Women in Digital: Nicki Farrell

Nicki Farrell, alliances director, culture/CSR lead at Ascent and ambassador for the Women Rising programme, shares her thoughts on encouraging more women into tech – and why employers all need to become more menopause-friendly.

Posted 24 October 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

I absolutely loved my school days. I was fortunate to be granted a scholarship for my sporting and academic achievements to stay on at my secondary school for A-Levels – I didn’t want to leave!

What qualifications do you have?

I achieved 9 GCSE’s (A*-B), 4 A-Levels including a 5th highest mark, and BSc (Hons) in Physical Education & Sports Science.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?

I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to take a secondment to work on London 2012 as I firmly believe this changed the trajectory of my career and gave me the confidence to believe I wanted more and was capable of more.

When I stepped into the world of IT, I had no immediate plans as it was all new to me, but very quickly I found my feet within the Microsoft partner ecosystem and I am happy to say I have thrived there!

In a male-dominated industry, I found incredible support through Women in Tech networks and never looked back. “Be Bold, Be Brave” is the mantra from the global WiT luncheon at Microsoft’s Inspire conference that has definitely stayed with me.

What specific challenges do you see women facing in the industry?

A common theme I hear is the lack of role models at CXO level, plus lack of a defined path to navigate career progression. At Ascent, via WoMen@Ascent, working with our head of people, we strive to embed the Women Rising Programme and Managers & Allies Programme into our Career Development framework to ensure we invest in our top female talent and empower managers, both male and female, to be able to support female career progression.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

Invest time in yourself. As an ambassador of Women Rising I would suggest if you’re looking for ways to elevate your career, feel more confident and unlock your potential both professionally and personally, to look no further than this programme – hand on heart, this changed me for the better, I went in as one person and came out as quite another!

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mitchell Feldman on a VIP table at a WIT Luncheon at Microsoft Inspire – that moment, unbeknown to me, was a connection, friend, mentor for life made.

From where do you draw inspiration?

My mantra is #BetterNeverStops, and I firmly believe that transferring this from my athletic background into my journey in technology has accelerated my career development here at Ascent.

The dedication, determination and commitment I have to my training flows naturally into my work ethic. For me, without passion, there is no point, and I am hugely passionate about being a force for good within Women in Sport as well as using technology to help make the world a better place.

Pushing boundaries is what drives me, and right now in my sporting life I am working on becoming a leading female ultra-runner (running 100km on weekends is perfectly normal, right…?) And that aspiration to achieve more compliments my day job perfectly: both individually and with Ascent, I/we will continue to push for change because balancing people, profit and planet is – and should be – at the heart of every business. I’m really excited to be part of the Ascent team at this point in its evolution, helping to drive business with purpose for our customers in 2021 and beyond.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

Being open in my professional network about perimenopause and menopause was probably one of the toughest but rewarding moments. The comments and private messages I received from other females experiencing the same thing and battling to get the right help and support was quite overwhelming.

Having battled with the side effects of perimenopause myself, gone through 3-4 GPs and been brushed off with antidepressants because I was under 45 but knowing that wasn’t the cause, I sought private hormone tests to prove the point and was finally prescribed HRT via the NHS. I therefore made a promise to myself to help others going through this with a safe space to talk. It leaves me totally unsurprised that females often sideline themselves in business at a certain age and relationships are challenged.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

Someone who is empathetic, isn’t scared to show vulnerability and is able to show up being their authentic self – all too often we become a different version of ourselves in order to fit into the workplace!

From a work viewpoint what has the last 24 months been like?

It feels like it has flown by!

I onboarded remotely into Ascent 18 months ago and haven’t looked back since – I have loved the fast-paced, innovative and, at times, challenging nature of being back in a small (but growing!) business.

Being able to adapt to change has been key to success and enjoyment in the role – for a number of years, a mentor recommended me to read ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, and I still refer back to this as my go-to method when dealing with change both professionally and personally.

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

I’d say it’s retaining and attracting talent amidst the current skills shortage and focusing on developing the next generation of tech talent. For me, people are always at the heart of any business, and we need to continue fostering an inclusive culture and positive team engagement and interactions post-pandemic as we all navigate new ways of working. Individuals are a lot more aware of their wellbeing, and we all have a responsibility to ensure employees thrive, both mentally and physically.

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?

From personal experience, if I could pick one thing across any industry, it would be to encourage employers to become menopause-friendly. The statistics speak for themselves on the “why” – as an example, BUPA research (2019) found that nearly a million women left the workplace due to menopausal symptoms and lack of support to help manage them.

Thanks to Davina McColl and others, awareness has come on leaps and bounds but action is the next step. Menopause is something everyone needs to know about as we could be working alongside people that are experiencing menopause and/or living with them, so it should be everyone’s conversation and responsibility.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

My fear of heights, including bridges! Our local country park has a wooden bridge over the River Loddon at one of the entrances, and my legs turn to jelly every time I have to walk or run over it!