Count CIOs among the powerful women who will rise to the highest posts in their careers in 2007. Here are some who have already made it.
It's tough to change a collective mind-set. Just ask native Iranian Atefeh "Atti" Riazi, who tried to revolutionize the way New Yorkers rode the subway to work every day.
The infamous MetroCard project for converting rider tokens to cards with magnetic stripes stretched some 14 years and cost more than $1.5 billion. Riazi helped lead that charge in 1986 when she was in her mid-20s. "The public was angry; the system wasn't working properly," she recalls. "But it finally worked, and now you don't see many New Yorkers without a MetroCard in their hands."
That project helped launch Riazi into corporate stardom. Today she's CIO at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the advertising agency behind some legendary brands. And Riazi is still trying to change the mind-set of consumers and peers, most of whom are men. What's the secret to her success? "For me, it is the ability to take risks, my ability to work with men on their level and my resourcefulness to some extent. Because I am very much attracted to ugly, painful projects" that no one wants, says Riazi, now 45.
Any woman who burned her bra in the 1970s can tell you that women's lib is a fickle affair: a hot item on the national and corporate agenda one year, lukewarm leftovers the next. But if milestones can be equated with progress, 2007 is shaping up as a good year for the fair sex. Hello, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Welcome, Drew Gilpin Faust, first woman president in Harvard University's 370-year history. (Faust takes the reins a year after her predecessor Lawrence Summers lost his job for suggesting that women lack an innate ability for science and math.)
Yet female CIOs like Riazi didn't get to their prestigious posts overnight. They spent decades building their careers through hard work, risk taking and the helping hand of a mentor. In interviews with 10 women CIOs from various industries, we found an array of leadership qualities that have enabled them to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.
First, though, let's be clear: Compared with the number of male CIOs, the number of women who make it to the CIO post is few. In fact, recent studies cite a decline in the number of women choosing IT as a career and attribute the trend to an overall IT recruitment slowdown. Women's enrollment in university technical programs has dropped from 35% in the mid-1980s to about 20% in 2004. Cutter Consortium, a trend prognosticator based in Arlington, Mass., says the dearth of incoming talent will almost certainly ensure that women in the field today will reach leadership positions, but it may also mean that fewer women become CIOs in years to come.
This was first published in April 2007