Nicki Farrell

Inspirational Woman: Nicki Farrell | Alliances Director, Culture/CSR Lead, Ascent

Meet Nicki Farrell, Alliances Director, Culture/CSR Lead at Ascent

Nicki Farrell

Nicki is a respected Partner Alliance Director, advocate of women both in and out of the workplace and passionate about helping other females reach their full potential through her charity work. Leveraging her competitive instinct as an athlete, Nicki helps build successful and purposeful partnerships which support growth and innovation, lending experience and empathy to females returning to work and/or going through life change.

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

I am the Alliances Director and Culture/CSR Lead for Ascent, a leading European digital services business, helping organisations connect data, software, cloud, and purpose to drive extraordinary outcomes.

After spending 12 years in the health and fitness industry, I found myself in the tech sector, starting out in a role where I managed a number of vendor alliances, which quite quickly became an exclusive focus on driving the Microsoft relationship. My role is very important  as we are quite ambitious about building our profile with Microsoft – everything I do is geared to put Ascent in the best position to win Microsoft Partner of the Year 2023/2024, which is a huge and exciting challenge.

I am also very proud to experience some fantastic opportunities in my career such as Diversity & Inclusion Chair for International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) UK and Diversity Manager for IAMCP EMEA. I was invited to participate in a House of Commons panel discussion on Challenge and Change – Women in Leadership, as a guest of Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East, and have also been a speaker at the IDC inaugural dinner for Partner Alliances.

Supported by Ascent, I graduated from the March 2022 cohort for the Women Rising Program, which provides career empowerment coaching and helps women show up with authenticity, confidence and leadership skills. I am now further progressing on their Managers & Allies programme in September to support and mentor other females in Ascent on their career path, as we embed this into a career development initiative for top female talent within the business.

Outside of work, I have volunteered for Smart Works (Reading), a UK charity that aims to give women the confidence they need to reach their full potential, secure employment and change the trajectory of their lives. Smart Works have helped over 20,000 women across the UK in the last eight years, and I am excited to play a small part in their 3-year national plan to expand their reach and help 10,000+ women per year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to take a secondment to work on London 2012 as I firmly believe this changed the trajectory of my career and gave me the confidence to believe I wanted more and was capable of more.

When I stepped into the world of IT, I had no immediate plans as it was all new to me, but very quickly I found my feet within the Microsoft Partner ecosystem and I am happy to say I have thrived there!

In a male-dominated industry, I found incredible support through Women in Tech networks and never looked back. “Be Bold, Be Brave” is the mantra from the global WiT luncheon at Microsoft’s Inspire conference that has definitely stayed with me.

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

Being open in my professional network about perimenopause and menopause was probably one of the toughest but rewarding moments. The comments and private messages I received from other females experiencing the same thing and battling to get the right help and support was quite overwhelming.

Having battled with the side effects of perimenopause myself, gone through 3-4 GPs and been brushed off with antidepressants because I was under 45 but knowing that wasn’t the cause, I sought private hormone tests to prove the point and was finally prescribed HRT via the NHS. I therefore made a promise to myself to help others going through this with a safe space to talk. It leaves me totally unsurprised that females often sideline themselves in business at a certain age, and relationships are challenged.

You previously spent 12 years in the health and fitness industry, becoming a medallist for Great Britain and the 6th British woman in the London marathon – why did you decide to take the leap into the tech sector?

Apart from Ascent’s strong Microsoft alliance, it has to be their out-and-out ambition – it brought out the competitive streak in me!  My sporting self is naturally goal-driven, and from Day 1 I was attracted to Ascent’s mission and purpose – and their focus on helping customers ‘do something new, or do something better ‘, especially as we build back from the pandemic. That’s something that really resonates with me: as an athlete I am always looking at how I can perform better tomorrow than I am today.

As a business, Ascent truly lives and breathes its core values – empathy, energy and audacity – which has been so refreshing. We bring new concepts and ideas to life for our customers, which is a huge responsibility that we don’t take lightly, so we are continuously learning and improving. Ascent is never satisfied with ‘good enough’ – and that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.

Level Up Summit 2022

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 

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Do you have any advice for someone looking to pivot their career or thinking about a career change?

Do it! We only regret the chances we don’t take.

Relationships are one of the most important factors in our careers – find a mentor who will provide insights from their own experience and can help build confidence, a trusted person to use as a sounding board and objective guidance.

A note to remember is that external mentoring will never replace your own inner instinct – take time to reflect on guidance provided and be sure to move forward steered by both external insights and your own inner wisdom.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being recognised by my colleagues and peers has to be the ultimate achievement and I’m super proud to have been selected as a finalist for CRN Women in Channel Awards Role Model of the Year and Women in Business Champion of Change awards for my work within diversity and inclusion.

Secondly, learning to silence my own inner critic, stepping up and shaping my recent promotion is something I would never have done previously. Working through Women Rising has seen a step change in my confidence and took my career on the path I wish to follow, which is fulfilling in several aspects.

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

My mantra is #BetterNeverStops, and I firmly believe that transferring this from my athletic background into my journey in technology has accelerated my career development here at Ascent.

The dedication, determination and commitment I have to my training flows naturally into my work ethic. For me, without passion, there is no point, and I am hugely passionate about being a force for good within Women in Sport as well as using technology to help make the world a better place.

Pushing boundaries is what drives me, and right now in my sporting life I am working on becoming a leading female ultra-runner (running 100km on weekends is perfectly normal, right…?). And that aspiration to achieve more compliments my day job perfectly: both individually and with Ascent, I/we will continue to push for change because balancing people, profit and planet is – and should be – at the heart of every business. I’m really excited to be part of the Ascent team at this point in its evolution, helping to drive business with purpose for our customers in 2021 and beyond.

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

Invest time in yourself. As an ambassador of Women Rising I would suggest, if you’re looking for ways to elevate your career, feel more confident and unlock your potential both professionally and personally, to look no further than this programme – hand on heart, this changed me for the better, I went in as one person and came out as quite another!

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

Yes, but I believe we all have a role in leading change – focusing on adopting new leadership practices and creating more inclusive leaders and workplaces; considerations such as how we manage for gender differences, taking a strength-based approach to change, challenge gender norms and leadership models and design for change and much more. It is no longer enough for this to sit within HR and/or an DE&I community, it needs to be woven into the fabric of an entire business.

I would challenge everyone reading this to commit to being part of the solution and speak up when they see biased behaviour, not only in others but in themselves.

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

A common theme I hear is the lack of role models at CXO level, plus lack of a defined path to navigate career progression. At Ascent, via [email protected], working with our Head of People, we strive to embed the Women Rising Programme and Managers & Allies Programme into our Career Development framework to ensure we invest in our top female talent and empower Managers, both male and female, to be able to support female career progression.

There are currently only 21 percent 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?

If I had a magic wand, I would remove the 100+ years we’re looking at for gender equality full stop!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Resources and communities that have helped me:

Women Rising – Women Rising | Home (womenrisingco.com)

WIT Network – Home – The WIT Network

Women in Data – Women in Data®

Henpicked menopause Podcast

THe Dr Louise Newson Podcast