We'll continue to explore the subject over the next couple of years and look for changes. The CIO report and the accompanying technology leader report will be available from Center for Higher Education CIO Studies (CHECS) in late June.

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Some Other John Barnes
Some Other John Barnes,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/19/2013 | 8:52:54 PM
re: In Higher Education, Fewer Women Graduate To CIO
As an outsider stats junkie/back seat driver, I'm wondering if you've looked at how long the organizational path from new hire /starter to CIO is, and how long people are spending per rung. 26% to 21% is a big drop -- figured on its true base it's more like 20%, i.e. one in five of the female CIO positions has been switched to male in the last five years. But the "retire in the next 10" statistic is also revealing; people don't get to be CIO until they're a good deal closer to retirement than to startup. And the most common cause of a precipitate decline in plans to retire, IIRC, is people retiring (a person who retires is no longer counted as "planning to") So if 15 years ago or so there was a big surge in numbers of CIOs, but not in number of people sliding into the just-below slot, then as that earlier wave retires you're going to see some drifting down from the old achievements. Is there a leak in the pipeline somewhere below CIO, or was there a surge caused by a temporary now-closed fast track?

Just some more angles to try. As you rightly say, the data looks both concerning and puzzling.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/21/2013 | 5:50:07 PM
re: In Higher Education, Fewer Women Graduate To CIO
Thank you for the feedback and thoughts. I'll think about a way to try to get to looking for any "leaks".
User Rank: Author
6/20/2013 | 3:03:27 PM
re: In Higher Education, Fewer Women Graduate To CIO
One number that puzzles me is the "CIO interest" figure holding steady, even as the number of tech leaders rises. Is the CIO role in higher ed changing in such a way that it is becoming less appealing to women? Is this a matter of timing? I.E., some women (and men) delay their final charge to become CIO to coincide with family demands. But then they do make that charge. Perhaps some of both. Let's hear from some female IT leaders in higher ed on this topic.

Laurianne McLaughlin
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 6:24:22 AM
Women should acquire higher education
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Eliza Bilbie
Eliza Bilbie,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2014 | 12:45:06 AM
Re: Women should acquire higher education
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