Chief Operating Officer, FDM Group
Today we meet Sheila Flavell, Board Director and Chief Operating Officer of FDM Group. Sheila tells us about her career to date, how she combines this with family life, her thoughts about how women can thrive in their careers and her plans for the future.
BoardroomMum Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sheila Flavell I’ve enjoyed 25 years in both the public and private sectors of IT, completing both an MA and an MBA, whilst raising my family and working full-time. I’ve been lucky enough to work in various countries and industries, gaining valuable experiences along the way.
BoardroomMum Can you please provide some information on your career to this point?
Sheila Flavell My career journey has been anything but traditional and I have made many sideway moves that have led me to where I am today. Believe it or not, I started my career working in the Police Force in Glasgow and was one of the only women patrolling the streets back then. After that I spent over a decade working for an Arabian Airline in the Middle East. Today, I am the COO and part-owner of FDM Group, an international professional services provider, with a focus on IT. I am passionate about diversity in the workplace and spend a lot of my time spearheading FDM’s Global Women in IT initiative in Europe, North America and Asia.
BoardroomMum Were you clear on what you wanted to do as a career?
Sheila Flavell Not at all to be honest. The only constant in my life seems to be breaking the norm! IT is obviously a very different industry to where I started but I learnt a great deal about resilience and proving myself in male-dominated environments. The one thing I have always known is that I am a leader. I am not afraid to speak up, take risks and be bold.
BoardroomMum How many children do you have?
Sheila Flavell My husband and I have five children, three girls and two boys. Interestingly, all three of my girls work within the tech industry and I am proud to have inspired them to consider a career that not only provides a wealth of opportunity but defies the stereotype in the male-dominated world of IT.
BoardroomMum How do you combine career with family life?
Sheila Flavell Managing the balance and prioritising where necessary is essential. In my opinion there is no specific recipe for success, because different strategies work for different people. From experience, something has got to give; it’s about what that will be and how much of it. I have personally juggled home life with my career for many years and though challenging at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
BoardroomMum You are a Founder Director and part owner of FDM Group what was it like to float the business?
Sheila Flavell When we first floated the business on AiM in 2005 it was a bold move with many risks. Nevertheless, we knew it was one that would take us to the next level as a business. The Board worked tirelessly presenting to potential investors and to keep growing as per the expectations of the market. We certainly learned a lot along the way. In 2010, we took the decision to go back to our roots as a private business, through a management buyout. FDM has since grown tremendously and therefore this year we made the leap onto the Main London Stock Exchange, which has been an excellent move. Investors, analysts and employees alike were excited and ready to take on this new challenge. The hard work has been worth it as FDM continues to perform very well and is being recognised as ‘one to watch’.
BoardroomMum Have you won any awards?
Sheila Flavell I have been honoured to win several awards. In 2012, I was recognised as Corporate Leader of the Year at The Cisco everywoman in Tech awards. In 2013, I was named one of TechCityInsider’s top 100 Movers and Shakers in digital London and was featured in Cranfield School of Management’s ‘100 Women to Watch’ list in both 2013 and 2014 (Female FTSE Report). This year, I was chosen as one of Brummell Magazine’s Top 30 Most Inspirational Female Entrepreneurs.
BoardroomMum What can be done to encourage more girls/women to fulfil their potential?
Sheila Flavell It is a complex subject that must be addressed within schools. We must promote equality and educate girls on the benefits of working hard to get results from education to employment. In whatever career that they may choose, we should be facilitating and promoting a world that on the one hand is an increasingly gender-blind meritocracy. But on the other hand recognises, for both male and female, the increasing pressures of work-life balance. In IT as in all other STEM industries, there is a dated belief that it is a hostile environment for women. Girls need to be encouraged in schools to consider technology as a career because up until now it has been largely discounted from their remit.
BoardroomMum Do you have any tips or recommendations for other women who wish to pursue their career ambitions and aspirations?
Sheila Flavell I would say go for it! Present your very best self. Portray excitement, enthusiasm and energy. Women can often have self-doubt, even those that are more than qualified for the job, so I would reiterate to them: believe in yourself.
BoardroomMum What can women do to make themselves ready and qualified to put themselves forward for a board position?
Sheila Flavell Building the right leadership experience is crucial. Knowing the business well and having a track record of delivery will enable women to progress onto the Board. Having a network of contacts is also important because Board positions are often referred or recommended to people inside specific networks.
BoardroomMum Women on Boards – do you believe that quotas would be a positive step?
Sheila Flavell Quotas will not solve the problem we face. Quotas denote a quick-fix, and quick-fixes do not promote diversity or establish the necessary mind-set necessary to instigate change. I absolutely think more women should be on Boards but not just because they are female. Who would want to be the ‘token woman’ on any Board? Certainly not me.
BoardroomMum What is FDM’s approach to attracting and retaining female talent?
Sheila Flavell I am responsible for spearheading FDM’s Global Women in IT initiative. Through this we aim to increase the number of women working in the sector by promoting, training and placing more female IT Consultants onto our client sites. FDM has selected 20 Female Champions internally to showcase role model behaviour, support other women and mentor those in need. I personally mentor many of my management team and they do the same with others. Through the Global Women in IT initiative we have managed to increase the number of women at FDM to 25% as well as circa 50% of the management team being female. This is something we are incredibly proud of as it is way above the industry average. To attract and retain talent, you must invest time, money and support into your employees. The people at FDM have always been great and it is this committed workforce that drives the business.
BoardroomMum Has FDM won any awards?
Sheila Flavell Yes, FDM has won many awards throughout the years including Company of the Year, Graduate Employer of the Year, International Business of the Year and Best Place to Work. FDM has been listed in The JobCrowd’s Top 100 Companies for Graduates to Work For, for the past two consecutive years and has recently been shortlisted as Advocate of the Year in the inaugural 2015 UK Women in IT Awards. As a business, FDM has also received various awards for being a military friendly employer and one of the fastest growing companies in Europe.
BoardroomMum Would you have done anything differently?
Sheila Flavell I don’t think so. Making mistakes is part of life and I have learned from all my experiences. The career journey I’ve led has been incredibly varied and it is these diverse experiences that have shaped my persona today.
BoardroomMum What are your plans personally and professionally?
Sheila Flavell Professionally, I hope to lead FDM into many more exciting phases of growth. I also hope to see the industry average of women in IT continue to rise. Personally, I look forward to seeing my girls become the next female leaders in IT!
BoardroomMum Thank you Sheila for your time and insight. We at www.boardroommum.com wish you every continued success.