Sheila Flavell CBE is the chief operating officer and an executive board director of FDM Group. She is passionate about enhancing diversity in the workplace and creating exciting careers for the next generation of digital talent, and she spearheads FDM’s global Women in Tech campaign, as well as FDM’s Getting Back to Business programme, aimed at providing opportunities for returners to work. Sheila sits on the main Board of techUK and is chair of the Institute of Coding’s (IOC) Industry Advisory Board, and she is frequently called to advise Government committees on various issues, especially around the digital skills gap.
“For me, a woman who has been in the workplace for 45 years and who often struggled with childcare whilst trying to work and bring up my kids, I am delighted that other mums don’t need to suffer in the same way women of my generation did.”
Achieving a zero gender pay gap
First of all, it’s great to speak with Womanthology again!
I am still chief operating officer at FDM Group, an FTSE 250 professional services company, which was founded by my husband, Rod. We have many centres around the world, which provide digital skills training for our consultant candidates.
I have been with the company now for a grand total of 23 years. In fact, I was FDM’s first employee and I always say that by me joining the business back then, we created a 50/50 gender split within the management team which we have maintained from that day to this. Our continued focus on gender equality has contributed towards us achieving a zero gender pay gap which we are really proud of.
It’s been an incredibly busy time for FDM Group as we’ve had to juggle the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a surge in demand for tech skills as companies look to reboot and redeploy workers as lockdown begins to lift.
On a personal level, a lot has changed for me too. I was thrilled to feature in the 2020 New Year Honours list, receiving a CBE for services to gender equality in IT, and graduate and returners’ employment.
Working with some of the world’s largest employers
FDM Group specialises in the recruitment, training and deployment of graduates, ex-military personnel, and returners. Our consultants are equipped with the latest digital and tech skills, such as DevOps, Robotic Process Automation, and cloud computing, and then placed with international clients across all business sectors. We work with some of the world’s largest employers.
As chief operating officer, I direct and oversee the company’s operational policies, rules, initiatives, and goals. I help the business execute our long and short-term plans. I also oversee our global marketing and communications strategy. This includes upholding our commitments to diversity and equality in terms of the recruitment, training, and on-going development of our people.
Over the years I have overseen every department of the company with the exception of finance, which has helped me build an all-round knowledge of the business.
Opening our eyes to the art of the possible
The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on the way our company operates, and it has transformed the way I approach my job. We have a large global workforce of circa 5000 people and like many other companies, we needed to switch to remote working in order to survive. This was a major shift from our normal operating model, but we managed to achieve it within four days.
Productivity dipped while we were adjusting to this new way of working but only for a very short period. As a board, we agreed early on that we would not furlough any staff, we would keep everyone employed and occupied.
I tend to think that through crisis comes opportunity and this certainly was the case for FDM. We embarked on a period of innovation and created a new service offering that our clients are loving. We have also used this past year to examine some of our policies and practices and initiate very welcome change – we have improved our parental leave and flexible working policies and changed our dress code to ‘dress for your day.’
The pandemic has opened our eyes to the art of the possible and has shown us that for many, being in an office 9.00 am-5.30 pm, five days a week, is not necessarily the way forward and that by introducing greater flexibility we would attract more women into a career in tech. It is no longer alien to see a child play in the background or see a cat walk over the keyboard whilst on a Zoom meeting with a colleague.
For me, a woman who has been in the workplace for 45 years and who often struggled with childcare whilst trying to work and bring up my kids, I am delighted that other mums don’t need to suffer in the same way women of my generation did. I too am adjusting to this new way of working and beginning to appreciate a better work-life balance – something I have failed miserably at until now.
As a people-focused business, we’re also aware of the huge impact the pandemic and resulting lockdown directives have had on the physical and mental well-being of our people. To address this, we’ve invested heavily in the necessary support, including offering access to counselling services for those who require it.
At the same time, there has been a huge surge in demand for our services, especially with so many companies now operating a remote working system, which requires constant IT support. This year alone we expect to recruit at least 2,000 new candidates globally.
Supporting female talent
At FDM Group, the entire company strives to deliver an inclusive culture that ensures equal career opportunities for women. We focus on attracting, educating, and supporting female talent to access the array of opportunities the technology sector has to offer. Our inclusive approach to recruitment enables us to ensure a balanced representation and a culture of equality.
We feel it is important to continually focus on achieving greater gender balance throughout all levels and aspects of our business. This is embedded into our culture and workplace practices, as well as ensuring we have a strong leadership message on why this is a priority for us. As a people business, we embrace the differences that make us unique and know that this makes us stronger as one.
A core part of our global Women in Tech programme is helping women who have taken a career break or taken time out to look after family members. We provide them with the opportunity to train or retrain in tech or business skills.
Closing the gender pay gap
We are very proud to have reported a median gender pay gap of -2.1% for 2020, an improvement on the -1.7% figure for 2019 and 0% for 2018 and 2017. Additionally, we have ensured that 33.5% of women are in the company’s higher quartile pay bracket, up from 28.3% the previous year.
Furthermore, the company’s bonus pay gap has been decreased once again to just -3.6%, down substantially from -5.0% in 2019 and 14.8% in 2018.
We intend to continue with this impressive record, working hard to ensure FDM remains one of the UK’s leading employers for gender diversity.
There are no quick-fix solutions
It’s important for other employers to recognise that achieving these results has not been easy for the FDM Group. It has required a concerted effort from the board and the wider company to ensure we have the right recruitment, training, and support systems in place to ensure pay is fair, even when employees have taken time out to have a family or career break.
Enhancing our parental leave policy this year and the increased flexibility we offer will go a long way to supporting our ambitions in this area. FDM wants to ensure we are playing our part in creating a working environment that works for everyone.
There are no quick-fix solutions, and companies looking to improve their diversity record need to work hard to bring real change across every level of recruitment and training.
It’s not just about gender
We are in support of measurement of both gender and ethnic diversity, especially as it helps companies recognise challenges and enables them to take steps to reduce and eventually eradicate these discrepancies.
As a company, we already have a strong record of recruitment of those from minority backgrounds, but we are always looking to further improve our performance in this area.
I remain optimistic
I am looking forward to so many things! Going to the hairdresser, buying a new dress to go out somewhere other than the park! I am looking forward to passing my final helicopter test so that I can get my pilot’s licence. I am looking forward to seeing friends, colleagues, and family that I have missed over this past year and I’m so looking forward to visiting my daughter, who lives in Australia. She got married last month and I couldn’t get to the wedding due to Australia being closed to visitors. This made me very sad, but I’m looking forward to a big celebration when we can all be together.
The world has changed, and we will not be returning to ‘normal.’ That door has closed. Normal has yet to be created and will be something different. We are on a journey to a destination new and I find this exciting. Whilst I have great sadness for the devastation that the pandemic has caused for families up and down the land, I remain optimistic for the future.
I know that there are thousands of new young graduates, returners and ex-military staff waiting to join our programmes. For me, there is nothing quite as rewarding as helping people take their first step in a career in tech.