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Organisations face a massive shortfall in skills, a resource crisis, Claire Priestley, CIO of City, University of London, tells the Horizon CIO Podcast. It is from the standpoint of the need for skills that Priestley and many CIO peers believe we need to increase the diversity of organisations.

“We are facing a resource crisis and that is before we look at 18% loss through Brexit and we are not seeing the graduates come though, so there are some sound arguments for every creative opportunity to build resources,” she says.

“We have a talent gap in the quality and capability of the skills we have coming through,” agrees Omid Shiraji, CIO of the London Borough of Camden. “Part of that the positioning of IT is a consequence of the lack of the diversity, as it has been pigeonholed.

“We are moving into a digital age and technology is transforming organisations so you need a really different set of skills. IT is doing really different things now,” Shiraji says of how CIOs need different capabilities to meet the needs of customers and their digital behaviour.  “It is transformative and we are at a place where the people leading the technology domain are fundamentally changing the way the organisation operates, so you need a complex mix of skills.”

As the demand on CIOs and technology increases, the forecast for increased diversity and the ability to meet these demands is concerning.

“Diversity is likely to go down, of all the female CIOs in the UK almost all are in their 50s and we don’t have the pipeline coming through,” says Priestley. “We have been stuck at 17% (of CIOs that are female) for the last 10 years, so we really do need to do something about it.

“Graduation and employability studies find that in computer studies and related courses, 83% of male graduates had secured employment in first six months, but only 18% of females had,” Priestley, a university CIO says.

Shiraji is more concerned with attracting graduates from courses that are not computer science: “In my view you don’t get the optimum talent from an IT degree,” the local government CIO says.

Whether it is technical skills, business acumen or communications, CIOs worry that poor diversity is creating a homogenous organisational structure that is unable to see different ways of working, fails to understand different customer groups and has a singularity in its thought.

“Ethnicity and all the protected characteristics is massively important, so that we get all the divergent areas into our organisations. And there is tons of work going on in this sector, we have groups like Autism Works that really understand the parallels between those on the aspergers spectrum and coders and testers and there are lots of avenues that we can explore,” says Priestley.

Shiraji adds that, as with so much in the CIOs remit, the challenge is to change the culture.

“Allowing conversations within the office that it is actually ok to have conversations about protected characteristics, about religion or sexuality in a non-judgemental way. We as leaders have a great role to play in that,” he says.


With organisations and CIOs needing to secure the best skills and in doing so increase the diversity of their organisations, a greater focus on training and development will become necessary.

“One of the things that we have looked at is the entire career pipeline and dissected it and asked ourselves what can we do?” Priestley adds “We have a number of guys in our team going out to schools to promote awareness of the IT career opportunity spectrum and to be ambassadors for technology and it gets them excited and it creates a much more interesting,” she says of ensuring that the next generation don’t see technology careers as being dull. This will attract a wider group of potential employees than boys that like to write code.  

“We have guys that invite kids to look at how we build PCs, networks, create call centres and look at the very basics,” she adds of the importance of still attracting those with an affinity with deep technology.  

“Whenever I talk to kids or people on a career perspective they equate IT to coding. Coding is important, but that doesn’t equal IT,” Shiraji argues on the CIO podcast. A few years back there was a move and debate that all children should learn how to code and that all CIOs should be able to code.  A number of business technology leaders believe this debate has been damaging to enticing a diverse range of potential employees.  

“Most young people don’t understand IT anymore and if you talk about computers they think it is about coding and very often it is because it is boring and unexciting and you need to be an expert in maths,” Priestley adds. The university CIO believes that society and in particular the business technology community does not understand the generations to come enough.  


“On the youth subject, I went to a CISO event and I asked the table, which was all white middle aged men, about diversity in their teams and they immediately thought I meant gender diversity, but I was actually asking about age diversity, because for security you need to be thinking about the hackers sitting in their bedrooms – sweeping generalisation – and they are more likely to be teenagers so you need that age diversity,” Priestley says of the diversity challenge that is about ethnicity, gender and age.

“I was a young CIO, part of my challenge has been having to deal with older peers and immediately I am working from a perspective of ‘that is a young person with a lot of responsibility’ so there is a whole bunch of challenges,” Shiraji adds of the challenge of youth diversity, whether as a CIO or as a new entrant to the world of work.

“None of us want to be appointed on anything other than capability,”

Token gestures and real answers

There is some well meaning criticism of CIO and technology events for being poor at diversity, but the two CIOs speaking on the Horizon CIO podcast believe the issue is more pressing that representation.

“You see a lot of conferences on the circuit about diversity, I am not seeing enough about the five things we as leaders can take back to our offices and do,” Shiraji says.

So should CIOs from a diverse background seize the opportunity to speak at events? Should they only discuss diversity? Female and black CIOs have told this Editor of being flooded by offers to discuss diversity and not receiving many offers to discuss being a CIO, whatever their gender, sexuality or ethnicity.

“It was really important for me to get out there and talk about the next generation CIO as part of the diversity agenda and for younger people in our industry to make sure that people see that you don’t have to be a white middle aged man to be a CIO,” Shiraji says. He adds: I think there is a danger, but we want role models.”

“None of us want to be appointed on anything other than capability,” adds Priestley


“Imposter syndrome is where you don’t think you deserve to be in the job you are in and it is the negative self talk that you are unworthy of the role you are in,” explains Camden’s Shiraji. “If you are coming from a place of I am a woman in a man’s world or a young person in an older persons world or an ethnic minority in a white persons world it does make it an extra challenge.  Everyone has imposter syndrome and some people are very good at hiding it,” he says.  

Anyone who has been appointed into a senior role says they spend half their time looking over their shoulder worrying that they will be found out,” Priestley says of the special position CIOs and senior leaders have in understanding the challenge women, gay or ethnic team members may face.

Alongside imposter syndrome, another psychological challenge to diversity in organisations is unconscious bias. Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.

Priestley says City, University of London has mandated that all senior leaders undergo bias training. Shiraji says his organisation has done the same, though the public sector CIO wonders at its effectiveness

“I think back to the sessions I did and loads of people were not taking it seriously and they were just going through the motions and the problem is deeper.

“I think it is important to acknowledge that bias sits within all of us, whether conscious or unconscious,” Priestley says. Sometimes there is an awful lot more we can do, we can make sure our recruitment panels are made up of a diverse group of people, our shortlists are diverse and we can push back on our recruiters to make sure that this happens. To ensure we select on the basis of capability.” Priestley believes that these elements will help organisations spot and recruit the best people for the job and if those tasked with carrying out selection and recruitment are diverse a natural process of diversity will follow.  

“I don’t see enough recruitment agencies putting this in as part of their pitch and they have a responsibility to drive that change,” Shiraji adds. Priestley agrees: “I see a lot of events about diversity sponsored by recruiters, what I do not see is action plans and activities that are designed to do something about the issue.”


Back in March 2015 I interviewed Catherine Doran, at the time CIO for the Royal Mail. Doran had joined the postal service in 2011 from Network Rail and over the following four years led one of the largest change programmes in the UK at the time as the organisation prepared for privatisation in 2013.

“We set ourselves a goal of gender diversity, but I won’t do a quota just to have someone who wears a skirt,” she told me in 2015. “The language of the advertisements for the recruitment meant that at the end of cycle we had 31% of the team was women. The average number of women in IT is about 14%, which is disgraceful as this job is not digging ditches,” Doran told me.

Three years later there has only been a slight improvement in the language in advertising of roles in technology teams.

“Language plays a huge part,” Priestley says. “For me you have to look at the entire recruitment pipeline and de-bias it.” Shiraji agrees adding that he and all CIOs need to take time to reflect on how they communicate, despite how busy they are.

“There is more that we can do than just language I value attitude over experience and skills. We are looking outside of IT from our internal resource pool to attract the people that have the attributes,” Priestley says. 

CIO +1

Priestley has taken it upon herself to challenge the status quo by creating an events programme that challenges diversity.

“CIO+1 is an initiative and I came up with the idea as I was attending a lot of events and found myself in a sea of white middle aged men and I was pretty much one of two or three women and I just decided that what I would like to do is attend an event that was representative of the streets or offices that I was walking out of.

“So I came up with the concept of CIO+1 the +1 being someone from within your own team that is on the talent trajectory and I asked all the CIOs to bring a talent along that came from an under-represented group. It is that simple as that.

“The agenda here is that people on that talent trajectory get exposed to the same level of strategic thinking, product briefings that we regularly get to attend,” Priestley says.

“In every sector there is a circuit, the thing I love about the +1 is you can take that into your work. We have a CIO Council in London and I asked the chair to extend the +1 model to that meeting, and you can introduce that to your  internal meetings with the senior leadership,” Shiraji says.  



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