Smashing IT's glass ceiling: Perspectives from a 2022 World Top 200 CIO
Why are there so few women in technology leadership position? How to help more women rise to the top?

The fact that women are underrepresented in tech leadership is not news, and despite efforts made to shift the dial, the number of women in tech positions hasn’t changed much in the past 5 years. The number of women in CIO positions in FTSE 100 companies totalled 25 in 2022, only 10 more than in 2018 based on recent research. The current pace of change would mean it will take until 2060 for gender participation in tech to reach 50:50.

Why are there so few women in technology leadership position? Why does it matter? In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are excited to have the opportunity to interview Ms. Suk-Wah Kwok, Former Chief Information Officer of International Finance Corporation - World Bank Group. As one of the few female CIOs in the industry, her perspective on the current state of gender parity in tech is invaluable. Here are some of the key insights she shared:

Ms. Suk-Wah Kwok, former Chief Information Officer and Director of Corporate Information Technology, IFC - International Finance Corporation - World Bank Group

Ms. Suk-Wah Kwok

  • 2015 China Top 5 CIO
  • 2016 Hong Kong CIO of the Year (Medium Enterprise Category)
  • 2020 Outstanding ICT Women (Professional Category)
  • 2021 & 2022 World Top 200 CIO

Why are there so few women in technology leadership position? What are the challenges faced by women tech professionals?

I believe several factors have contributed to the situation, and I shall name a couple.

The first factor definitely points to much lower female representation on the starting line. Top technology positions of any sizable company typically require between 10 to 20 years of accumulated industry experience. The CIOs today were the programmers, engineers, and junior IT professionals who chose IT as their career some one to two decades ago. And when there were way fewer women entering the industry back then - whether it was due to lack of interest from women themselves, or lack of encouragement for women to enter into the profession - the obvious outcome is, way fewer women end up becoming technology leaders today.

The second factor lies in the progression opportunities (or more the lack of) given to women in their careers. In order to compete for the top technology jobs, our CVs have to demonstrate a progressive career. While there is increasing awareness and focus on gender diversity now, it simply wasn’t the case before. So women often face very tough competition from their male counterparts who either started their IT careers earlier or were given more opportunities to progress along the way. So to give women a better chance to compete and progress, we need organizations to focus not only on technical attributes that men typically excel in, but also on non-technical attributes including communication and language skills, attention to detail, empathy, ability to multi task etc. Please note I am not asking organizations to give an unfair advantage to women purely because of their gender, but I believe if organizations would adopt a more balanced assessment approach and take into account a wider variety of leadership qualities during their selection process for senior technology positions, this will already put women on more equal footing when they compete.

That said, with more women being encouraged to enter the technology industry and with increased awareness in diversity nowadays, I do feel that the gender bias situation will have a chance to gradually improve.


How to help more women rise to the top? How to encourage women tech professionals to be more proactive? Any tips for women on building the roadmap to becoming a CIO?

In building a road map to becoming a CIO, I am sure every female who has become CIO has a unique career journey, and there are many ways to rise to the top, so I first encourage all female professionals to write their own stories that belong to themselves.

Back to the question. Rising to the top often means beating many others along the way. So women need to ask ourselves - how can we beat others, men and women, in our profession? While there are many factors contributing towards success, my personal top two are “passion” and “ability”. By “passion”, I mean technology must be something that a female professional is genuinely and strongly passionate about. By “ability”, I mean technology is something that she is naturally good at. When passion is not backed by ability, or when ability is not fueled by passion, it is simply so much harder to beat others and achieve success. Whereas when we have both the passion and the ability, every time when an opportunity to progress comes, we will be much better positioned to grasp the opportunity, to excel, and to eventually and gradually rise to more senior IT positions.

I also encourage women not to set limits for themselves or let anyone else set limits for them. By that I mean do not discount yourself, do not feel discouraged because you are the minority, or even when you think the odds are against you. Instead follow your heart and dream big of what you think you can achieve. And when an opportunity arises, simply go for it and give it your very best shot. Be proactive to seek and ask for opportunities instead of just waiting for them to come to you. That said, we must remember successes are often built on the experience of multiple attempts and failures. So while we dream big, at the same time, we have to learn to be thick skinned when we encounter rejections and failures. Be brave to face setbacks, be willing to learn from failures, and be prepared to correct our mistakes and better ourselves. As this simply means we will be able to present a better version of ourselves to compete when the next opportunity comes. My personal experience is, being resilient and positive are key to any success.

And in the case of the technology industry, one way to continuously better ourselves is to constantly learn and improve our knowledge and awareness in all areas of technology, however senior we have gradually become. While it is common for most technology professionals to specialize in certain areas of technology, CIOs are required to make decisions in all areas, including those outside our specialty. Our cumulative experience, knowledge, insights, and awareness in a wide range of technology areas will help us in our judgement, and help us make sharper, faster, and better decisions as technology leaders, and ultimately as CIOs.


Improving gender inequality in the tech industry requires a multi-faceted approach. We must take proactive steps to attract, retain and promote diversity in workplace, such as offering mentorship programmes, promoting flexible work arrangements and addressing unconscious bias. All employees should feel valued and respected regardless of their gender, race, or background. It is up to all of us to work towards a more equitable and inclusive tech industry, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.