Françoise Russo is currently the Chief Technology Officer at Aramex International Logistics. She was the Regional CIO for EMEA at British American Tobacco, CIO at Toll Group, CIO at Tabcorp Holdings and an External Advisor at Bain. Katie Hevey and Rebecca Sharkey caught-up with Françoise and asked her about her career journey.

Can you tell us about your pathway into your professional career?   

FR: I started at a graduate position within the Information Technology department of a global multinational. I progressed from there into several roles, repeating the process in multiple companies. During the process, I also took up secondments into business roles, reporting into non-IT managers. My roles included business facing and project management roles, often with a specialism in a particular domain. Ultimately, I progressed to more senior general management roles within technology and then to CIO.

How did you secure your first role and what was it?  

FR: ‘Systems Analyst’ – it was a graduate recruitment role. I applied to the company’s graduate intake and accepted a position.

Can you tell us more about your current/most recent role?

FR: Prior to starting my current role this January, I was the Chief Information Officer at Tabcorp Holdings. Tabcorp is a leading Gambling and Entertainment organisation in Australia – at the time, it included a lotteries business, wagering, media and gaming services. My role included digital, data, cyber and core technologies – from strategy through to technology operations.

If you could sum up what you need to be a successful C-suite leader in technology what would that be?  

FR: Multi-faceted – technical enough to face into IT and commercial enough to face into the business. Great communications, staying focused on enabling the business while always being curious and learning in the fast-evolving world of technology.  A successful CIO is one that is not leading a functional silo but focused on how technology can contribute to what the organisation needs.

What advice would you give other women who are looking to progress their career to a C-suite level?  

FR: Resilience is key – it can feel tiring and frustrating but keep going. Find your networks and sponsors (needed more than mentors) and don’t be afraid to take on opportunities when they come.  Keep learning and growing and build your confidence and authenticity.

What would you say are the challenges women face in both becoming and being a C-Suite leader? 

FR: It’s still unusual to see a woman CIO, but by the time you get there, we have become used to being a minority in a technical function. This is changing, but slowly. The big challenges come from unconscious or ingrained bias in peers – on what women can do, how they can do it and assumptions on what they want. The “likeability-competency” dilemma is alive and well. In general, women have less sponsors who are willing to advocate for them.  Having good support structures at home and in the workplace allows women to manage some of these challenges and build their confidence in becoming and being a C – Suite leader but there is still much to do.

What communities are you a member of and what benefit do you get from being part of these communities? 

FR: I am a member of multiple informal networking groups and I enjoy attending gatherings (when I can find time) to hear different perspectives and meet new leaders. More formally I am a member of Chief Executive Women in Australia, who offer supportive women’s networking for senior women leaders from the corporate, public service, academic and not-for-profit sectors. Through advocacy, research, targeted programs and scholarships, CEW helps to remove the barriers to women’s progression and ensure equal opportunity for prosperity. I am also a member and graduate of the Australia Institute of Company Directors. The AICD is an independent membership-based organisation that specialises in corporate governance and how to apply it in practice across different sectors and industries. With governance increasing in all countries, the AICD helps me stay abreast of expectations, both regulatory and societal in my role.

If you were going to name a leader who has inspired you, who would that be? Can you explain to us why? 

FR: My role models tend to come from outside corporate and one leader that has always inspired me is Gandhi. A model of servant leadership before it became popular management theory and an advocate of non-violent solutions, I am always in awe of how he retained his integrity and humility, although he changed the course of a nation.

Subscribe to receive actionable leadership insights to your inbox