The rise and rise of women in tech in 2013

7 Jan 2014

Ann O'Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland

While many bemoan the lack of women in the tech industry, on the international stage and here in Ireland, 2013 saw a chink of light when it came to leadership role models, reports Ann O’Dea.

In December, Twitter bowed to pressure from its own community over the lack of female representation on its board and appointed its first female board member: Marjorie Scardino, the former CEO of Pearson, a publishing and education company. It was perhaps a sign of the growing movement at home and abroad to encourage diversity in the tech industry, where the record is best described as woeful. Here in Europe, the statistics across the European Union are stark, estimating that just 6 to 7% of technical careers are being filled by women – at any level.

Marjorie Scardino joins Twitter

Twitter has long described itself as a media company rather than a social network, so the appointment of Scardino was far from simply a token gesture. Scardino’s experience at the helm of Pearson – whose properties include The Financial Times, Penguin, Random House and The Economist – could prove invaluable to Twitter, given her connections with major advertisers and publishers around the world.

Twitter successfully floated on the New York Stock Exchange in November, valuing the seven-year-old company at US$31bn. However, in the run-up to the company’s IPO, a controversy raged on its own social network over the fact the board of Twitter was an all-male affair. In October, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, joked that Twitter needed to expand its governing body beyond “three Peters and a Dick”, a reference to the then-make-up of four members of its eight-strong all-white, all-male board.

Costolo was referring to the inner circle on the board that encompasses himself; Peter Currie, investor and former CFO of Netscape; Peter Chernin, the former COO of News Corp; plus the Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Fenton of Benchmark Capital. With a publishing doyen of Scardino’s calibre now on board, Costolo’s ambition of having Twitter be taken seriously as a media rather than tech company could finally be realised.

A look at Fortune’s 50 most powerful women in business last year shows that, out of the top 10 women, four have senior positions in tech giants. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook tend to grab the headlines – the former has overseen a rise in stock of 111% in an organisation that was widely recognised as being on its last legs before her arrival in 2012. The latter sparked debate with her feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, published in 2013.

However other dominant forces, generally less cited, include Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, and Meg Whitman, who took over the role of CEO at the troubled tech giant HP, and has overseen a management reshuffle and rise in stock value of 48% in 2013.

Women tech leaders in Ireland

Closer to home, last year also saw a new cohort of Irish women take up leadership positions in the technology sector in Ireland and abroad, with Cathriona Hallahan of Microsoft, Anne O’Leary of Vodafone and Brid Horan of ESB, and others, adding their names to the roll call that already counts the likes of Regina Moran, CEO at Fujitsu, Ann Kelleher at Intel and Caroline Dowling at Flextronics. For many, it is a heartening development, at a time when experts are insisting that positive role models are crucial if the ratio is to change.

In February, Hallahan became the new managing director of Microsoft’s Irish division, replacing previous MD Paul Rellis who went to lead Microsoft’s business and marketing operations at Microsoft’s Western European operations. Hallahan, who was previously managing director of Microsoft’s EMEA Operations Centre, has been with Microsoft since 1986, when she joined the company as an accounts clerk in the finance department. She progressed consistently through the organisation, holding senior roles in finance, call centre and channel management. She is also a member of the board of the American Chamber of Commerce and VHI Healthcare.

Also in February, O’Leary was appointed CEO of Vodafone Ireland to replace the outgoing CEO Jeroen Hoencamp, who was taking up the role of executive director of Cable & Wireless Worldwide and enterprise director of Vodafone UK. The appointment not only represented the first appointment of a female executive to lead the company since Teresa Elder held the role in 2006, it actually represents the first appointment of a native Irish CEO to lead the mobile operator since it came to Ireland with the acquisition of Eircell a decade ago. O’Leary joined Vodafone Ireland from BT Ireland in 2008 as enterprise director.

Profiles in leadership

They add their names to an illustrious and growing list of Irish women leaders in tech. At Intel, Macroom, Co Cork, native Kelleher two years ago became the first Irish woman to be appointed vice-president at the chip giant. Kelleher had been managing a chip plant called Fab 11X in New Mexico, leading a workforce of 3,500 people. Prior to that, she had been the factory manager of Fab 24 in Leixlip, Co Kildare, where Intel employs more than 4,000 people producing next-generation chips to sate the world’s appetite for computing power.

Today, Kelleher is vice-president of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group and co-general manager of Fab Sort Manufacturing, where she is responsible for seven Intel plants in Ireland, the US, China and Israel. Those plants employ more than 13,500 people. Kelleher lives in New Mexico but spends most of her time in the air, shuttling between the various Intel manufacturing plants.

Moran has been CEO of Fujitsu Ireland since 2006, where she leads a 350-strong team focused on delivering ICT services to the Irish marketplace. Like Kelleher, Moran is an engineer by training. After qualifying, her career began as an electronics engineer with Amdahl, a computer mainframe manufacturer where she progressed to become a co-founder of the services and consulting group there. In 1997, Moran co-founded DMR Consulting Ireland, which later became Fujitsu Consulting and subsequently merged with Fujitsu Services in April 2004. She is also vice-president of Engineers Ireland and a director of EirGrid.

As ESB International turns its sights ever more towards technology – it plans to bring fibre-powered broadband to Irish homes in 2014 – in September, ESB’s chief executive Pat O’Doherty appointed Bríd Horan as deputy chief executive to replace John Shine, who left to join Eircom as managing director of its Network division. The appointment caught the eye of many, as it is the most senior appointment of a woman in the company’s long history. Many see the formidable Horan as a future CEO. Add to that list of course PayPal’s Ireland-based vice-president of Global Operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Laois native Louise Phelan.

On the international stage, Millstreet native Dowling is president of the Integrated Network Solutions business group at Flextronics – not quite a household name, but it is a Fortune 500 US$34bn company.

Una Fox, who hails from Dundalk, was in December honoured with a UCC Alumni Achievement Award. Fox heads up the Women’s Leader Group at The Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), which is chaired by former Intel CEO Craig Barrett. As vice-president in retail and e-commerce technology, she is one of the most senior women at the Walt Disney Company in California, and a leading advocate of diversity in the technology sector.

Irish women at the helm of start-ups

On the start-up side, Dubliner Grainne Baron’s cloud-based video ad creation tool Viddyad was named winner of the 2013 ESB Spark of Genius Award, at Dublin’s Web Summit in October, picking up a cash prize of €25,000, while Leonora O’Brien, the founder and CEO of Irish technology start-up Pharmapod, won the top European prize in The Global Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, held in Paris, France in the same month.

O’Brien and her Pharmapod team have developed a platform to enable knowledge sharing amongst pharmacists and stakeholders worldwide using cloud based-software.

There does appear to be a change afoot, and there is some cause for optimism. The talent gap in tech is well documented, nowhere more so than when it comes to software and web developers. It is estimated that just 6 to 7% of all developers are women. However, of the thousands of kids that turn up to CoderDojo coding workshops every Saturday in Ireland, around 30% are young girls, auguring well for the coming years. Perhaps the future of technology will indeed have a more feminine side?

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths

A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 5 January

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human