In this fourth and final installment in our series of Q&A interviews with New Relic’s new CIO, Yvonne Wassenaar, she shares her thoughts on the value of diversity in the technology industry and how the increasing number of female executives is expanding our notions of leadership.
Read parts one, two, and three of the series:
- Meet Yvonne Wassenaar, New Relic’s Very First CIO
- New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar: How We Use Our Own Technology
- New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar Shares Her Strategies for Technology Success
New Relic: Many companies struggle to increase the number of women in leadership. What brought you to New Relic?
Yvonne Wassenaar: My observation is diversity of skill and diversity of perspective can drive competitive advantage for any organization. By bringing together individuals with different capabilities, experiences, and engagement styles in an inclusive environment, there is the opportunity to develop more innovative solutions, to execute more effectively, and ultimately achieve greater impact. It is important to me to work for companies that understand the importance of diversity and inclusion for all of these reasons—and the fact that it creates a more interesting, engaging, and fair environment in which to do our best work.
A key attraction for me at New Relic is the value the company places on diversity and authenticity. My initial introduction to the company was through Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, our Chief Revenue Officer, who is an incredible leader with an amazing record of success. Having another strong female leader at New Relic was a big draw for me.
Even more important was the company’s broader commitment to further increase diversity of all types across New Relic and the community at large. This commitment shows itself in many different ways, from the people I meet in the hallways to the community meet-up hosts with organizations such as Women Who Code; from our employee volunteer activities to the “We are all Data Nerds” billboard campaign that highlighted people of varying ages, ethnicities, genders, levels, and industries.
As an executive at New Relic, I am proud of where the company is today with respect to diversity and inclusion. Clearly, we are not yet where I believe we can be, but we have a good base upon which to build. Along with the broader executive team at New Relic, I am personally committed to continue this important journey.
New Relic: With your recent promotion, do you have any thoughts on the rise of women CIOs around the industry?
Yvonne: According to a report from Boardroom Insiders, the number of female CIOs in the Fortune 500 is on the rise, from 61 in 2012 to 87 this year. The January 2015 report also notes that the percentage of female CIOs is higher in larger companies: 50% of the Fortune 10 have female CIOs versus 24% of the Fortune 100 and 17.4% of the Fortune 500.
Why the increase? My perspective is that the changing requirements for CIO success are aligning with the skills and interest areas of many female leaders.
Look back in time—it was not so long ago that business functions were entirely dependent on the CIO for all their technology needs. Applications had to run in big and expensive data centers owned and controlled by the CIO.
Today’s realities are very different. Today the business functions can service their own technology needs by leveraging SaaS providers, cloud platforms like AWS, and their own shadow IT choices. The CIO role has evolved from a provider of technology to a steward and integrator of technologies across the company. CIOs increasingly accomplish their goals via influence versus mandate. I have found many women well skilled in these collaborative, service-oriented, and influence-based roles. At the same time, these roles may become more attractive to women as they see the innovation and impact that they can drive.
My view is that female CIOs are well positioned to bring significant business value to their companies. Female CIOs may also prioritize differently. According to a 2015 Gartner study, female CIOs tend to focus their investment on revenue-generating areas and prioritize digital initiatives higher than their male counterparts. They also prioritize predictive analytics rather than analysis of historical data compared to their male counterparts. As an executive in a software analytics company focused on enabling digital customer experiences, I clearly believe that my fellow female CIOs have their priorities right!
New Relic: Do women in leadership positions change things in other ways?
Yvonne: Women executives are expanding the definition of what it means to be a successful leader. Not that long ago there was “a” leadership style: you wore only dark suits with a white shirt and tie. Leaders were decisive, often dictatorial, and likely part of the “good old boys” club. Decisions were frequently made in the men’s room and on the golf course, not just in the office.
Today’s female leaders are stretching the boundaries of what leadership means. With more women at the top and a changing set of expectations in the workplace, it’s easier for women to be comfortable leading from their authentic core. I see women leaders leveraging their collaborative skills to engage diverse teams to develop and execute key company strategies versus dictating them from behind close doors. I see a level of transparency among these female leaders that resonates with the increasingly diverse employees in today’s workforce.
Why is all this important? First, I believe the changing workforce expects it. Increasingly transient employees care more about empowerment and opportunity. Corporate values and culture become more important because people have choice.
Second, my observation is this more engaged and diverse leadership style has the ability to drive more innovative and competitive solutions. Based on what I have seen, I believe the winners of tomorrow will expand beyond the homogeneous and tightly held networks of the past and increasingly represent the best and the brightest across a large and diverse pool of innovators and executors—and include a lot more women!