Today saw 14 of the UK IT channel's biggest hitters come together to determine the winners of CRN's WiC awards. But what does being a WiC judge actually involve? Doug Woodburn reports
I'm buzzing - but also in need of some strong painkillers - after completing my first ever CRN judging day.
All the winners for our inaugural Women in Channel (WiC) Awards have now been selected, and it was a rewarding, if exhausting, experience for all involved - or at least for those in my judging group (more on that later)!
The day saw 187 entries scrutinised across 19 categories, HP and Dell EMC's respective channel bosses temporarily put aside their differences (see below), and a selection of the UK's top channel execs consume several jumbo thermoses of coffee.
Judging from the comments I see regularly on LinkedIn, it's fair to say there's a bit of suspicion out there when it comes to award ceremonies, and understandably so.
For any awards to have credibility I believe that the judging process needs to be as transparent as it is rigorous.
I therefore felt it would do no harm to diarise today's experience, which saw all the winners picked ahead of the big night on 18 October.
When I turned up this morning at 9am, my fellow CRN ‘guest' judges (Nima Green, Sara Yirrell and Jess Feldman) were already present, and were preparing their rooms ahead of the arrival of the industry judges, which included top execs from HP, Dell EMC, Cisco, Exertis, Westcoast, Ingram, BT, Distology and XMA, Sapphire and Mitel, among others.
All the judges had pre-scored their entries, and our main task in this first hour was to finalise the ranking tables for each of our categories (some of the judges were still marking entries into the small hours of this morning).
The bigwigs arrive
The reception room on the mezzanine of the Hilton by Double Tree hotel in Victoria resembled a who's who of the UK IT channel by about 9.45am, as the industry judges filed in one after another.
It was a channel celebrity spotter's paradise, with arch foes HP and Dell EMC's respective UK channel bosses Neil Sawyer and Sarah Shields among the throng (and temporarily downing their weapons, as the below snap documents).
The 20 industry judges had each been assigned to one of the four judging groups, with a total of five industry judges (plus one guest CRN judge) in each group. For obvious reasons, the groups were organised so that no judge was assigned a category in which they, or anyone from their firm, had a direct interest.
My group had a massively high calibre of execs sitting in judgement, these being Boost Technology's Darren Spence, Dell EMC's Sarah Shields, XMA's head of infrastructure transformation Jen Norman and Mitel's Denise Bryant (the latter duo of which are pictured below, together with the side of my head). The sixth member of our group, Insight's Emma de Sousa, unfortunately couldn't make it on the day, although it strangely felt like she was almost in the room given we could all see her marks and comments.
Although we had a few dropouts on the day, I was humbled that so many of these bigwigs had taken time out of their busy schedules to join us for the day. These industry luminaries had already spent - I would estimate - four or five hours of their time marking their entries, of which they had between 44 and 49 each spread across four or five categories.
The judging begins
To spool back a bit, we'd been inundated with almost 300 entries for WiC, with 54 entries for Woman of the Year alone.
This meant that for some categories, we had far too many entries to put before our panel of 20 industry judges, hence why several of my colleagues and I teamed up to thin some of the more heavily populated categories. I read all the entries in every single category bar one - a process that took me about three days. Nima and some of my other CRN/Incisive colleagues did the same for some, but not all, of the categories.
The maximum shortlist put before the 20 industry judges held 16 entries, with my judging group casting their eye over five categories, each with between four and 16 entries.
After the initial meet and greet, the judging began, with each of the four groups sent to different rooms in the hotel.
My job as moderator was to facilitate the discussion about the leading candidates in each category and help the judges arrive at a decision.
Before today, I was among those wondering whether a ‘judging day' is really necessary. With all the judges having already scored all the entries, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all that remains is for the scores to be totted up, and a winner picked based on who came top.
But I swiftly learned the error of my ways.
It was not always the candidate with the highest overall score who won.
Often, one of the judges made a point that others had not considered. With the judges also having been asked to read nearly 50 entries, inevitably there were some nuances that were missed during the initial marking which were exposed only during this more involved phase of deliberation.
Some categories were fairly simple to resolve, while others caused the judges a headache. One category in particular led to judging deadlock for around 40 minutes. The judges (including Dell-EMC's Sarah Shields - pictured, left, in a selfie with me) were acutely aware that the outcome for this category could have a big impact on the candidates' careers, and there were three or four entries that were almost impossible to separate.
What was heartening was the palpable sense of responsibility that all the judges in my group exhibited. It was clear to me that they all took the process extremely seriously.
The same was true of the other groups, with the deliberation in one group continuing well past lunch.
It's rare that 14 channel bigwigs (one of our 20 judges unfortunately had to drop out of the process completely, and a further five were unable to make it on the day) are in the same room at the same time.
The temptation for these channel luminaries to network between themselves was therefore irresistible. After lunch, business cards were exchanged, partnerships were forged and new friendships were made between some very high-profile channel figures (pictured left: Gina Hough, Sarah Shields, Helen Slinger, Alex Tatham and Nima Green).
It's worth saying that we had no trouble at all recruiting judges for these awards. In the wake of the new gender pay gap reporting rules, and for numerous other reasons - not least the irrefutable white, male bias in our industry - diversity is a hot topic in the IT channel right now, and almost everyone we asked was only too happy to be involved.
It was also clear that the industry judges found the whole experience as rewarding as we did.
The judges also used the time after lunch to share their feedback about the process. One or two I caught up with suggested some potential changes for next year, and we will take this feedback on board.
There was a fair degree of scepticism about whether adding a ‘Women in…' to our awards portfolio was the right thing to do during the planning phase earlier this year, not least from the editorial team itself. Would it be patronising? Would we get the tone right? Would the campaign actually get any traction?
Although it's still a topic that arouses debate, the reaction from all the judges today was overwhelmingly positive and it's my hope that WiC comes back even stronger in 2019.