How female representation at the top transforms businesses

Deborah Threadgold shares how she rose to the position of IBM’s general manager for Ireland.

Arecent McKinsey & Company study revealed that companies with a higher representation of women in leadership positions are 21% more likely to outperform their counterparts in terms of profitability.

The research underscores the business case for gender diversity, emphasizing that diverse leadership teams contribute to enhanced innovation, improved decision-making, and increased financial success.

Moreover, a Catalyst study found that companies with more women in leadership roles experience higher employee engagement and lower turnover rates.

This indicates that fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture not only positively impacts the top echelons of a company, but also permeates throughout the organization, creating a more positive and collaborative work environment.

In the predominately male-dominated field of information technology (IT), women have historically faced numerous challenges in breaking through gender barriers. However, the tide is turning, and women are making significant strides as leaders in the IT industry.

Numerous women have emerged as trailblazers in the IT industry, serving as role models for aspiring female technologists.

Ginni Rometty, the former CEO of IBM, spearheaded the company’s transformation in the era of cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Sheryl Sandberg, the former COO of Facebook, now Meta, is renowned for her advocacy of women’s leadership and empowerment in the workplace.

Ursula Burns, the first African American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Xerox), shattered barriers and inspired women of color worldwide.

The rise of women leaders in IT has far-reaching positive connotations for the industry.

Their accomplishments and visibility help challenge traditional notions of leadership, fostering a more inclusive environment where talent and merit triumph over gender biases.

By mentoring and supporting aspiring female technologists, these leaders are paving the way for the next generation to succeed.

Taking the global outlook

At a global level of female executives in business, 2023 was the first year that saw women exceed 10% of CEO positions of the Fortune 500.

This cannot be seen as tokenism in the very diverse world we live in. These women have cultivated strong networks, pursued higher education, and honed their technical skills to become formidable leaders.

Moreover, they have been instrumental in fostering diversity and inclusion within their organizations, recognizing the immense value of diverse perspectives in driving innovation.

As more women rise to leadership positions in business, and more specially in IT, the industry stands to benefit from a diverse range of skills, perspectives, and approaches.

Increased representation of women in decision-making roles will lead to better products and services that address the needs of a broader user base.

Encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in technology and providing them with the necessary support and resources will be pivotal in achieving gender parity and fostering a vibrant, inclusive IT ecosystem.

As the CEO of the Irish arm of a global IT company, it is optimistic to see that strides are being made when it comes to female chief executives in Ireland.

Previously, we have seen regression in this context, with the number women holding senior corporate executive positions, dropping from 11.1% in September 2022, to 8.3% in March 2023, almost three percentage points in six short months.

However, the latest Gender Balance in Business survey published by the Central Statistics Office in Ireland now shows that female chief executives make up 19% of companies in Ireland with 250 or more employees.

Comparably, on 4% of CEO position of the FTSE 350 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange were female, according to a report 12 months ago.

Movement of Collaboration

Accomplishing anything in the corporate world at an executive level is difficult, but overcoming the challenges to get there as a woman is what we need to focus on as a movement of collaboration.

I hope that together, with women’s tenacity, resilience, and determination, the female leaders in IT will not only continue to smash glass ceilings but also inspire a new generation of female technologists, who will shape the future of IT across the globe.

Becoming General Manager of IBM in Ireland, a company I started with 26 years ago, was a fanciful notion. I never planned it, but I leveraged opportunities throughout my entire career that lead to my appointment.

A pivotal moment was when the CEO of a not-for-profit pensions company I previously worked for in London, sponsored my MBA allowing me to navigate my way into IT and ultimately IBM.

That type of support, encouragement and mentorship continues to be a priceless trio.

Owning your career, but not being on your own is paramount.

Building a collaborative working relationship with senior colleagues and staff, rather than an assertive tone and manner has been paramount for my own trajectory and management.

On reflection, many of the steps that progressed my career were encouraged by mentors; having a trusted source internally or externally is also critical when esteem is at a low, or when a second opinion is needed.

But what is key is that each of us are ultimately responsible for our own career.

I have clear recollections when I first started in IBM as a consultant, and before becoming a manager, that I was one of very few women at events, which initially I found intimidating and overwhelming.

But I quickly recognized that I was there because of my ability and my potential, and that I could actually leverage those elements that I could not control to make me stand out.

However, whilst I embraced that, I felt very conscious that I needed to work harder and deliver more to continuously prove myself.  On reflection that was more to my benefit than anyone else’s!

Face the battles you can actually make a difference in

The ascent of women leaders in IT is a testament to their perseverance, brilliance, and determination.

Their contributions have not only transformed the IT industry but also challenged societal norms and paved the way for future generations.

By amplifying their voices, celebrating their achievements, and creating opportunities for women to thrive in the technology sector, we can build a more equitable and prosperous future where women leaders in IT continue to inspire and shape the world.

The world is changing dramatically, keep your learning current and your network expansive, even in the most difficult times.

A former mentor once said to me ‘You can keep on banging your head against a brick wall, but sometimes you have to walk around it’.

In other words, sometimes you’ve got to give it up and go face the battles you can actually make a difference in.

No one should enter a job they find easy, and that way you will have a diverse and fulfilling journey, constantly seeking, and achieving new experiences and learning opportunities.

Engaging in different activities and being challenged is a great way to grow professionally, enabling continuous growth in knowledge, skills, and professional perspectives.