'There is a natural tendency for firms to nurture men over women'

Doug Woodburn
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'There is a natural tendency for firms to nurture men over women'

Women in the Channel judge Annabel Berry, who runs cybersecurity provider Sapphire, argues that lack of female sponsorship is contributing to board level gender imbalance in industry

The natural inclination among some firms to "sponsor" the careers of male over female employees is contributing to gender imbalance at the boards of the UK's top IT resellers.

That's according to CRN Women in Channel judge Annabel Berry (pictured), who has been CEO of 50-strong cybersecurity consultancy Sapphire since 2015.

I think there is a natural tendency to move on or nurture men in their careers

According to CRN's research, just four of the UK's top 50 resellers, MSPs and consultancies have female bosses. That figure rises to 16 per cent among senior management.

Firms are more likely to nurture men than they are women, due partly to fears that female staff will take longer career breaks if they have children, Berry said.

"I started my career in sales at an IT security reseller and the whole team was female. I didn't realise at the time how unusual that was, and I've always had strong female role models," said Berry, who is one of the judges for CRN's Women in Channel judging panel.

"But I was at a women in tech event a couple of years ago where they quoted a report saying that there are more (tech) chief executives in the whole of Europe called ‘John' or ‘David' than there are women. That put it in perspective," she said.

"Why aren't there more women in higher roles? Because I think there is a natural tendency to move on or nurture men in their careers a little more than there is a tendency to nurture females, especially when you are just starting your career in your 20s and 30s. We should be nurturing and supporting the talent within our businesses, regardless of gender."

"McKinsey statistics say that men are more likely to get feedback in their roles, are more likely to be mentored and are more likely to have somebody be a sponsor within an organisation to recommend them for different roles. Employees who are mentored and supported are more likely to progress in their careers; it's pretty simple really."

Although shared parental leave came into force in April 2015 - allowing mothers and fathers to split parental leave - early take-up has reportedly been as low as one per cent.

Berry praised large corporates such as Accenture for leading the way on tackling the stigma both men and women may feel about taking an extended career breaks to raise a family.

"It's not going to change until we catch up in terms of things like sharing maternity and paternity leave, and that's not just from a legislation perspective but also in terms of cultural change," she said. "A lot of guys might think ‘I don't want to take time off as it might be viewed badly', so there's still a shift that needs to happen. Accenture's managing director, Mark Smith, took seven months' paternity leave as he wanted to demonstrate that it wouldn't be seen as a negative. It was important to lead by example and show people that it wouldn't affect their career progression."

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