Women made up 16% of the 2017 CIO 100, the highest proportion since its reboot in 2012 but still below the percentage of women working in the technology and IT sector in the UK.

The 2016 CIO 100 was also 16% female, while in 2015 women accounted for 13% of the UK's leading technology and business executives. In 2014 only 7% of the CIO 100 were female, while the figures in 2012 and 2013 were both just 5%. The CIO 100 panel and former CIO 100 leader Anna Barsby, now Chief Technology Director at supermarket Morrisons, said that talent management, the changing nature of the role and grass-roots education were crucial to helping tackle the lack of gender diversity in the IT sector and at CIO level.

Last year recruitment firm Harvey Nash reported a small increase in the number of CIOs who were female. The 2016 Harvey Nash CIO Survey revealed the number of women who responded to their research working in IT leadership roles was 11%, in increase from previous years, although the figure decreased to 9% for those in the most senior positions with SVP, CIO and CTO titles. In 2013 Harvey Nash reported a global figure of 9%, with the UK even less diverse with a figure below the global average.

In 2015 Gartner reported a global average of 13.6% - a number which it said had remained static for around a decade. The research firm's calculations were incorrect, however, with Gartner reporting the number of female CIOs in its survey (337) as a percentage of the number of men (2,473) rather than as a percentage of the total (2,810), which works out as 12.0%.

While the 16% is slightly higher than the industry trend, it could be lower than the sector average for technology workers with the Tech Partnership reporting in March 2015 that 17% of technology professionals were female.

STEM, recruitment and retention

Furthermore, figures released by UCAS at the start of 2016 suggest that the technology sector is still missing out on attracting a diverse range of talent at the start of the funnel. The percentage of women studying computer science has actually dropped from 2009 (13.2%) to a 2015 figure of 13.1%. There was some silver lining in the number of women studying software engineering, a subject itself becoming more a more popular area of study at tertiary education level, with women making up 10.1% of the graduate intake in 2015 compared to just 8.5% in 2009.

Former CIO leader Anna Barsby, the Chief Technology Director at supermarket Morrisons, said that CIOs needed to ensure that they did enough to recruit and retain the best talent, and that this was as important as encouraging girls to study STEM subjects.

"It's great to see more and more effort being put into encouraging girls into technology at the grass roots level, although these will take clearly time to significantly improve our senior representation," she said.

"In the meantime I'd urge all CIOs to look at how they can attract and retain female talent in their teams through schemes such as mentoring, role model stories and flexible working"

CIO 100 panel member Jayne Nickalls noted how many women were in the higher echelons of the CIO 100, while also appreciating there was a problem regarding talent entering the sector.

"How encouraging it is to see that 40% of the Top 20 CIO 100 is female, all achieved on merit," she said. "It would be great if this percentage could be replicated across the industry; we need more women to do STEM subjects and/or be encouraged at school to think about careers in the tech industry where there is very interesting and varied work."

CIO leadership

Indeed, the eight women in the top 20 of the CIO 100 supports the notion that more diverse organisations are more successful, showing a basic correlation with figures from the largest and most successful organisations in the US. In November 2016, 15% of Fortune 500 CIOs were women, with the percentage increasing to 20% for Fortune 100 companies.

Fellow CIO 100 judge Ian Cox, a Gartner research director, said about the 2015 CIO 100 that a new style of CIO leadership was emerging which might in turn lead to balancing the gender ratio in the technology sector.

"Organisations are beginning to look for a different type of CIO with different skills and experience and a different way of working to the traditional CIO of the last 20-30 years," he said.

"Increasingly organisations want their CIOs to also have non-IT experience, business and commercial skills, to be good at influencing and collaborating and to have strong communication and networking skills. This shift to a broader skill set could help change the proportion of CIOs who are female further."