C-Suite Leadership

Why A White, Male, Executive Advocates For Women As Technology Leaders

We need women to lead in technology, but the standard narrative as to why misses the point. And as women continue to elevate their leadership, they do so knowing the critical areas to focus on, the mistakes to avoid, and the skills to develop.

Scott Smeester


September 29, 2022

My mom passed away this week.

I grieve her loss deeply, and I appreciate her life greatly. She loved me well and I loved her richly. 

Mom led well. Her life was far from easy, as we would expect; but her ability to design and drive the life she wanted exceeded expectations. In the end, she was surrounded by those she loved and in whom she made a world of difference. 

I can only hope for the same to be said about me. 

I had a great model, and models are what we need now more than ever.

I have written about women in leadership before. Some of the words that follow are repeated from previous writings, because the insights remain critical; some of the words below are new lessons learned from the women I’ve worked with and the women who are members of CIO Mastermind.

My hope is for two takeaways: For men to see the conversations about women in technology from a different perspective. For women to dial in on the key areas that are difference makers in their leadership.

The Need For Women In Technology Leadership

I had a friend who was a musical prodigy. Not having played the piano, I asked him what the black keys were for. I was expecting some sort of technical answer. Instead, he told me something I would never forget. “The black keys are what gives the piano its diversity.”

He then went on to explain about semitones or some such thing. I wasn’t listening. I was still hanging on to the word picture he had given me.

We use the word diversity to describe a range of differences. And that is absolutely accurate. But there is more to diversity than differences. 

There is tone. 

Tone has to do with tension and stretching. 

I work out at the gym. Time under tension is a basic principle behind building muscle and developing tone.

Your group can be composed of a number of differences, but unless there is expression of strength and stretching, with time under tension, there really isn’t true diversity. 

Our common perception of diversity is being in a crowd of differences and exercising acceptance. That’s not diversity, that’s a tourist destination or a food court. 

Diversity is an exchange and display of strength. Many keys, many muscles, many people. 

I used to teach a lot about unity in diversity. It happens not because we accept the differences, but because we draw out the strengths. 

Which brings us to women in the workplace, and specifically, women as leaders in technology.

I have a different perspective than most of my peers who write about the need for women in technology. You tend to get a couple of major views:

  • One standard narrative argues for the justice and equality women deserve. I couldn’t agree more. Where there is discrimination, sexism, limitation, egotism, and bias we need to knock it off. 
  • A second narrative contends that women are needed in the workplace because of their differences from men. Here I tread a little more lightly. Stereotype thrives easily. In an intelligence test or a personality test, men and women share the same numbers, scores and descriptions. We don’t need women in technology because they bring a different intellect or personality to the table, as grateful as we are for those differences. 

We need women as technology leaders because of where they have come from and what they have risen from, the substance of tone: who and what stretched you, what is the tension that has formed you.

One is about culture, the other is about resilience. 

Every woman brings a different story. And that story strengthens me and the company I am in. That story makes a difference to the people around the woman. That story made her, and it makes us.

We need women as technology leaders because of how they have been shaped and because of what they have overcome. 

I’m not that old, but in my generation women in the United States have had to undo deep-rooted gender inequality, perpetuated male dominance, double standards, social constructions of gender ordering, economic dependence, predominant child care responsibility, and sexual objectification and violence. And a whole lot more.

Who doesn’t want that kind of strength on the team? 

The Needs Of Women As Technology Leaders

As a woman leading in technology, you will prosper by focusing on four areas of development. Those four areas lend themselves to four easy mistakes to avoid, and four essential skills to exercise.

Four Areas of Development:

  1. Personal, so as to be a better professional.
  2. Relational, so as to be a better leader.
  3. Positional, so as to be a better executive.
  4. Vocational, so as to be a better expert.

Four Mistakes To Avoid:

  1. Personal - Driving an agenda before listening and exploring.
  2. Relational - Changing ideas and ways of doing things too quickly.
  3. Positional - Not cultivating external focus to the detriment of internal decision-making.
  4. Vocational - Isolating yourself from outside influences

Four Skills To Exercise:

  1. Personal - Self-regulate: Stay true to who you know yourself to be, to calm yourself, to respond appropriately and proportionately, and to self-contront.
  2. Relational - Be an environmentalist: Culture can’t just be defined or shaped, it needs to permeate everything and be able to sustain what you and your team grow.
  3. Positional - Be political: You navigate a larger landscape than IT. Get on top of the different information, interpretations and interests that drive decisions within the company.
  4. Vocational - Pack up: Belong to a pack of peers - get an advocate and a group who keeps things real and with whom you are real (and I invite you to explore CIO Mastermind as that pack).

When we are born, we are all given a dash: It’s that line that appears between the year we were born and the year we die. The line is everything. 

I’m committed to living a dash that advocates for technology leaders; I’m living a dash that has been greatly served by women, my mom especially. 

And if you are a woman in technology, I very much hope that your own dash crosses mine, and that it represents your unique contribution to the world-changing revolution of technology.


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