Fiona Shepherd

Why we should recognise gender bias progress before setting new UK boardroom targets

 

Fiona Shepherd, CEO of April-Six, shares why we need to recognise the tech sector’s progress on gender bias within UK boardrooms before we set new targets for success.

Outside the entrance to Swansea station there is a quote from Dylan Thomas that simply reads – ‘Ambition Is Critical’. I couldn’t agree more. A constant sense of ambition is what drives so many of us to succeed. For me, it’s been central to everything I have done during my time in the technology sector.

Fiona Shepherd, CEO of April-Six, CompTIABut what about recognition for what we have already achieved? Is it OK to keep pushing for more without a nod to the progress we have made? This week’s figures from the Davies Report into ‘Women on Boards’ have shown that almost 25 percent of all executives in the boardrooms of the FTSE 100 are now female. It’s immediately led to claims that this doesn’t achieve the targets set out by Lord Davies when he began his review; and a series of calls to make this more than 30 percent or consider it a failure of British business.

I agree that balance is required and a more even ratio should always be the target. But I can’t help sense that we’re looking at these numbers in a vacuum, and when you consider them in a broader context, we seem to have missed a real opportunity to recognise how far we have come and celebrate change.

Take the technology sector for example – the sector where I have always focussed my time. A report earlier this year from Ernst and Young showed that when you break down the number of female board members in the FTSE 100 by sector, technology shows that female board level representation is at 24%. A similar report covering the top US 100 technology companies from the Korn/Ferry Institute, an American recruitment research specialist, showed female representation at 14%. This is a huge gap – far bigger than you would expect given the comparative sizes of our economies and technology sectors.

In reality, technology leadership in the UK is booming for women. If we start to pull apart the sector we can see the considerable impact women are now having on the progress of technology in this country. At the Government level key strategic roles are now held by female leaders including Sarah Wilkinson at the Home Office, Baronesses Martha Lane Fox, Pauline Neville Jones and Joanna Shields. These people are defining the pathway for how UK society will experience technology in the coming decades. Within industry, key positions of authority are held by Trudy Norris-Grey, GM at Microsoft; Jane Moran, CIO at Unilever; Susan Cooklin CIO at Network Rail; and Catherine Doran, CIO at Royal Mail to name but a few. And of course we can identify a considerable female entrepreneurial base in the innovation space, including Maggie Philbin, Sherry Coutu, and Dame Wendy Hall.

We have achieved some extraordinary changes in the UK when it comes to the balance of power in the technology sector. The gender bias so often associated with technology is starting to fall back. I agree entirely that we have to strive to do more and ensure that we are making the most of the fantastic cadre of female leaders in the space today but pushing forwards. But whilst we must be ambitious; let’s also recognise how far we have come. Ambition is critical; recognition is vital.

Fiona Shepherd is the CEO of April Six, a global technology marketing agency and sits on the board of the AIM-listed Mission Marketing Group. She has worked in the technology sector for more than 25 years and now leads a global team supporting the B2B marketing needs of some of the world’s largest technology brands.