‘Today’s tech leaders have an obligation to think deeply about unconscious bias’

6 Aug 2019

Faye Thomas. Image: AMI

AMI’s Faye Thomas discusses the importance of data management in a post-GDPR world, and the ‘undeniable’ gender diversity problem in the tech sector.

Faye Thomas is chief commercial officer (CCO) of AMI, an IT recycling company that helps organisations to manage the retirement of their end-of-life IT, mobile and electrical equipment to minimise the risk of a data breach. The company employs 60 people across its Belfast and Dublin offices.

Thomas has 20 years’ experience in sales strategy and business development, including over eight years working in the IT sector. In her time with AMI, Thomas has worked as a key account manager and business manager, before stepping into the role of CCO earlier this year.

‘The technology sector has an undeniable gender diversity problem and remains male-dominated … I was at a conference last year with 120 delegates and only three were female’

Describe your role and what you do.

AMI is Ireland’s leading IT disposal company and as CCO I am accountable for the overall commercial strategy and development of the business in line with our company vision, mission and values.

My team and I are responsible for sales, marketing and customer service. Together, this drives business growth and increases the market share of our three brands – AMI, DiskShred and RefreshedByUs.com. In addition to these responsibilities, I also oversee HR and employee wellbeing at AMI.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Given the fast-paced nature of my work, planning in advance is essential to staying on top of things. I find the Eisenhower ‘Urgent/Important’ Principle helps me to use time effectively and get away from constantly responding to urgent issues by focusing on what tasks are most important.

As well as setting and reviewing goals on a regular basis, I ensure I stay on track by using Microsoft Office 365. My whole life, both personally and professionally, is organised in either my mailbox or my calendar. I religiously manage my inbox, filing everything that doesn’t require an action and regularly using tasks and flags.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Businesses are becoming more aware that old or redundant IT equipment can be a source of revenue. If a business resells a desktop, laptop or hard drive [that] isn’t 100pc cleansed of data, they are compromising sensitive customer and company information and are therefore in breach of GDPR.

There are some organisations that try to sell their old equipment themselves, and others that use unaccredited IT asset disposal companies. Both of these options run a high risk of incomplete data wiping due to human error or free data erasure software, which is uncertified, leaving organisations open to the reputational and financial damage of a data leak.

We have in place a series of checks and procedures – both electronic and manual – to ensure that every item we process and resell is entirely cleansed of all data. Additionally, through our retail arm, RefreshedByUs.com, we can find the channel that will capture the highest possible revenue return for clients.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

In our industry, GDPR has had a huge impact on how organisations manage data. In the lead-up to last year’s deadline, reminiscent of the millennium bug, there was a lot of talk, verging on hysteria. However, the difference is that when the clock struck midnight, GDPR didn’t go away.

GDPR has really driven demand for our services as organisations realise the importance of eliminating all residual data from old or unwanted IT equipment, while securely disposing of these devices.

Data protection regulations will only get tighter in years to come. More and more companies are realising that IT hardware recycling and data destruction specialists like AMI can help them with GDPR compliance and the secure disposal of their IT.

Woman in black dress and black jacket stands in a room full of computers and other tech equipment.

Faye Thomas. Image: AMI

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Having built up strong general sales, operations and management experience, I got my first experience working in the technology sector in my role with Capita IT & Networks.

During my time with Capita, I became increasingly interested in the sustainability of IT equipment and the circular economy. I became more conscious of how customers were disposing of their redundant equipment, in particular how they were managing the integrity and security of the data on old IT equipment in the disposal process.

An opportunity with AMI presented itself in early 2014. Philip McMichael, AMI’s CEO, was keen for me to join the growing company and he created a new role within AMI for me. I joined AMI as key account and channel partner manager.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I wish I had been bolder in the earlier part of my career. In an early job, while initially brilliant for me both personally and professionally, the role was too junior for my qualifications and I stayed in that role for too long. My mistake was believing a recruitment consultant who had told me that the market had changed dramatically, influencing me to stay in my position longer than was necessary.

Looking back, there were no significant changes [that] I wouldn’t have been able to adapt to and today I’m much more confident in my ability to overcome new challenges.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Overseeing the HR function and employee wellbeing at AMI means that I am keenly aware of any challenges or issues that are facing our team members, as well as their ambitions. Understanding people’s motivations is an important aspect in getting the best out of your team. I encourage open and honest communication with my team, such as feedback on programmes or training that we implement.

Ensuring the right people are operating in the right roles is vital. The open feedback culture in AMI means that I get an understanding of team members’ strengths and can ensure that they are working to them. Likewise, clearly communicating organisational objectives fosters a sense of teamwork, which makes AMI a great place to work. Indeed, 60pc of our employees have been with the company for five years or more.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

The technology sector has an undeniable gender diversity problem and remains male-dominated. For example, I was at a conference last year with 120 delegates and only three were female.

Fortunately, we are seeing changes and the percentage increase in the number of women working in our sector is quite considerable. This is a start, however, today’s technology leaders have an obligation to think deeply about any unconscious bias and ensure they employ or promote the best person for the role regardless of gender.

Having a mix of people from different backgrounds and with various life experiences is important in any company. At AMI, we’re lucky to have this balance, with both experienced leaders and a young and energetic team.

Who is your role model and why?

I don’t have a single person that I could choose as a role model. There are a number of people who I look up to and I try to replicate what I think are their best qualities.

My parents have been hugely influential on me. They taught me from a young age that work is something we all spend a considerable amount of time doing and that, if I had any sense, I would make sure to do something that I enjoy. Luckily, I can say that I very much enjoy going to work every day.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Particularly for people in business, but also anyone, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The book investigates the reasons why we humans make bad decisions and suggests ways that we might make better decisions, even if the better decisions make us feel uncomfortable. It’s a real eye opener and has made me think differently.

I was also recently given a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She explains why women often have to work harder than men to get ahead and that we are always our own biggest critics, no matter how confident we are. Much of the book really resonated [with me] and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

As I mentioned, I heavily lean on Microsoft Office 365 to navigate my working week. I’ve recently discovered the accompanying Outlook app, Tasks in a Box, which is a lifesaver that allows you to snooze emails until a suitable time and makes staying on top of tasks much easier.

I also am utterly dependent on my iPhone and use it for setting reminders, taking notes and planning on the go.

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