Are Women the CDO Force to be Reckoned With?

September 12, 2017

Anna Frazzetto’s article from on September 12, 2017. 

As we race toward Q4 and the final months of 2017, I can’t help but feel thrilled about the growing number of women who are owning the chief digital officer role and thriving in digital leadership.

Most recently I noticed evidence in this CXO Talk “20 Influential Chief Digital Officers” profile in which seven out of the 20 CDOs interviewed were women. That is strong representation of female leadership in an industry where the numbers of women in leadership are still dismal.

For example, this year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey reported that only 9% of senior IT leaders worldwide are women, the exact same number as last year. While I know an interview series and survey data cannot be directly compared, evidence that the CDO role is becoming a powerful entry point into tech leadership for women is showing up in many places.  

CDO role: Young but flourishing

The CDO is a fairly new role. In 2014, a Harvey Nash CIO survey found that just 7% of businesses worldwide had CDOs.

In 2017, that number rose to 25%, which means today one in four businesses has a CDO in place. If you look at the Fortune 500, the incredible growth trajectory of the CDO role is even easier to see. The NewVantage Partners’ Big Data Executive Survey 2017 found that 55.9% of Fortune 500 companies have a CDO in place.

The CIO role, which has been around longer, has grown at a slower rate and added fewer women to its ranks. Only 13% of businesses have a female CIO while over 25% of CDOs are women, according to a recent report from Gartner.

Why the CDO role delivers more female tech leaders

For the most part, the high figures of women CDOs is a matter of numbers. To hire strong talent, it’s essential to have a strong, skilled, diverse candidate pool to recruit from.

For the CDO role, candidates need a diversity of tech, marketing and business skills in order to succeed. That’s because the CDO role crosses a number of business functions — technology, marketing, IT and customer services/engagement — as it works to help the entire business leverage digital capabilities and assets to drive business growth, tech innovation and customer engagement.

It is a multidimensional role for an age in which technology is thriving in all areas of business.

That means prospects for this strategic leadership role, no matter their gender, can rise up to the role whether they come from the tech, marketing or even an operational area.

The candidate pool for CDO extends beyond IT’s often limited domain where female leadership numbers are already painfully low. There are simply more women leaders who are candidates for the CDO role and that is helping to shrink the gender gap quickly in one thriving area of technology.

Is the CDO role the leadership role for you?

For those aspiring to leadership in business and tech — female or male — the CDO path is one well worth considering. How do you know if it’s the right way up for you?

Consider this list of five key traits I have gathered in recent years while studying this burgeoning role and by meeting for the past two years with CDO colleagues at CDO Summits in Washington D.C. and New York.

While it’s not an exhaustive list of requirements, it showcases the attitudes and aptitudes I believe are most essential for success in digital leadership.

  • Powerful management ability: CDOs manage teams across business units and varying skill sets. This requires leadership ability, charisma and confidence to unite and lead teams whether they report into the CDO role or not.  

  • A “no fear” embrace of disruption: A CDO must be an agent of change and disruption across many areas of the business. 

  • Passion for data: A good CDO has a powerful appetite for data and data analytics because of the opportunities and insight they reveal. If understanding and leveraging data is one of your strengths, the CDO role is worth consideration.

  • Strong tech skills and experience: To succeed as a leader in a technology role, even if it’s just one key aspect of the role, you need strong tech skills and experience. The best CDOs do more than talk tech, they know tech.

  • The ability to identify needs and create opportunities: The success of any CDO hinges on their ability to identify needs from across the business and respond with inspired digital solutions. It requires finding the right opportunities and answering with digital ingenuity.

The most successful teams across our global marketplace are the most diverse teams with a balance of gender, ethnicity, religion, culture and experience. As for women? Their ability to shape a tech-driven world is evident in the growing CDO role alone.

With the millennial workforce continuing to change how we see and imagine the workforce and the iGeneration close behind, I believe the perception of women in leadership and technology can and will begin to change with the same kind of speed and acceptance we are seeing in the CDO role today.

Are Women the CDO Force to be Reckoned With? on