Welcome to the Club

While attending the ECAR Symposium earlier this month I was introduced, by my former boss and mentor, to a number of fellow attendees as the new CIO at Menlo. During one such introduction, a gentleman who didn’t appear to be much older than myself exclaimed, “Wow, are you the youngest CIO in the country?” I’m sure flattery was the intention (I know I look young), even though our country’s first CIO, Vivek Kundra, was only 34 at the time of his appointment (…but not *that* young).

About 25% of all CIOs are under 40, and only 10% are women, according to CIO Magazine’s 2010 State of the CIO Survey. So, as a woman who is under 40, I am definitely among the minority in my profession. The (probably totally innocent) comment about my age served as one of many reminders at ECAR of this minority status. Later in the conference, at a special session for California CIOs, I had a chance to observe the demographics of the 20 attendees in the room: 15 men (75%), 5 women (25%), and 3 apparent ethnic minorities (15%). Only 2 of the 5 women (2/20, or 10%) were CIOs/held their institution’s top IT position; many of the men did, however, their relative percentage is unknown. The average age of the group appeared to be (well) north of 50.

Setting aside both the small sample size and the rather unscientific nature of data collection, the demographics of this group were exactly what one would expect – older, white, men. This is my “peer” group, professionally speaking; except that, it’s not. Gen-anythings, people of color, and women aren’t truly a part of the club, yet.

It’s not that we’re not welcome to join, of course. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who has (purposefully) made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed. But as a whole, the “CIO club” is a formidable and somewhat intimidating group—around which I am often self-conscious about what I say or do for fear of either looking foolish myself or reflecting poorly on others in my age group/gender, as the (often) sole young woman in the room. The typical club member simply cannot understand the sensitivity I have to gendered language, or know how difficult it is, as a 30-something woman, to walk into a room of 50-something men and try to make small talk.

As a new CIO, I suppose I am now a de facto member of this club, but I don’t feel like I am an intrinsic part of it. Today, I’m an outlier. Tomorrow….who knows.

2 Responses to “Welcome to the Club”

  1. 1 Dan LeGate January 5, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    LOVE the image you used on this blog! Something you found? Or was that a do-it-yourself? Great blog posts too, btw! 🙂

  2. 2 Rae January 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I found it, but it was essentially the image I had in mind to photograph myself, albeit with my own shoes. When I found it instead, I had to purchase it!

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