Leading by Example: An Executive’s Thoughts on Career Diversity and Work Life Balance

What is career diversity, and how can it impact your career? Deborah Threadgold, UK and Ireland’s Chief Digital Officer, talks to us about how career diversity has kept her in IBM over the past 20 years, how she maintains a healthy work and life balance, and her thoughts on women’s progress.


D Threadgold 2018

As IBM UKI’s first Chief Digital Officer, Deborah Threadgold leads the digital transformation within IBM UK and Ireland (UKI) as well as the Digital Business Group itself, an organisation of over 200 employees based across UK & Ireland and encompassing a variety of roles from opportunity identification, sales, developer & digital advocacy, and technical capabilities.

What is your responsibility in IBM?
My team and I work across IBM’s full coverage model from Integrated accounts, Enterprise customers, but with a significant focus on the SME community (Commercial) and with all areas of IBM’s portfolio, from traditional core offerings to the cloud & cognitive portfolio, including SaaS.

Prior to this role, I worked in a variety of Sales Leadership and Client Director Channel roles, working both with traditional resell partners and new types of partner to ensure their business goals aligned with IBM’s strategic priorities and our technologies are embedded in their solutions.  I started my career at IBM as a business consultant and enjoy the transformation aspect of all these roles. I have recently taken up the role of Executive Sponsor for Gender Diversity within IBM UKI, as well as Executive Sponsor for “Gaining Developer Mindshare” working with IBM’s Technical community.

You have a very diverse career, and have been through a variety of role transformations. Do you have any recommendations for individuals looking to advance their careers to the next level?

    • Take ownership of your own career.
    • Don’t take the easy option – you should always be “scared” of your new role.
    • Take time out to take a step back and see how your current and previous roles plot in terms of where you are aiming to go…that enables you to understand where you have development gaps..i.e. People management, P&L, Marketing skills, international teams etc.
    • Mentors and networks..they perform different roles …some connect you to a strong network, some give you alternative paths to consider, some good advice based on experience, some just a good sounding board – but fundamentally in my view mentors only work where there is a connection…a level of trust.
    • Push yourself to network – particularly for women, this is not always comfortable but use the opportunities to meet executives within IBM as an opportunity to give your personal elevator pitch and get feedback – then you have visibility and a stronger story!

You mentioned your new role as Executive Sponsor for Gender Diversity, and involvement in IBM’s Inclusion Council. Can you tell us more about this?

I was asked by Bill Kelleher, our Country General Manager in IBM UKI, to take on the role of Gender Diversity sponsor and to be part of the UKI Inclusion Council. The UKI Inclusion Council focuses on diversity (any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another) & Inclusion (Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported).  In simple terms, diversity is the mix; inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.

The purpose of the Diversity council, co-chaired by our Country General Manager and HR Director, is to embed Inclusion in the business, and the ways we aim to do that is through regular and frequent meetings with Executive representation from all of the UKI businesses and the Business Resource Groups.  The aim of these sessions is to ensure we have a clear plan to support IBM’s inclusion strategies, to track and measure performance against agreed goals such as attracting and retaining female talent, to agree investment priorities and share best practices.

The key to success to inclusion at IBM is not just in having an executive sponsor, but in the team of volunteers who contribute time and input to the goals and the various inclusion activities rolled out at IBM. That includes the members of the Women at IBM Business Resource Groups who generously give their personal time to ensure equality for our female colleagues.  I see my role very much as being a focal point for the various activities the teams are working on, and to be a diversity ambassador both inside and outside of IBM. Whilst I am at the beginning of my tenure, I am keen to ensure that the activities we put in place to reach our goals meet the needs of the people we represent.

You seem to be a busy executive, how do you manage your work life balance?
I am a mum of three, with a husband who also works full-time for IBM.  Managing work requires a lot of planning, compromise and knowing your priorities. I’m a great believer that we should be judged on our performance and outcomes and not where we are 9-5, 5 days a week.  In my earlier career, I would have gone to extreme lengths to “cover” the fact that I had a sick child at home or needed to go to a school play.  However I made a conscious decision to change this a number of years ago.  Being a mum is who I am and significantly influences who I am as a leader – I am very conscious that I need to be open about my dual roles so that other women who are starting their families recognize that IBM is a flexible workplace that encourages them to prioritise work life balance as appropriate, a right that is earned by having a reputation for always delivering. By the way, the same principle applies to other aspects of work/life, not just children!

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’d like to know know what women’s progress means for you.

This isn’t just a case of progressing women…this is about providing equal opportunity to everyone to have a fulfilled and successful career – we spend a large proportion of our time “in work” and regardless of gender, we should all have access to opportunity, to be challenged and to be recognised for our contributions.  It is no surprise that organisations with a reputation for being a good place to work for diversity groups are more attractive, and opens up the pool of talent from which IBM can recruit.

In addition, I believe this is the right thing to do from a business perspective and there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that diversity improves business outcomes in terms of productivity, profitability and employee retention. From my personal experience of over 20 years, working in diverse teams has delivered more innovative and creative results.  As we see more women progress within IBM in all types of roles and all levels, this can only be a positive achievement and one I am proud to be part of.


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