The CDO is tipping the gender scales in the boardroom

Did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but to most I think it does. In the mid-19th century, mathematician Ada Lovelace was the first to recognize that machines had applications beyond pure calculation and published the first algorithm. She is regarded as the first to identify the full potential of a “computing machine” and the first computer programmer.


Look around any IT meeting at any organization and you’ll immediately see an imbalance of men to women. How did we start off so strong with Ada and so quickly (ok maybe not so quickly) fade out of the IT landscape? There are many organizations that promote STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) for girls. Research suggests that girls’ interest in STEM related topics fade in middle school (ages 12-14), therefore many programs, such as Girls Who Code and Informatica’s Next 25 program, target that age group.  The theory is ‘start them early’ and hopefully these girls will choose a corresponding career path.

There are a growing number of women choosing to become doctors, researchers and engineers, so we know STEM programs are working. But the number of women in technology and data related fields is decreasing, even after Harvard Business Review named Data Scientist as the sexiest job of the 21st century in 2012.  Women comprised 35% of computing and mathematical occupations in 1990, but only 26% by 2013, according to a study performed by the American Association of University Women — this is despite women currently making up 57% of the labor force.

There is most likely no easy answer to this riddle – women in workforce up, women in data down – but women have taken a seat at the big boy’s table as Chief Data Officers (CDOs). CDOs have a relatively new place in the C-suite and a big number of early adopters were women. The newly formed CDO role requires individuals with expertise in soft skills like communications, collaboration and program management, as well as the ability to ‘think big’ which traditionally (and somewhat stereotypically) are skills where women often demonstrate strong competencies. CDOs are tasked with bridging technology and business as well as building a data-driven culture, both of which require significant organizational change. Likewise, maybe it was just time for women to enter the C-suite and this was their opportunity.

No matter the reason of why more CDO roles were originally filled by women, the position continues to be highly in demand and needed as organizations strive to become more data-driven. There is a noticeable skills gap across many data intensive roles, both on the business and the technology side. And women are prime to take inspiration from Ada and succeed.