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Where are the female leaders? An investigation into the gender diversity of FTSE 100 CIOs

Where are the female leaders? An investigation into the gender diversity of FTSE 100 CIOs

We live in an era defined by technological innovation and widespread progress. What’s more, organisations worldwide are advocating for diversity and inclusion, trying to create a workplace where everyone feels welcome. Successful companies like Canon, Bupa, Zenith, and Rolls Royce have already taken a pledge to stand against discrimination and foster inclusive work environments. 

But even so, women are still under-represented in science, engineering, technology, and many other sectors, with only a few holding managerial roles. A mere 8% of women in the UK have leadership positions according to data from the House of Commons, whereas 13% of men are employed as directors, managers, or senior officials—and the gender pay gap doesn’t make things any easier. 

In 2020, men’s hourly earnings were about 13% higher than those of women, as reported by the European Commission. The gender pay gap was highest in Latvia (22.3%), Estonia (21.1%), Austria (18.9%), Switzerland (18.4%), and Germany (18.3%). Meanwhile, in the U.S., women earned about 16% less than men (Pew Research Center).

Perhaps not surprisingly, these trends can be observed among FTSE 100 companies, too. Between 2018 and 2022, roughly just 21% of Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions were filled by women. And in 2022, there are only 10% more female CIOs compared to 2018, according to an internal study conducted by Frank Recruitment Group, a Tenth Revolution Group company. 

While this increase shows a step in the right direction, it’s further proof that we could all be doing more to build a more inclusive workplace and help level the playing field within global industries.  

On the positive side, there are steps you can take to build a more inclusive workplace. For example, you could start by focusing on making your recruitment process more appealing and fair to those from diverse backgrounds, and giving everyone equal opportunities.

But first, let’s discuss our findings on gender diversity and the average tenure of FTSE 100 CIOs—and why it matters.

Key findings

CIOs are responsible for managing a company’s IT systems and functions, such as computer technologies, digital transformation, and data security. These professionals also make executive decisions, implement policies, and enable new business models. They are technology experts, strategic advisors, business leaders, and innovators. 

Our team at Frank Recruitment Group wanted to dig deeper into the gender makeup of FTSE 100 CIOs, so we set out to research the companies on the FTSE 100 list between 2018 and 2022 with an aim of finding out the gender identities and tenure of their CIOs during this period. 

Our new research reveals that across the past five years, just 42 women have had the opportunity to hold a CIO position at a FTSE 100 company, compared to 138 men. And in 2022, at just 27%, women still accounted for less than a third of all CIOs. When it comes to tenure, women tend to serve as CIO for a shorter period of time, with the average tenure being two years as compared to three years for men. Additionally, while there were 37 men whose tenure had exceeded five years, only four women held that same distinction.

During the data collection process, we looked at hundreds of companies, but only 15 had women as CIOs in 2022. These included AstraZeneca, HSBC, Intertek, and 12 others.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that some company’s data wasn’t as clear-cut to analyse—which in itself contributes to the issue. For example, one of the largest global banks has four female CIOs in charge of its IT operations in different regions. Other companies made it to the FTSE 100 list year after year, but their Chief Information Officers have always been men. 

Women remain largely underrepresented in leadership roles

Our findings are in line with previous research on female leadership and the consistent underrepresentation of women in these roles. 

For example, Statista data has indicated that just 15% of women were managers, directors, or business executives in 2012. In comparison, the same data showed that 34.5% of women held leadership roles in FTSE 100 companies in 2020, signifying a rise but still an alarming statistic where diversity and equality are concerned. 

And this sort of underrepresentation isn’t a thing of the past. In fact, Ernst & Young cite low numbers of female leadership figures in recent years, saying that fewer than 14% of women held executive directorships in FTSE 100 companies last year.

Our study even found that some companies had no female CIOs over the past five years. Add the gender pay gap into the mix, and it’s a recipe for a disaster.

In 2022, the average pay for male directors in FTSE 100 companies grew by 7%. Female directors, on the other hand, saw an increase of only 4% (The Accountant Online). These numbers show that most organisations not only exclude women from executive roles but also pay them less than their male counterparts.

Gender inequality is a global problem, notes Revolent. Female professionals account for roughly 19% of Fortune 500 CIOs and have an average tenure of three years and three months. By comparison, male CIOs at Fortune 500 companies hold their roles for about four years and nine months. 

In the U.S., less than one-third of women have leadership roles in tech, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Plus, female leaders often work harder and for longer hours than men in the same positions, but their efforts go unnoticed. As a result, they are more likely to experience stress and burnout, which can take a toll on their mental wellbeing. As shown by McKinsey, factors other than gender also play a role in further compounding these experiences, as is the case for women of color.

These practices are reinforcing gender inequalities, affecting society and its progress as a whole. Not least we are still seeing some companies failing to take action to promote diversity and inclusion, but we’re also witnessing a growing skills gap and facing the aftermath of the Great Resignation which has created talent shortages for many industries. Businesses already have so much to tackle as the world begins to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and neglecting diversity is going to make it near impossible for them to take on this challenge.

Why women make great CIOs

Business transformation requires more than using the latest tech or keeping up with industry trends. It also implies a cultural shift, one that is powerful enough to break barriers. A good starting point would be to hire more women in leadership roles and trust their judgment. 

First of all, female leaders are highly assertive, strong-willed, and persuasive, reports a global study. What’s more, they tend to have a higher risk tolerance than men. Women also take the time to reflect, analyse things, and listen to others, and often have a collaborative leadership style which is crucial to the smooth running of any business. 

Harvard Business Review (HBR) says that women attain higher scores for most leadership skills compared to their male counterparts. They are more resilient, inspiring, honest, proactive, and results-driven than men, notes HBR. Additionally, they practice self-improvement and enjoy helping others in their pursuits. 

These skills and personality traits position women as effective leaders across most sectors. Female leaders also tend to support EDI initiatives to a greater extent than men, reports McKinsey. Plus, they may bring a different perspective to the table, which allows for better decision-making.

Having more women in leadership positions can also improve a company’s bottom line. According to research by Revolent, 87% of the top 500 companies last year led by a female decision-maker reported above-average profits, compared to just 78% of companies without a female CEO.

Organisations with gender-diverse technology teams are more productive and innovative than those with less diverse teams, reports Deloitte. Other potential benefits include:

  • Improved financial performance
  • Lower project costs
  • Higher operational efficiency
  • Higher employee performance ratings
  • Improved staff retention
  • Enhanced team collaboration
  • Easier access to resources, such as new ideas and greater industry knowledge

And with the tech industry’s current talent shortage, hiring more women in leadership roles could help fill this gap. Talent shortages are the greatest barrier to the adoption of new technologies, according to a recent Gartner survey. To overcome these challenges, companies must rethink their hiring practices and leverage untapped talent if they want to see different results.

How to improve gender diversity in the workplace

A gender-diverse workplace can lead to better collaboration, higher performance, innovation, and lower turnover. At the same time, when you are forthcoming and proud of your diversity efforts, it also makes it easier to attract great talent.  

For starters, consider hiring more women in leadership roles. Chances are, you already have a few employees who may be suitable for executive leadership positions. 

Take the steps needed to upskill or reskill your staff, especially women in senior or middle-management roles, such as directors and chief supervisors. These professionals will require less training than a new employee, reducing your time to hire.

Meanwhile, set gender diversity targets and develop a strategy to achieve them. For example, Mercer UK is committed to increasing female representation in leadership roles by 50% over the next five years. The company exceeded its diversity target for 2022, achieving 37.5% female representation in senior positions. 

Similarly, GSK wants to increase female representation in senior roles by at least 45% over the next three years. Goldman Sachs, Intel, and other leading organisations took steps in this direction, too. 

Any company, big or small, can improve its hiring practices to get more women in the C-suite. Listed below are some strategies to help you achieve this goal.

Provide mentorship opportunities for women 

Mentorship can increase confidence, boost leadership skills, and help women overcome gender-specific obstacles in the workplace. Moreover, employees who receive mentorship are promoted more often and experience greater job satisfaction, notes Forbes

Some companies designate experienced employees as mentors, while others prefer to bring in someone from the outside. If your recruitment efforts are falling flat, there’s also the option to partner with a recruiting firm who have a focus on diversity and inclusion and can help you to find the talent you need. For example, our Women in Tech team are dedicated to helping more companies to partner with talented female tech professionals they may otherwise not have found. 

Rethink your hiring process

Analyse your hiring practices and leadership policies to see what can be done to achieve a more diverse workforce. Try to identify the business units where women are under-represented and then develop a strategy to address these aspects. Go one step further and review your current employment data, including the information you hold on job applicants. 

After that, draft a summary report that highlights your key findings. Use this data to develop a gender-diversity action plan. Start by training your HR team on inclusive hiring practices, such as addressing unconscious bias during job interviews. For example, by removing any personal information that could be associated with certain stereotypes, like name, gender or address. 

Also, make sure your company has a diverse panel of interviewers. This will not only reduce bias during the hiring process, but also lead to a more objective perspective. 

Meanwhile, try to create more inclusive job adverts by using gender-neutral language and mentioning women-friendly benefits. For example, Adobe offers 26-weeks of paid maternity leave, paid sabbaticals, wellness programs, tuition reimbursement, and other perks. 

Startups and small businesses may provide a more flexible schedule, professional development plans, or onsite classes (e.g., yoga) to attract female talent. Most importantly, make an effort to close the gender pay gap and ensure fair compensation for all employees.

Support women with leadership potential

Another way to get more women in the C-suite is to support those with leadership potential. 

For example, you can provide training programs and networking opportunities to help women thrive in their roles. The Emerging Leaders program, EWF International’s Peer Advisory Forums, and other initiatives can equip women with the skills they need to make their way to the top. 

Alternatively, you may offer internal training or workshops on leadership styles, diversity and inclusion, team performance, change management, and other topics. Leadership boot camps and team-building activities can be just as effective. Such initiatives will make your company more appealing to potential hires and help you maximise existing talent. 

No matter your industry or business size, it’s in your power to build an inclusive workplace where women can thrive. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and change the rules of the game. See Tech’s Leading Women, our new video series, to learn more about nurturing female talent and leadership. 


Developed in 1984, the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 Index ranks qualifying UK companies based on market capitalisation. Readjustment of the index takes place quarterly, and the list includes 100 organisations across most industries. 

We collated the lists of FTSE 100 companies for the years 2018 – 2022. We gathered the 2022 list from Hargreaves Lansdown and used Internet Archivefor the years 2018 – 2021. All lists are drawn from the third financial quarter of their respective years.

Using LinkedIn, we found the LinkedIn profile for each company and conducted a search using the filters, ‘Chief Information Officer’ and ‘CIO’. We included results for all CIO positions up to 20 entries per company. Once we located each CIO, we assessed their public LinkedIn profile, company websites, and Business Wire and Newswire to determine their gender, according to the pronouns used in either, their own content, or official business communications. Data on CIOs is accurate to September 12th 2022

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