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Q&A with Sheila Flavell: The inspirational business leader on her organisation’s 0% gender pay gap

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The sponsor of the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards leads the way for gender parity...

As businesses around the UK enter into unchartered territory with the introduction of gender pay gap regulations, FDM Group—along with Deloitte, TSB and PwC—is one of just a handful of the country’s employers to publish their data ahead of 2018 deadline.

As the BBC’s gender pay gap continues to dominate headlines for all the wrong reasons, FDM—, winner of the 2012 everywoman in Technology Award’s Leader of the Year title—is a role model for gender diversity in the male-dominated technology industry.

What first inspired you to become the gender diversity champion you are today?

I joined the Glasgow police—my first job—when the culture was very male orientated and there were very few women in the force; certainly no women had ever reached senior positions. When they introduced Equal Pay, the men objected hugely. They didn’t feel women were deserving because they felt we couldn’t do the same job, and in order to press their point, we were given unaccompanied night beats to do.

They were quite confident that once we demonstrated that we couldn’t do the same job as men, we’d accept inequality again. Of course that didn’t happen, but that experience certainly impacted my confidence. I realised I was very much in the minority, that I didn’t have a loud voice or a great deal of support. This experience was compounded as I continued to experience discrimination while I was working away in the Middle East, but when I returned to the UK, I realised that discrimination didn’t have to be the norm or the future for women in work.

WHAT LIES BEHIND FDM’S INSPIRATIONAL TRACK RECORD IN ATTRACTING AND ADVANCING WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY?

At FDM, it’s not about where you’ve come from, or what university you went to; it’s about where you want to go and it is our drive to recruit talent that has led us to create a diverse culture. We care about attitude, aptitude and commitment and as knowledge and talent are difficult to replace, we work hard to ensure we retain people.

We have a diversity and inclusion department who focus on gender and social - mobility. We have mentoring schemes to help people learn from each other and we also benefit from a relatively flat structure, which enables good communication across the whole organisation. It also comes down to role models: you cannot be what you cannot see. As a result of fostering this culture, we attract a diverse range of people and see progression: some of our most successful managers began their careers with us  on  reception desk and have progressed through the management structure.

We’re also working hard to attract women back into the workplace after career breaks. As well as taking off time to raise children, women are statistically more likely to step out of the workforce to care for relatives, so we’re trying to create environments that encourage them back to work. We are doing this through our Getting Back To Business programme. We set it up in 2016, and, so far, we’ve placed more than 50 returners into work. However, we still have more job roles than we have women available to take up those roles, and many of our clients are specifically requesting returners for their teams, because they want that experience and diversity in their business so we are constantly in trying to find and reach talented women. In that sense, we’re in unchartered territory and I find myself asking everyone I see: “Where can we find and reach more talented women?”

YOU’VE SAID THAT THE NEW GENDER PAY GAP REGULATIONS GIVE LEADERS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THEIR ORGANISATIONS. WITH FDM’S NUMBERS BEING SO EXEMPLARY, WERE THERE ANY LESSONS FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

We were the sixth company in the UK to publicly report our numbers. We've always monitored and tracked our data to ensure we remain diverse and therefore we felt reasonably confident that the numbers would come out favourably, despite the average UK gap of 18.1% and the fact that we are in a male dominated technology industry.

However, we don’t take these results for granted, and acknowledge that there has to be an on-going commitment. We’re always asking: “What can we do next?” and “What can we do better?” While we can’t improve on our 0% median pay gap, we can look at what we can do to improve the mean gap of 6%. We know that the reason for this gap is that we don’t have enough women at the very top—while 50% of our senior management team is female, we need to do more at executive level. So, our results show that we can’t take our foot off the pedal.

FDM HAS SPONSORED THE EVERYWOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY AWARDS SINCE 2013. WHAT ROLE DOES THE PARTNERSHIP PLAY IN YOUR DIVERSITY STRATEGY?

These Awards are about showcasing future role models and showing women that they can be innovators and create life-changing technology.

At FDM, we track the source of every job application, so we know that four out of five women have joined us because of our Women in IT initiative, of which the everywoman Technology Awards are an important part. The annual increase in nominations and attendance rates are evidence of the Award programme’s commitment to advancing women in technology. At FDM, we recognise that we can’t do it all ourselves—no company can. Success in business is often down to successful partnerships and networks. They can help you cut through lots of challenging situations and achieve your goals.

THE AWARDS HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF CREATING AND ELEVATING ROLE MODELS SUCH AS YOURSELF. WHAT IMPACT HAVE FEMALE ROLE MODELS HAD ON YOUR OWN CAREER?

When I started out in my career, I was probably too naïve to even think about role models, and certainly back in my police force days there weren’t really any role models for me. However, as I progressed, I picked out women who inspired me, usually someone who was positive, calm, confident in themselves, hardworking, who demonstrated leadership and was always striving for bigger and better things. Today, The Queen has to be my number one—she’s in her nineties and is all of those things.  Michelle Obama and Margaret Thatcher are women who broke new boundaries and knocked down barriers, who showed us we can be anything we want to be.

CAN YOU SUM UP WHY YOU THINK THE NEW GENDER PAY GAP REGULATIONS ARE SUCH A POSITIVE STEP?

The gender pay gap regulations are forcing organisations to focus on disparity. Only by focussing on the problem can you can start to do something about it. Organisations must now lead the change they want from the top.

My advice to leaders? Set the culture and live it. Be open to talent wherever you can find it. Support this by enabling your recruiters and managers to achieve this through unconscious bias training. Diversity makes business sense and success so learn from your gender pay gap figures and identify what you need to do to change things—but it’s got to start from the top.

Organisations uploading gender pay gap data to the government portal have the option of providing a written narrative to contextualise their results. Read FDM’s Gender Pay Gap Report.

To discover how everywoman can help your organisation prepare its gender pay gap report, find out more about our dedicated gender pay gap programme.