Inspirational Woman: Cerys Johnson | Chief Executive Officer, REPL

Cerys Johnson

Cerys Johnson became Chief Executive Officer of REPL in 2017.

As CEO, Cerys is responsible for the company’s global growth and future direction. Under her leadership the business has doubled in size and reported revenue increases of 40% year over year. She has over 25 years of experience in strategic and digital transformation roles, driving strategy and execution spanning all aspects of business model and product development, IT, marketing, and sales.

Cerys is a leading light for women in technology and throughout her time at REPL has championed diversity and equality, launching a ‘Women in REPL’ initiative and promoting an environment that challenges unconscious bias. In her spare time, Cerys enjoys an active lifestyle with her husband and three children, tending to her illustrious vegetable patch and volunteering in the community.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I studied physics at University of Nottingham before beginning my career working in various strategic and digital transformation roles, driving strategy and execution across all aspects of business and product development, IT, marketing, and sales before joining REPL Group in 2014.

I went on to become the CEO in 2017 and have most recently been supporting the acquisition with Accenture. Since then, my role has been managing post-merger integration activities and making sure that we’re well placed to continue delivering the best of REPL with the scale and reach of Accenture. I’m really proud that feedback from our customers has been really positive and the company is growing at the fastest rate in its history, which is extremely exciting.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To some degree, yes, but not in granular detail. I’ve always been ambitious and hungry for the next challenge and that’s what has really driven my career. In my earlier days I always needed a new challenge to keep me focused, to feel like I was progressing to new roles.

More recently those challenges have been based around making a difference and paving the way forward for new generations; I want to take my learnings and experiences, both good and bad, and use them as a catalyst for change and improvement. What’s guided me throughout has not been job titles but finding or creating an environment in which you’re able to deliver, which is what I see as helping plan my career trajectory.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The most obvious one has been gender discrimination, and I would be surprised if there was any woman my age who hasn’t experienced this. There was definitely a notion of excluding women in such a male-dominated industry, which thankfully has started to shift over the last 10 to 15 years. Previously, I faced exclusion from social events and informal career-building networking and have had to deal with hostile attitudes in the workplace, towards both getting pregnant and being a mother – when I told an old boss that I was pregnant, he immediately shut me out of discussions and any team meetings. It just goes to show how much has changed, as that certainly wouldn’t be acceptable in this day and age.

Personally, I think all you can do in the face of this is ensure that you are the bigger person and do your best regardless, work harder and find your allies, I’ve had some tremendous allies along the way. Another key factor is taking those lessons forward with you so you’re able to make a difference for people that follow in your footsteps.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date is being made the CEO of REPL Group. Before accepting the role, I’d previously worked with the company for a number of years, but what I wanted to do was to make us different to everybody else without compromising any of our values. Since then, we’ve become a preferred employer and continued to deliver outstanding projects for customers that we are truly proud of.

But, what I’m most proud of has been the culture we’ve built at REPL. It’s a culture that doesn’t require my daily involvement now because it is intuitive and self-perpetual. We deliver fantastic outcomes for our customers, but we do it in a supportive and enjoyable way and that means we develop and grow together – it makes it a brilliant place to work.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think there a lot of things that have been crucial – two very important aspects have been working hard and having self-belief. So often the voice in your head can be a limiting factor, and it is important to be aware of that. Don’t give in to imposter syndrome, believe in your ability and what you can do.

Another is understanding your value set; knowing what you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, and what you’re passionate about. Set the values you aspire to and understand your priorities – why are you doing something? Why is it important? Once you have these established, it helps to make all of the decisions you need to take in each moment much more straightforward because you always have that frame of reference.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The first thing I would say is secure a good mentor – that is incredibly important. There is so much you can find online, so many resources and networking events, but you cannot overestimate the power of having somebody that has had a career in tech that understands you, your hopes, and your aspirations. A good mentor can challenge you, help you refine your thinking, facilitate introductions, and generally point you in the right direction – having an invested mentor is, to me, the most important thing.

Technology moves on so rapidly; that is what makes it exciting. It’s important to keep reading, to always stay curious and ensure you are at the forefront of what’s going on. It’s also important to be honest with yourself, to make mistakes, and to ask questions. Be bold, make those mistakes and when you do, learn from them.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

When I moved into the CEO role in 2017 just 22% of the REPL workforce were women, and on some teams there were none at all. Those numbers were shocking to me; improving that was very, very high on my list – there are so many talented women out there and they’re an untapped resource.

For us, it is important to have female recruiters and hiring managers, that way we can ensure women are involved in the decision-making process and are visibly one of the first points of contact with our organisation for prospective employees. I know what it’s like to be in the minority in the tech industry and how that can prevent you displaying your authentic self and limit your performance; it is important action is taken to address that.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

It’s about building the right culture and the right environment around you. This extends all the way from recruiting candidates that share the same values on diversity, to ensuring female role models are visible within a business, and also encouraging female members of staff to take part in networking or even mentoring opportunities.

At REPL, the first step we took was to ensure we were a good employer for the women already working with us – there is no point in hiring to meet quotas and then failing to treat new recruits or existing staff properly, that is counterproductive. We began by introducing flexible working, to remove some of the barriers that mothers can experience trying to juggle work and family commitments at once. We also extended paternity leave by several months for the same reasons, to help balance home life and address unconscious biases people may have toward women in the team.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Companies should make it very, very clear who they are and what they stand for. Organisations know the benefits of diversity, the big companies and industry leaders are all taking important steps to accelerate workplace equality – this involves ensuring there is effective and accessible training, so that there are pipelines of talent to influential roles, and female employees have influence in boardrooms and are not kept stagnant in entry level roles.

Providing support and encouragement to women within the supply chain practice at REPL has been one of the key drivers behind a significant uptick in our own gender diversity. As a result, we have been recognised by Great Place to Work as one of the UK’s top workplaces for women. Difference makes us authentic and innovative, and we foster a community based on inclusion. We recently updated our company values, we only have six, and one of those is “we are diverse”. That’s how important it is to us.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I am part of a local Women In Tech group in the Midlands and in terms of diversity there are quite a few local tech groups. Online, the Women Who Code site is really useful and they’ve got a lot of their collection on social sites as well.

I am also, with increasing frequency, using LinkedIn as an important resource. When people publish interesting articles, I like to connect with that individual to ensure that I am exposed to more of their content and thoughts. Similarly, if there’s a roundtable event or presentation I have found particularly inspiring, I will use the platform to reach out to them – it really helps to augment your informal network and people more often than not are willing to share their learnings and experiences.

More generally, our website, https://www.replgroup.com, is also full of resources detailing the work we do. It also lists our phone number and has messaging portal which is a great way of connection.