Intel CIO is a woman. So what?

The appointment of a woman to replace another woman for the Intel CIO job might suggest the IT gender gap has closed. Not so. Also in Searchlight: Bitcoin gets robbed.

The naming this week of former Dow Chemical Co. CIO Paula Tolliver as the new Intel CIO was remarkable for how little it actually said about gender politics in the executive IT ranks. First off, women CIOs at Intel Corp. are hardly a novelty. Tolliver succeeds Kim Stevenson, who served as the company's CIO for the past four years and who on Monday became COO of Intel's client and internet of things (IoT) businesses and systems architecture (CISA) group, its biggest revenue-generating division.

The woman CIO thing at Intel doesn't stop there. Back in 2012, Stevenson took over the Intel CIO role from Diane Bryant, who went on to manage the company's data center group and in April was promoted from that group's general manager to its executive vice president.

It's true the Intel CIO position wasn't filled by another woman from within the company. But the fact that Tolliver comes from the outside actually reinforces the argument that the high-profile hire is perhaps less about gender and more about business.

Since taking over at Intel in 2013, CEO Brian Krzanich has broken from the company tradition of promoting from within to look outside for new talent. Notable recruits include Chief Marketing Officer Steven Fund, formerly at Staples and before that at Procter & Gamble; and CISA's president, Venkata "Murthy" Renduchintala, poached from Qualcomm a year ago and increasingly viewed as Intel's second in command.

"Krzanich believes Intel needs to be re-energized through a number of avenues, one of which is that his senior staff represents a diversity of views from within and outside the company," said analyst Mark Hung, who covers wireless and IoT technologies for Gartner. "[Tolliver's] hiring definitely exemplifies that trend," he said.

The icing on the women-in-high-tech-places news this week? Tolliver's CIO position at Dow Chemical was also filled by a woman: Dow IT veteran Melanie Kalmar. Glass ceilings breaking? Nah.

Backward slide by women in tech

To see the IT executive appointments at Intel and Dow as some sign that the notorious IT gender gap is rapidly closing would be, as many industry observers pointed out to me, a grave mistake.

Not only do women remain grossly underrepresented in IT executive ranks, but the number of women preparing for such jobs is actually declining. Gartner, for example, based on its 2015 CIO Survey, estimated that just 14% of CIOs worldwide are women and pointed out that the figure has remained stagnant for the past 10 years. The 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey put the current number of women in senior IT leadership roles even lower -- at just 9%, albeit up 3% from a year ago.

In addition, young women are fleeing, not embracing, the computer sciences. In the past 30 years, the percentage of women graduates in computer sciences has declined from its peak in 1984 at 37% to just 18% today, according to Gartner. "It has gone down every year," said Debra Logan, a Gartner fellow who earned a master's degree in computer science in the mid-1980s and is puzzled by the trend. "Is it something that we choose, or is it something imposed from the outside, or both?"

In any case, the CIO cohort remains notably monolithic, she said, especially in the U.S. and Western Europe, where the vast majority of CIOs are white men between the ages of 40 and 55.

"There is not age diversity or gender diversity or racial diversity," said Logan, who is among a small contingent at Gartner now focused on the issue of IT diversity in the workforce.

There's another point to be made about the Intel CIO appointment and the presence of women in executive IT roles, namely that the company is among the most committed in the technology industry to achieving diversity in the workforce. In 2014, Intel announced a $300 million diversity initiative "to accelerate diversity and inclusion" at Intel and across its network of suppliers. The company recently announced that it ended 2015 with 17.6% female representation in leadership, a 14.3% increase from 2014. The number of senior principal female engineers and fellows rose in 2015 to 21, up from 12 in 2014.

And even those achievements come with an asterisk: As noted in a recent piece on Intel's diversity program by Davey Alba, Intel's goal of full representation of women among the company's technical workers is based on "market availability, or the percentage of women in the U.S. labor market overall who have the skills to fill available technical jobs" -- by Intel's estimation, 22.7%. By that measure, the 20.1% of Intel's technical jobs held by woman in 2015 -- a 5.8% increase over 2014 -- is approaching that goal. There is a skills gap.

Never mind diversity, what about gender equality?

The rather bleak outlook for women in IT is not lost on Carolyn Leighton, president and chairwoman of Women in Technology International (WITI). Leighton founded WITI in 1989 after working as a consultant with women technologists in California's Silicon Valley and hearing about some of their workplace frustrations. The organization -- which bills itself as the leading trade association for technology women, with chapters worldwide -- boasts some 2 million members. She shares Logan's puzzlement about the trend of women in technology.

"In the last year, I've heard more stories [about women's experiences in Silicon Valley] similar to the very beginning when I started WITI than I had heard in years, and it was pretty upsetting and discouraging," she said. "There seems to be progress in terms of getting more women into C-level positions; on the other hand, there seems to be little organizational transformation going on in companies." Pressed, Leighton recounted one story of a Harvard-educated entrepreneur who, with one successful company already under her belt and looking for funding for a second startup, was grilled by Silicon Valley venture capital investors on when she was planning on getting pregnant. "I haven't quite figured out why this seems to be occurring."

And, while a multimillion-dollar diversity program like Intel's is certainly laudable in its goal of making the tech industry more representative of the population, Leighton is among those who are deeply skeptical and, frankly, dismayed by the industry's habit of lumping women -- who, after all, represent 50% of the population and without whom none of the Silicon Valley male hotshots would exist -- into so-called diversity programs.

"They are making policy around diversity and compliance, rather than as a business initiative and, in my opinion, missing an opportunity to recognize women as serious business contributors," Leighton said. "Most smart, well-educated, talented women find it offensive and insulting." Couple that approach with policies that give bonuses to managers for hiring women, she added, and "women walk into an environment where they're already doomed because the men are angry, and some are going to do everything they can to make sure they fail."

Gartner's Logan concurred on the negative perception of diversity programs. "Particularly in America, that stuff rubs us the wrong way. Moreover, diversity, at that level, happens way too late," she said, pointing to the decline in women computer science graduates. "I don't want anyone to perceive me as anything other than 100% capable and competent to do the job, and these diversity programs don't seem to operate that way," she said.

As for solutions, well, there are some interesting ideas afoot: Many companies are replacing diversity programs with inclusion programs, and there is talk of making institutional changes designed to support women with families. But that's a column for another day. In the meantime, who can tell what having a female as commander in chief could do for women in tech?

CIO news roundup for the week of Aug. 1

The Intel CIO appointment wasn't the only tech news this week. Here's what else grabbed headlines:

  • Bitcoin intrusion. Hong Kong-based Bitfinex, one of the world's largest bitcoin exchanges, suspended trading, withdrawals and deposits after it discovered hackers stole 119,756 bitcoins worth approximately $65 million from users' accounts. "We are currently in an ongoing process of restoring limited functionality in a secure environment, with full functionality coming afterwards in progressive stages," Bitfinex announced on the company's official blog. The security breach comes two months after Bitfinex was ordered to pay a $75,000 fine by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and is the biggest bitcoin hack since the 2014 hack of Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox. Hacks like these have highlighted the potential security issues related to the digital currency.
  • HPE cloud reorganization. Bill Hilf, senior vice president and general manager of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise cloud business, is leaving HPE, the company announced in a blog post Monday. Helion OpenStack and Helion CloudSystem teams are being moved to the enterprise group, and they will be part of the newly created software-defined and cloud group. "By bringing these assets together, we create a single organization tasked with a common mission -- to provide best-in-class solutions that enable developers and operators to deploy their applications across traditional and cloud infrastructures, simply and effortlessly," Antonio Neri, executive vice president and general manager of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise group, said in the post. Two other executives, Manish Goel, the head of HPE's storage business, and Robert Vrij, managing director of sales for the Americas, are also exiting the company. The reorg follows the June announcement that HPE CTO Martin Fink is retiring.
  • Amazon leads public cloud storage. Amazon Web Services, which generated $2.9 billion in second-quarter earnings, rules the infrastructure-as-a-service market, according to Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Public Cloud Storage Services, Worldwide report. AWS has the most extensive and well-integrated public cloud storage offerings, the report stated. "Amazon S3 [Simple Storage Service] is 1.6 times as large as all the other object storage services in this Magic Quadrant combined, as measured by amount of data stored," according to the report. Microsoft Azure is AWS' closest competitor, the report stated. Google, IBM, Rackspace, Alibaba, Oracle and AT&T also made the Gartner list. Gartner predicted that by 2019, at least one-fourth of these vendors will have exited the cloud storage market.
  • Uber drives to map the world. In a move to minimize its dependence on Google Maps, San Francisco-based ride-sharing company Uber is investing in a $500 million project to map the world's roads, the Financial Times reported Sunday. "The street imagery captured by our mapping cars will help us improve core elements of the Uber experience, like ideal pick-up and drop-off points and the best routes for riders and drivers," said Brian McClendon, vice president of Uber's Advanced Technologies Center, in a statement. The Uber mapping cars are already on U.S. and Mexico roads. In other Uber news, chief executive Travis Kalanick said Monday that the company's China unit, Uber China, will merge with its Chinese rival Didi Chuxing in an attempt to cut losses.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on what Pokémon Go says about AR in the enterprise and Verizon's risky foray into the online content biz.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's news roundup.

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