Getting women to the top in technology

FDM Group won this year’s Top Employer Award for Career Progression and its Overall Top Employer Award. The judges praised in particular the ambitious nature of its returner programme and its impressive statistics on female representation at senior levels. We spoke to Chief Operating Officer Sheila Flavell to find out more about its award-winning approach to greater gender equality.

Top Employer Awards, flexible working


You have achieved a 0% gender pay gap and a gender balanced leadership team. What in addition to your support for women at different stages in the career journey has contributed to this? Has pay transparency been a factor, for instance?

Sheila Flavell: It starts with having an open and honest conversation at board level by admitting there is an issue and working together as a team to find a solution. The issue can be solved by allowing employees to have flexible career plans, adjustable working hours to suit home life and good mentoring to ensure every employee is supported throughout their whole career path and given equal opportunities. We work hard to recruit women and women returners who have taken time out of a career for various reasons.

We proactively analysed our gender pay gap data before this became a national issue, meaning we were ahead of the curve when the reporting was made mandatory. In fact, I was one of the first employees and so being a woman, we’ve had an equal gender split from the beginning. Understanding and embracing the differences of individuals make FDM stronger as one.

What works to get girls more interested in tech careers in schools? Do you also work with primary schools?

SF: Ultimately, it’s about creating role models in the industry and having figures that these young girls can look up to and admire. There is a clear opportunity for young people to recognise that they can get into well-paid jobs that are exciting and fulfilling by joining the technology industry. There is often the stereotype that computing and technology jobs are for boys and that’s just simply not the case.

We highlight Female Champions internally to give other women at FDM something to aspire to. Through the FDM everywoman in Tech Awards, we celebrate and promote the achievements of women at all levels so that we can show off our success in tech. Showcasing role models is key in order to get more girls inspired in tech careers. The tech industry needs to work much harder to solve this issue. This can be done by offering work experience within technology to those interested at an early age. We work with schools and invite girls into our academies for coding workshops so that they are exposed to tech early on. On International Girls in ICT Day, we held workshops in New York, London, Hong Kong and Frankfurt where girls learnt how to code music and how to get robots working. The feedback we received was great and they described the day as ‘fun’ which was the aim of the workshop and is the progress we need.

What are the main myths about careers in technology that you address in universities? What works best to encourage more students to consider careers in tech?

SF: A constant myth that I hear about is that technology is a male-only profession when, actually, there are a lot of women rising through the ranks gradually in these industries. We can encourage more students to consider a career in technology by highlighting the above-average pay and representing the innovative career opportunities that are available in this booming sector.

Another myth is that you must study IT in order to work in the tech sector. That’s not true at all. Most of our people at FDM are from non-tech backgrounds. We address this at universities and put a lot of effort into promoting the exciting careers that exist for people from all backgrounds.

How does your returner programme differ from others? For long have you focused on returners?

SF: We launched our Getting Back to Business Programme almost three years ago and we are very pleased with the results it has driven so far. It was initially piloted in Hong Kong before being launched officially in the UK and Canada. The training investment we make into upskilling returners, coupled with building their confidence and the opportunities available with top clients, is what differentiates our returner programme. It is a way to fast-track careers for returners re-entering the workplace and 80% of the returners who have been through our programme are women.

Have you seen a change in business reaction in the last few years? Do you plan any changes to your programme?

SF: The gender pay gap reporting process was extremely important in promoting this cause. It allowed for many organisations to become aware of this issue that was taking place within their own organisation. This has enabled large businesses to begin to publicly take measures towards closing the gender pay gap that has opened within their companies.

FDM is continuously evolving and adapting our programme. Change is constant and the only way to stay ahead is to embrace this. The biggest change we would like to see for our Getting Back to Business Programme at this point in time is to expand its reach so that we can help more returners get back into the world of work.

Can more be done to help women who want to change their careers [and get into tech] rather than just those who have a background in tech who want to get back?

SF: To join our programme, you don’t have to have a background in technology. You can easily change careers, you just need to have the aptitude to learn a new skill. We provide candidates with full, comprehensive training to ensure everyone on the programme is ready to take the next step in their career.

Is mentoring or sponsorship more important in terms of women’s career progression?

SF: Fantastic mentoring is critical to every employees’ career progression and it is vital that organisations support this. Sponsorship is just as important in my opinion, but much harder to obtain. If someone is willing to put their reputation on the line to promote you then that is a great achievement and will likely get you to the next level.

What does your peer support programme involve?

SF: The Consultant Peer Support (CPS) initiative at FDM was introduced very much as a support network for our people on client sites. The initiative involves selecting FDM ambassadors who are available to answer questions and assist other consultants on that client site as required.

How embedded in FDM’s management processes is encouraging people to take up training for qualifications like MBAs?

SF: Training is at the heart of FDM and is very much ingrained into our business model. As well as all the training we provide in-house, we also have several employees undertaking MBAs now from various departments including HR and D & I. We encourage other qualifications too, including charterships and certifications.

When did the Rising Stars breakfasts start and why and how are you developing these?

SF: I launched this initiative about two years ago in order to get to know the rising stars within the business. Junior women don’t often get time with Board members and I thought it would be a good way to change this and an opportunity to provide them with a platform to voice their opinions and ideas. As the COO, it also provided me with an opportunity to hear what our people like about FDM and what they feel could be improved. It has been a success so far and I really enjoy hosting them.

What other internal processes do you have for advancing women up the ranks, particularly regarding those who have just started families and may have reduced their hours?

SF: We provide flexible working, training programmes and specific HR policies to suit employees from various backgrounds and careers.

You do a lot of work externally on promoting women in tech through your awards and sharing best practice. Are you able to measure the impact and what is the response from others in the sector?

SF: This is hard to measure in quantitative terms. However, we know it is the right thing to do and are proud to be leading by example. In the most recent Hampton-Alexander Review Report for 2018, FDM features top in the tech sector within the FTSE 350 Rankings of Women on Boards and Leadership. The impact we hope to achieve from things like this is for other companies to follow in our footsteps and challenge the norm, and I believe we are experiencing a shift. If we truly want things to change in our industry, we must come together as a collective to make a difference.

How receptive are they? How can your experience help those companies with legacy issues [ie lots of men in senior positions]?

SF: I think companies are receptive.

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