Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women Tech Leaders Weigh in on What it Takes to Make it to the Top

Casey-Renner by

OpenView has made a public commitment to narrowing the gender gap within our firm, across our portfolio and the tech ecosystem at large. Through partnerships with organizations like NCWIT, theBoardlist and The Athena Alliance, we’ve started to move the needle – making more introductions of female executives and board members to our portfolio companies than ever before. And concentrating more than ever on filling our talent pipeline with diverse candidates.

But moving the needle on a problem that has plagued the tech world since its inception is about so much more than just partnerships and introductions. It’s about promoting the stories and lessons learned from women who have broken through the proverbial glass ceiling. Today, I want to share with you advice from some of the most inspiring women in tech – women who have made it to the top not only in an industry that lacks gender diversity, but in a field that, according to one study, is comprised of fewer than 19% women.

Meet some of tech’s leading CIOs and learn about what inspires them every day.

Diana McKenzie
SVP & CIO, Workday

I’m passionate about my family, giving back, athletics and building and leading technology teams to find new ways to create value for customers. My favorite mentoring advice to others when making important career decisions was to “choose the path that scares you most”; I opted to follow that advice in 2016 and left a 30-year career in life sciences to accept an exciting new role in the software industry as Workday’s first CIO.

What inspires you?

I love the breadth of the role CIOs play – information technology powers every aspect of a company’s value chain and supporting business operations while touching every employee. What excites me about the role is the magnitude of both the opportunity and the challenge that exists for CIOs to partner with their peers across every aspect of the business to create value that drives growth while simultaneously delivering technology solutions that positively engage the workforce.

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

As technology leaders, we are in the change business which means our success is in large part determined by the strength of our network, our ability to remain current, and our understanding of how the technology solutions our teams deliver benefit the people who use them. Be prepared to allocate at least 25% of your time to building / investing in your internal and external networks; doing so will pay off many times over.

Alvina Antar
CIO, Zuora

For over 20 years, I’ve focused on business transformation, large-scale global delivery and M&A integration. I have experience building high-performance global teams delivering strategic results for Fortune 50 Enterprise and high growth startups.

I was integral in Dell’s evolution from a hardware company to a leading end-to-end solutions provider. And now, at Zuora, I’ve formed a global Subscription CIO Exchange to bring together a new crop of technology leaders who challenge the status quo.

What inspires you?

It’s such an exciting time to be a CIO – especially a Subscription CIO! Subscription CIOs drive innovation with agility and disruptive technologies to differentiate their businesses. These leaders are focused on enabling business transformation and operational excellence that are key to staying competitive in the marketplace.

Technology company CIOs are among the chosen few who are able to create an even greater impact to their business and direct revenue by becoming their own best reference account – the power of investing in your own technology. This transforms the CIO role to an entirely new level of impact from service provider to strategic enabler to customer zero!

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

From an early age until his passing, my father inspired me to be fearless and passionate in all I do. His words were unwavering throughout my life: “You are an 800-pound gorilla, capable of anything you put your mind to.” My one piece of advice for women in tech is to believe in your success, that it is not warranted by luck or hard work, but because you are worthy!

LeeAnn Murray
CIO, Investment Division
Manulife/John Hancock

As SVP and Chief Information Officer, Investment Division and Group Functions for Manulife Financial/John Hancock, I’m responsible for the oversight and management of Investment Division and Group Function’s application services and information risk management. This includes optimizing investment scale to increase profitably, managing Information Services operations and operational risk, as well as information management.

Prior to joining Manulife/John Hancock, I was the CIO/Managing Director, Investments, Technology & Operations at MetLife. In this role, I oversaw information technology strategic planning, program delivery, operating policies and financial management to support a portfolio of $400B assets under management.

What inspires you?

I love the CIO role as it is one of a constant change, not limited to just technology, but has the ability to influence innovation, business outcomes, strategy, collaboration and leadership.

With the rapid pace of change we are seeing in FinTech, the excitement will continue as we look to bring both the business and technology along the digital journey. This will be key in delivering for the needs of our clients.

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

As in any industry, when you earn a seat at the table, don’t sit back! Know your value and where you can contribute to the conversation. Playing it safe does not help you grow, be willing to take risks as this potentially can lead to new opportunities.

At times, we have a tendency to wait to be asked. We own our career path. Don’t let anyone decide it for you.

Never stop building your network and branching out of your comfort zone. You need to stay curious throughout your career and adopt a highly adaptive mindset to succeed.

Julie Cullivan
Former CIO, FireEye

At FireEye, I led all aspects of IT services including Business Application Services, Infrastructure Services and Delivery, Lab Operations Services, and Information Security & Risk Management as well as Business Operations efforts that improve operational efficiencies across our organization.

Prior to FireEye, I served as Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing Operations at Autodesk, and Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales Operations at McAfee.

What inspires you?

I love problem solving and love problem solving by leveraging technology and automation even more. As a CIO, you have the unique opportunity to engage in all facets of the business strategy and influence what of that strategy can be delivered on through digital innovation.

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

Always be willing to raise your hand to take on a new project / challenge / initiative. As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Yvonne Wassenaar
CEO, Airware
Former CIO, New Relic

My first job out of college was as a software engineer at Accenture. Since then, I’ve been on a fast and fun roller coaster ride helping companies scale and diversify globally in a variety of business and technical roles. This has included getting my MBA, becoming a Partner at Accenture for five years, and taking on corporate leadership roles at VMware and New Relic. I also serve on the boards of Harvey Mudd College, Bitium and The Athena Alliance.

What inspires you?

Technology is changing the world around us and as a CIO and now CEO I have the opportunity to lead the transformation; moving technology from driving business efficiency to enabling innovation and revenue generation.

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

Be bold! Success requires stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks. Realize that it is okay to stumble along the journey – the learning will only making you stronger in the end.

Debra Jensen
CIO, Charlotte Russe

I’ve been a CIO for over 10 years and currently serve on the board of Anytime Fitness. Retail is a fun and challenging area for the use of innovative technology, especially at Charlotte Russe where we have a young customer and business change is constant. We use social networks for customer relationship management, marketing and analytics for understanding and growing our business, and mobile technology to connect. My career has been focused on advocating for the use of technology to drive business growth and enabling the innovation required to stay relevant.

What inspires you?

It’s always been an interesting time to be in IT and now more than ever. Leadership styles are changing with the disruption in business models and a collaborative style is critical. It is essential to connect with business partners, and IT is about leading change and not holding back. It’s exciting to be part of the execution of new business models and technology that directly impact revenue and the overall health of the business. It’s very rewarding personally as the CIO, to have your team want to be part of the change.

One piece of advice for women in tech​?

Have a passion for what you do. Tech is now helping to lead the conversation in many businesses, so make sure you’re prepared to be part of that conversation. Stay curious and informed and be willing to step up and take each opportunity or make opportunity to be a part of your company’s core initiatives.

Have a great story about breaking through the glass ceiling? Share it with us in the comments.

Executive Network Director