How Women Leaders are Driving Success with Data Management

To develop these strategies in the digital age, organizations must tap into the potential of women leaders

It has become abundantly clear by now. Successful business adoption of Big Data and analytics initiatives is largely a function of overcoming cultural impediments. These “cultural” factors have been the principal barrier for women leaders to deriving value from data and analytics investments for most large firms.

Among the principal impediments, these firms have faced are challenges of organizational alignment, communication between business and technical constituencies, the transformation of key business processes, governance and leadership of data initiatives, business sponsorship, and assurance that technology investments can be linked to measurable business outcomes. For the most part, the barriers to success for Big Data initiatives are not about technology – they are due to business issues. These business issues commonly boil down to “people issues” and the ability to forge and sustain a shared understanding among diverse business constituencies.

Increasingly, women executives are being called upon to take the lead in overcoming these “cultural issues.” In doing so, women leaders are being asked to shape the critical business functions that are most necessary to ensuring business value from Big Data and analytics investments.

Women Executives in the Chief Data Officer Role:

Where the leadership of women executives is becoming most visible is in shaping the nascent role of the Chief Data Officer. It has only been in very recent years that the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) has emerged as an industry-standard business function and a key Co-executive position. Just five years ago, only 12% of surveyed firms reported the appointment of a Chief Data Officer, while by 2017 this number has grown to 55.9%. 

The heaviest concentration of CDO appointments has been in financial services and insurance. These are industries that tend to be heavily regulated, and where massive volumes of data are maintained and managed. Firms within these industries have also been most likely to develop mature data management processes and practices.

During the past few years, I have had the unique opportunity to participate in several programs that are focused on shaping the role of the Chief Data Officer, and have both witnessed and participated in helping shape and define this role. The CDO-focused programs have been characterized from the outset by the strong presence and leadership provided by women executives – many of whom have assumed the mantle of leadership in helping shape the CDO role and data management functions. 

In helping drive this charge, women leaders are assuming the top corporate leadership positions for data at a growing number of the largest banks, financial services, and insurance firms. The active participation of women executives in shaping the future of data is reflected in the popular Twitter hashtag #womenindata.

Among the largest banks, Bank of America, JP Morgan, CitiGroup, Citizens Bank, KeyBank, M&T Bank, and PNC, among others, are notable in their appointment of women executives into Chief Data Officer roles in recent years. Among insurance companies, AIG and Farmers Insurance are among those that have appointed women into Chief Data Officer functions. General Electric (GE) recently named a woman executive to the role of Chief Data Officer. When one expands this list to include women who hold the role of Chief Analytics Officer or Heads of Big Data and Analytics Centers of Excellence, the list of women in data leadership positions is extensive.

‘Data Divas’ Are Leading the Charge:

Clearly, “women in data” has become more than just a slogan. Women leaders are playing an increasingly leading role in driving the future of the Big Data revolution. Data leadership functions’ that are driven by women executives are becoming a growing reality for a range of organizations.

The London-based conference firm Corinium has proven to be an early pioneer in providing a venue for Chief Data Officers to share their perspectives and learn from one another, and in showcasing women CDOs in particular. As confirmation of the leadership position of women executives in the Chief Data Officer role, the Corinium New York conference kicks off with a “Data Divas” Networking Session.

The New York Financial Services CDO events are chaired by Allison Sagraves, Chief Data Officer of M&T Bank, based in Buffalo, NY. This year’s keynote panels and keynote sessions featured prominent women executives who occupy executive leadership responsibilities for data in their respective firms. 

The list includes M&T’s Sagraves, Denise Letcher, PNC CDO and EVP, Rise Zaiser, CDO of Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, Joan Dal Bianco, Head of the US Office of the Chief Data Officer and SVP of TD Bank, and Lori Bieda, Head of Bank of Montreal’s Head of Analytics Centre of Excellence. The keynote for the Corinium Chief Data Officer, Insurance program, held the following day, was Katie Meyers, Chief Data Officer for IT with Farmers Insurance.

Bringing Collaboration to Data Leadership:

The women executives on the CDO event panels shared a common perspective. Successful data leadership necessitates large measures of collaboration, persuasion, and flexibility, and a special willingness to listen and develop new approaches to traditional challenges. This becomes essential when the greatest challenges to business adoption of data result from cultural impediments, not technical roadblocks.

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