In 2017, exclusion in any industry can't be ignored, but it's especially relevant in a high-profile industry like tech. (Google "tech industry diversity" - you'll get over 42,000,000 results).

In recent years, the major players in tech have felt the heat and have been making diversification a major priority.

In January of 2015, Intel announced that it would be investing $300 million in training and recruiting women and other groups that are under-represented in computer science.

In March of 2015, Apple announced a similar investment, that it would be putting $50 million towards efforts to diversify its workforce.

And last fall, Microsoft announced that it would tie executive bonuses to its company diversity goals after seeing a second consecutive year in which the percentage of its female employees declined.

These efforts are great, but in an industry as massive as high-tech, noticeable changes won't come over night.

That's why it was so encouraging to see an increasing number of women in prominent, influential channel roles. So much so that CRN had a large pool of female executives to choose from for the "2017 Channel Chiefs: The 50 Most Influential" list and the annual Channel Madness tournament.

The Channel Madness contest, modeled after the NCAA Men's and Women's Division 1 basketball tournaments, puts 32 of the executives on the 50 Most Influential Channel Chiefs list in a bracket-style competition. CRN readers vote on every matchup and at the end of five rounds, the last remaining chief is crowned Channel Madness champion.

It's essentially a popularity contest that gives channel execs some bragging rights among their industry peers. But this friendly competition has provided us with a little evidence that maybe the diversification needle is moving in the right direction for the channel.

12 of the 32 executives in this year's competition are women. That's right, 40 percent of the executives CRN chose from its list of the most influential in the industry are women.

And while 12 women may not seem that high, consider this. Just three years ago, only five of the executives in the inaugural Channel Madness Tournament were female.

If anything, it's an encouraging sign of progress.

We're here now in 2017, with a decent chance that a woman, for the second year in a row, wins an impartial contest pitting highly-respected technology executives against one another.

(For the record, it was an all-female final in last year's tournament, with Ruckus' Sandra Glaser Cheek topping AT&T's Brooks McCorcle for the championship).

So congratulations to the women represented in this year's contest. Hopefully this a trend that continues in the channel and throughout the tech industry as a whole.

Head to CRN.com/madness to cast your votes.