In the recent past I have shared my admiration for several women who are in leading IT positions in government. The more I meet people, the more it seems that women dwarf men in their ability to deal with complexity, adapt to new conditions, listen to opposing viewpoints, manage change and be effective leaders.
I never pretend my anecdotal evidence to replace any scientific analysis, which I leave to somebody else, but it is a fact that many successful government IT executives, and some of the whole-of-government CIOs with the longest tenure (and best reputation) are women.
Over the last couple of days I had a further confirmation of my theory. I met three sharp and driven IT executives in Canada, who are all engaged in phenomenally complex government IT transformation challenges: Corinne Charette, who is the federal CIO in the Government of Canada; Marj Akerkey, currently CIO at the Canadian Department of Justice; and Samantha Liscio, Chief Strategist at Ontario Public Service.
Each of them is dealing with quite challenging transformation objectives, trying to strike the balance between decreasing costs and increasing or improving service levels. When I started doing research on what we call “smart government”, which is exactly about how to do more with less in a sustainable fashion, some people thought this was impossible or just overoptimistic. I am glad to see three capable executives dealing with that exact challenge..
Corinne has her hands full with many topics, but I am sure that the one that is top of mind is the successful transition of IT infrastructure services from individual departments into a single organization (Shared Services Canada). No other jurisdiction has tried this on such a scale and at such a pace, and once again most of the world is looking at Canada for breaking new ground in efficiency and consolidation. Corinne’s position is in between the service provider and the individual ministries’ CIOs: not an enviable one, despite the authority deriving from a consolidation mandate issued at the highest political level, which will require a blend of iron fst and velvet glove to complete the migration and make the model sustainable over time.
Marj has been breaking new ground in each of her previous positions, with Natural Resources Canada and with Treasury Board, where she has been an innovator on everything gov 2.0. At Justice she is likely to drive further transformation in a domain where the use of technology is as much crucial as it is delicate, given the relatively conservative nature of these organizations and the sensitive nature of their business.
Samantha may have the toughest job of all. While looking at how to increase IT efficiency in the provincial government of Ontario, she is confronted with a shared service model that has been among the very few successful and sustainable ones. When things run relatively smoothly and the current arrangements are already among the best practices in the world, raising the bar even further and injecting change is definitely more challenging. Like Corinne, she and her colleagues are in an uncharted territory, where both risks and opportunities abound.
I do not think it is by chance that these challenges are being faced by women in IT. All those traits that make them excellent leaders and managers at the same time are what is needed most as they move IT into places that will make government truly smart. As they all are.