Annette Cunningham, TD SYNNEX VP for Sales UK&I, discusses how channel leaders can play a bigger role in encouraging a greater female presence in the boardroom.
What got you into the ICT channel?
My first job was as a secretary to a sales manager in a company that did IBM mainframe installations. From there I went into sales, moved to a software company and was out on the road selling software to resellers. I have been working with partners ever since. I’ve launched start-ups in Europe, worked for some of the largest vendors and managed teams of pan-European solutions sales consultants.
I’ve been managing teams of salespeople for more than 30 years and I’m bringing to my current role all of that accumulated expertise plus strength and confidence. I also aim to instil a greater sense of unity and enthusiasm, motivation and knowledge sharing. I try to be very approachable.
What have been your experiences during your career in terms of being female?
In the early days, it was hard. There weren’t really any women in sales positions, so you had to be strong and stand your ground. You were not treated fairly and had to work twice as hard to prove yourself. My experiences have given me a lot of strength, confidence and determination to succeed. I hope some of that rubs off on the team.
What are the benefits of a strong female presence in boardrooms?
A female presence at every level of management is good. Women can bring different opinions and perspectives. The presence of females in the boardroom provides encouragement for women to keep on striving to achieve their goals. At TD SYNNEX we are clearly doing that well. We have four females on the UK & Ireland board (out of ten), and it’s important that they are visible and audible. I try to make sure I am both. Most people would say I am. Female workers can see that the business takes elevating women to reach their full potential seriously.
In the early days it was hard. There weren’t many women in sales positions, so you had to be strong and stand your ground. You were not treated fairly and had to work twice as hard to prove yourself
What action needs to be taken to boost the number of women on boards?
Every company should be more proactive and have a stated goal on gender equity – as we do. We’re setting an example with positive steps, ensuring that every senior management position has female candidates on the shortlist. The interview team will also have an equal gender balance.
How can ambitious women influence their own ability to reach a board level position?
It’s about being the best. Being good enough to get there and wanting to get there. If you’re an ambitious woman you need to carry on being successful. Make a plan and stick to it. Do well. Be confident. Go for it.
Do leadership pipelines include enough women?
This goes back to being proactive in making sure there are enough opportunities for women to step forward for management roles. If there are not enough women in your leadership pipeline you need to look at why that is and what needs to be done to increase that number. A lot of companies talk about having enough women candidates but don’t actually follow through. They need to have a plan and set a goal. They need to look at the actual numbers at every level and take positive action to change.
If you’re an ambitious woman you need to carry on being successful. Make a plan and stick to it. Do well. Be confident. Go for it
What advice would you give to an ambitious woman coming into the industry now?
Do not let anything divert you from your goal because there is absolutely no reason why a woman should not rise to the top in the ICT industry today. I think many more businesses now realise that there are real benefits to having full equality with women at every layer of management. I hope – and expect – that we will get to the point quite soon where having women on the board is not seen as anything exceptional.
Has the sector made progress on increasing diversity at leadership level?
We’ve definitely come a long way from my early days. We have some really good women in senior positions in our industry. People like Gill Holloway at Insight, Penny Williams at CDW, and Celeste Lee at SHI, are great examples. We need to see more of those. But a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to name one female leader in the industry, so it’s great to see those women in top posts.
Attitudes have changed – and not just in our industry. Equity is something that people are a lot more familiar with. We’ve got strong women in our industry and there’s nothing stopping them now. You just have to want to do it and have a plan.