Inspirational Woman: Pamela Cook | CEO, Infoshare

PamelaPamela Cook started her career in the gaming industry, where she moved through the ranks into sales leadership.

She moved over to the IT and technology when she joined Infoshare over 20 years ago. Pamela has been the CEO at Infoshare for over 10 years now and has shaped the company as one that uses its technology and position for good.

Her desire to be a part of change is not limited to her role as CEO. She is also a magistrate in Thames Valley, and sits on the Cabinet Office SME Panel, fighting for the rights and fair treatment of small businesses in the UK. Pamela is regularly invited to speak on the subjects of successful information sharing, protecting citizens and the implication of legislation on data sharing and analysis. During the Covid-19 crisis she volunteered with a local support group to help vulnerable people in her area who were self-isolating.

Pamela was named the Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2019 Enterprise Awards; listed on the 2020 DataIQ 100 people in data, and on the 2020 Global Top 100 Data Visionaries.

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

I was discouraged from attending University after finishing my A-Levels – my Father did not think it was appropriate for women – so I worked three jobs and took my first ever flight to Australia. Back in the UK 12 months later, I got a job in sales in the computer games industry and stayed in this fascinating world for over 12 years. I was successful in moving up the ladder in a series of roles into leadership and only moved into the IT industry when I joined Infoshare. It was quite a change and slightly daunting; when the company got into financial difficulty, I came off the road and stepped in as CEO. I had no previous experience running a company but with the guidance and support of my mentor, Shabnam Malhoutra, we’ve gone from strength to strength.

I’ve been the CEO of Infoshare for over 10 years now  and what I have discovered is that you are in a position to make a real impact on peoples’ lives – not just to my incredible (female-dominated) colleagues; but to the most vulnerable in society. I reinvested everything we made, and my own money, to create software which could help identify all of our citizens who are most at risk; those who need early intervention or those who are attempting to disguise their true identities for less than honourable reasons. I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved and the use of tech for good.

My desire to be a part of change is not limited to my role as CEO. I’m also a magistrate in Thames Valley and I also sit on the Cabinet Office SME Panel where I fight for the rights and fair treatment of small businesses in the UK. During the Covid-19 crisis I used my spare time (what little of it was left!) to join a local volunteer group supporting vulnerable people in my area who were self-isolating. It is important to me that we are always looking for how we can use our position to do good.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all! I began by applying for a ‘telesales’ job at age 19, thinking it would involve selling televisions. It turned out it was actually selling computer games, but it also turned out that I was pretty good at it and I continued to climb the sales ladder over the years that followed. I eventually got involved with Infoshare after an evening out drinking with the founders and making a tipsy promise to come aboard. I kept my word and moved to Infoshare, even after I had sobered up! It’s been the most rewarding part of my entire career though, as I get to feel proud about the positive impact we have on real people’s lives.

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

In the early days of my career I was excluded from the ‘boys club’, which was tough because you could work as hard as you could but you never knew what you would be up against. I remember on a particular occasion being left an envelope stuffed full of cash to coerce me to sign-off on a loss-making PO – this was the boys collaborating at their worst. I resigned on the spot. Yes, the battles were severe at times; but dogged determination got me through. For sure I didn’t win them all – but I didn’t lose them all either. Each small win kept me pushing on and on and determined to succeed. And I’m rather glad I did!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Taking the helm at Infoshare, leading it through troubled waters to come out the other end; not just surviving but kicking some ass and beating some large organisations in head to head comparisons.

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

Refusing to accept the alternative as an option. Failing has never been on the table for me, so once I knew that, it became more about how I was going to succeed, as opposed to if. This kind of mindset meant I was better equipped to deal with setbacks, challenges, and barriers along the way, as it meant I approached them with the confidence to get back up and not let them defeat me.

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

Technology is evolving rapidly, so staying on top of the game is really important. Making sure you know your stuff is about much more than studying. Keep on top of what’s going on in the industry; who are the players, what innovations are happening, where are the gaps, what are the opportunities?

It’s also important to figure out what your values are and try to find companies out there who are on the same page as you. For instance, for personal reasons, ensuring vulnerable people are supported in our society has always been an important issue for me. This was a key factor in my decision to join Infoshare, as I’ve been able to be a part of so many projects that successfully improved support and interventions for vulnerable people.

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

There are a growing number of amazing and talented women coming through in the data and technology industry and it’s wonderful to see. I’m lucky enough to employ a few of them at Infoshare (we currently out-number our male colleagues!). The challenges though still seem to be around exposure of their talent and accomplishments, and ensuring we’re represented fairly at the top tables.

How to overcome these challenges? We collectively need to do more to champion and amplify the accomplishments of women in what has long-been a heavily male-dominated industry. Those of us who are already succeeding need to offer up support and a platform for those coming through in the next generation, so that they may have an easier ride than we have had to endure at times. We need allies within all levels of organisations – men and women – who are willing to ensure female voices are heard and valued.

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

There are so many ways organisations can ensure they support the careers of women working in technology. Change needs to be driven by a change in culture and an active appreciation of the ways in which the current structure and set up are hindering progress for women. Too often, women in particular are in the position of having to choose between having a family and a successful career. And when men are prevented from being more involved at home by restrictive and archaic business practices, the effect on women’s careers is further compounded, as they’re more often the ones who must pick up the slack.

A big aspect of the culture we’ve got at Infoshare is flexible working. Life is about more than work and instead of demanding our staff are chained to their desks, we’re open about understanding that everyone juggles a variety of different responsibilities. Over the last few years, we’ve moved to a flexible working culture that allows people to work from home and be judged on their outputs rather than the number of hours they’ve clocked up. This means that for those with families, their career can fit around their life and continue to progress, whilst still being able to meet their non-work responsibilities. I’d like to see more organisations embrace flexible working opportunities and moving away from the practice of presenteeism.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Encourage gender balance in STEM teaching, beginning at primary school and all the way through to postgraduate level. We need to nurture the spark and ensure it is not extinguished before they embark on their journey in the industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The technology is a massive industry with lots of specialist areas of expertise and industry specific focus. Therefore, I’d recommend them to find their area of interest, AI for instance, and focus on resources designed to support this area. However, in general terms, you can’t underestimate the value of good networking to find contacts – and friends – willing to hear you out, give you advice, recommend reading or inform you of opportunities. Networks such as We Are Tech Women are great hives of resources and networking opportunities. Throw yourself into the industry and make as many friends as possible. And if an opportunity arises to help someone else out once you make it, make sure you repay the favour to the next generation.


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