According to one expert, female CIOs battle two stereotypes: being a woman and simply being a CIO, which is usually an agent of unwanted change in the company.


In the keynote speech at EmTech08 last week, Atefeh Riazi, the CIO at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Inc., talked about the ways in which women in IT are stereotyped in the workplace.

First, they are stereotyped simply because they are CIOs. CIOs are agents of change, and most people are fearsome or resentful of change. They also speak a language that most other employees of a company don’t speak and that can be intimidating.

Second, they battle some pretty strange perceptions in the workplace because of their gender. Qualities that would be perceived as advantageous for a male CIO are off-putting when possessed by a woman. For example, bluntness in a man is often perceived as strength, while the same quality in a woman might be perceived as bitchiness.

Riazi warned that a woman has to battle nurturing tendencies in the workplace. For example, women should avoid phrases like “I feel that…” Riazi explained that one of her male bosses admonished her for this one time by saying, “You are an engineer. You don’t feel, you believe.”

But whether you’re a male or female CIO, Riazi offers some tips for success:

Emotional intelligence is, by far, the most important quality for a CIO. Understand where people are coming from. If they fear change, find a way to explain a new initiative that will quell those fears. Don’t issue directives.

Understand how what you’re saying is perceived. IT people can be blunt, and this is often resented. Take the time to explain things without being condescending. Your goal is to create positive feelings about a new initiative.