A conversation with David Collins, CEO of First Derivative and winner of ‘Male Advocate of the Year’ at the Women in Tech Awards 2023
This week’s Tech-sperts series features another inspiring industry leader who is championing gender and diversity in the Northern Ireland tech scene. David Collins, the CEO of First Derivative is a global leader in consulting, business services, and technology. As a passionate advocate for gender diversity and equality, David shares his perspective on fostering an inclusive work environment, promoting women's representation in leadership roles and driving positive change within the tech industry.
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Congratulations on being awarded Male Advocate of the Year! Can you tell us more about your role as the CEO of First Derivative and how you have been advocating for gender diversity and equality in the tech industry?
Since being appointed CEO for First Derivative 3 years ago, I have made it a key priority to proactively create and encourage decisions within the firm that promote a fair and even playing field for women. Seeing the usual gender divide within corporate firms, I wanted First Derivative to be one step ahead and so, one of the first actions I took was appointing two leaders – one woman and one man who together, led the main divisions.
As the CEO, what steps have you taken to promote a more inclusive and diverse work environment in terms of gender representation and empowerment?
Having joined a company that had such a strong and significant history, I ensured that, as a new leader, I spent time with all those in the company who could help me better understand the workings behind the scenes and in the end, I actually promoted one long term female member of staff to the position of Chief Operating Officer.
How do you believe gender diversity and equality contribute to the success of tech companies and what initiatives have you implemented to foster a supportive culture for women in the industry?
At First Derivative, we have a Women’s Network which is a space for women across the business to connect and share their ideas and experiences and to foster our culture of diversity, equality and inclusion. Our Women’s Network has gone from strength to strength, boasting an active communication network, spearheading our female leadership and educational programmes such as STRIVE, IMPACT, SistersIN and Time to Code, and holding regular events in support of women and recognising International Women’s History Month. The network welcomes all gender identities within its communication network and at all events, to encourage participation and representation for all.
In your experience, what are some of the challenges and barriers that women face in the tech sector and what strategies have you implemented to address these challenges in your company?
I think it is difficult to create a decent pipeline for women in the sector as we do not see enough women studying STEM subjects. As a result, women in the tech sector can often find themselves in the minority which on occasion can be a difficult environment to work in.
We are involved with many initiatives to help support the pipeline growth that companies like ours need to see. We also run a Women’s Network for our women in tech to join and find peer support. In addition, we now have launched a Lean In Network where women and men come together on a regular basis for group and peer coaching sessions. The pulse within these circles is reported to be transformational. My job as CEO is to enable such networks and provide them support so that the women we attract to our tech roles feel supported and are happy in their roles.
As a male advocate, what advice would you give to other leaders and organisations who aspire to create more opportunities for women in technology and support their professional growth?
First off, I would suggest they have open conversations with their employees to hear what areas around gender equality they would like to try to innovate in. Secondly, my advice is to provide support and encouragement in abundance to those who are volunteering to set them up as catalysts within your organisation. Thirdly, I suggest you ensure recognition and spotlight goes on those who are trying to drive cultural change and to step up for them and their agenda any time the opportunity arises.
How do you encourage and support women in leadership positions and promote equal opportunities for career advancement?
Last year, I made a strategic investment in hiring our Director of Emotional Intelligence, Breda McCague, who is also the Co-founder of Lean in Ireland with the task of supporting the female agenda and progression, amongst other aspects. In fact, we officially launched Lean In circles within the firm on International Women’s Day this year. The investment has proved successful with women in leadership positions now availing of 1:1 coaching sessions tailored towards leadership and advancing their career journey.
Can you share any success stories or initiatives that have resulted from your advocacy efforts?
During my time with the company, I have supported all our female-orientated initiatives which are structured from school age right through to employment. Firstly, we have recently engaged with SistersIN, an 8-month development journey for sixth-form girls to help build their confidence and broaden their career perspectives. We have several women from First Derivative taking part in this programme where they are helping to create an ecosystem where schools, businesses and leaders are helping female students unlock a world of potential and develop the leadership skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace.
Also, we host two mentorship programmes, one led internally and the other, externally. Our IMPACT mentorship programme is aimed at empowering young women through a unique mentorship opportunity, offering key insights into the professional workplace and additional guidance through events. The programme is open to young women studying any university degree who have a keen interest in increasing their employability and are eager to gain a deeper understanding of working in the tech industry.
Thirdly, our internal led STRIVE programme is an 8-week female leadership programme targeted towards empowering young females within the business. The programme is aimed at making females feel successful, talented, resilient, informed, valued and empowered to ‘strive’ in their career with First Derivative.
What are your future goals and aspirations in terms of promoting gender equality and diversity within First Derivative and the wider tech community?
The Financial Services and Capital Markets industry is predominately male-orientated which is one thing I am committed to changing in my role as CEO. Currently, First Derivative has a circa 70/30 male-female gender split which is brilliant and somewhat unheard of in companies of our size. With that being said, I have a goal to increase this to 60/40 by 2026.
Looking ahead, what do you believe is the role of male advocates in creating an inclusive tech industry and how do you plan to continue advocating for these important issues?
Without male advocates speaking up, the cultures across our industries will not improve. Recent LinkedIn research found that 41.9% of the working population across 163 countries are women, yet when they examined the numbers of women in C-suite positions, the level drops to 25%.
We need to get that number moving so that we get better diversity of thought on all our Exec Boards. We will benefit from a better balance in decision-making which I think is something most conscious ambitious leaders would welcome.
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