Building a successful career in a male-dominated industry

Female boss

Jenny Davies, CEO at M247

The statistics tell us that it is unusual for women to achieve c-level positions in typically male-dominated industries and although that is changing, progress is slow.

I’m currently CEO of a Manchester head-quartered technology solutions company. When asked how I have ended up in tech, my answer is I am not completely sure but I am so glad I did! I went to a challenging comprehensive school and worked hard to go to university and gained a 2:1 in languages.  I think my parents thought that I would go into teaching or do a job where I was using my languages. I have always been ambitious and love working with people so I knew that I wanted to work in a large organisation and ended up spending all of my career so far in engineering and technology organisations such as United Utilities and BT (my dad was an engineer so he took the credit for my career choices). I loved the knowledge that people possessed and I thrived off learning something new every single day. I developed into an inquisitive leader, strong coach and facilitator of change.

Building a career in a male dominated environment

I have always worked in male dominated environments and have had the most amazing career and opportunities. It is difficult to say how it has affected my career because it is all I have known but I would say that it has made me more adaptable and possibly more resilient. I think there was a point in my career where I realised that I did not have to be like my peers and it was OK to be me. That was a bit of a revelation and I have worked for the rest of my career being comfortable at being me.

Mentors and role models have been such an important part of keeping me grounded and focused on my career and development. Having people in your corner supporting you and steering you in the right direction is fundamental and that is why I always encourage my team to invest in getting the right support network around them. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing and there have been some career bumps in the road but I have adopted a mentality of learning from every experience and I try not to sweat the small stuff, and compared to health and family – work is definitely the small stuff.

Balancing parenthood with a successful career

I am not saying anything new when I say it is hard work to balance a full-time job and being a mum to two small children, but I feel really privileged to have two amazing kids and a job that I love. I don’t always get the balance right and sometimes I feel like I am not doing the mum bit well enough and it gets harder in many ways as the kids get older and they become more aware of when you aren’t there but I try to get to as many school things as possible. I try to give myself a break and remember that my boys are healthy and happy and we get to do lots of great stuff together at weekend and on holiday. At M247 I encourage flexible working and compressed hours to help other working parents maintain the family/career balance. In turn, my colleagues’ value and respect the times I need to leave work early to collect my children. From a leadership perspective, I think the humility shown from being a normal person resonates with people and makes you an even better leader.

Advice for other women

I am so lucky to be in a position where I can build a wonderfully diverse team in my organisation and use what I’ve learned to build the best team and nurture talented people, irrespective of gender, qualifications and where they’re from. I’m from a working-class family from Liverpool, so I know better than anyone that your background has no bearing on your ability to do well.  However, occasionally people need reminding of this so I’m always keen to stress the importance of recognising unconscious bias and to only judge people on their ability to do the job. As a result, we are very open minded when it comes to recruitment and I take pride in the knowledge that M247 was built on people with raw talent, not necessarily just the right qualifications. I’d love to help more women into STEM careers, but my advice to other women looking to get into tech would be the same advice irrespective of sector; know your worth, work really hard and let your results speak for themselves. At the same time, try not to just mirror the behaviours of those around you. We’re not superhuman! As I’ve got older I’ve learnt that the way I am is good enough – I can be me and that’s okay.

Jenny DaviesAbout the author

Jenny Davies is the CEO at global connectivity and internet infrastructure provider, M247.

Jenny has held senior roles in a number of other traditionally male-dominated sectors throughout her career (e.g. water and telecoms) at United Utilities and BT.

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