Lauren Marsden, Director for Channel Sales in UK&I for Forcepoint shares her personal experiences as a female in a leadership role within the channel and why more ladies should consider a career in IT.
Lauren Marsden, currently Director for Channel Sales in UK&I for Forcepoint, has held her position at Forcepoint for the past 3 years but prior to that she spent over 10 years at systems integrator and channel partner Arrow. Here she talks to PCR about
Please could you tell us a bit more about your background within the channel?
I’ve been with Forcepoint since 2018, and within the wider IT channel sector 16 years. I now serve as the EMEA Channel Director for Forcepoint, helping execute on and manage our partner programme in the region to make sure it’s as effective and sustainable for partners as it can be. We have over 12,000 partners globally, including Global Systems Integrators, specialist partners, Managed Security Service Providers and of course our distributor network. Working within the channel is a job where no two days are the same – I’m meeting with different partners and areas of the business every day, and it’s rewarding to be helping lead a team that’s out at the very front of the business, making a difference to the bottom line and helping partners and end users with the challenges they’re having in the real world.
How do you think the channel can encourage more women to pursue a career with the channel and into a top-level management role?
What’s so interesting here is how the pandemic forced a change in working practices, with a silver lining of flexibility, increased empathy and different opportunities. We’re now more aware of our colleagues’ family commitments or life pressures then we might have once been – and the physical location of top talent becomes less of a challenge, now hybrid working is the norm. I do believe that employers are shifting recruitment and retention practices, putting measures and policies in place to better support us all – whether full or part-time, parent or carer, in a single-person or multi-generational household – everyone needs support. Hybrid working has brought down some of the barriers to landing a role, but giving employees more space to manage both their personal and work lives will make careers in IT and security much more appealing to those groups who are less represented in the industry.
What inspires you about working within the channel?
My current role as EMEA Director gives me the great privilege of working with people from many different countries. Learning and understanding all the different ways in which the channel functions is fascinating – and sharing best practice across those countries makes us all greater than the sum of our parts. The breadth of people you meet with in this role is also inspiring, from young people just starting out their career in the industry where you are able to coach and mentor through new situations, to people whom have been in the industry many years and have so much knowledge and are inspirational to listen to and talk with. My joy comes from gaining so much from the wide group of people and organisations I deal with every day.
What do you think the channel needs to focus on more to ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion?
To ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion, employers need to be proactively taking action around this issue, and be making policy changes and putting measures in place to attract, recruit and retain fully diverse workforces. They need to instill a culture of honesty, openness and fairness. In some ways, the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, and the changes in the ways that many of us work, have humanised us. Organisations can take this further through in-depth training, dealing with a range of topics such as unconscious bias, building neuro- and personality-diverse teams, emotional IQ, among others. It’s got to be taken seriously, and not just as a tick-box or annual training exercise, which does mean it needs to be led from the top.
What is your favourite aspect about your role?
Similar to my inspirations, it’s such a joy to travel across my region, getting to visit so many cities, experience new cultures and meet so many new people.
What plans do you have to drive business forward in your role?
My goal is to simplify systems for our partner community with the ultimate goal of ensuring partner profitability. Our new channel partner program enables our channel to lead with their services. With our recent acquisitions, Forcepoint has achieved record revenue and new customer growth, which channel partners are able to capitalise on, that coupled with the latest enhancements to our Global Partner program ensures our partner network is equipped to drive growth and ensures our customers have the security expertise and support needed.
How has the channel evolved since you first entered it?
Gosh! Now you will be able to work out my age… I joined the channel in distribution many years ago, and over the years have witnessed significant changes in the channel. Routes to market are constantly changing, with the increase in managed service offerings and consumption billing to name a few. The value offered from the channel has also increased in recent years as the teams there pivot to supporting new working practices. The channel needs to be at the cutting edge of change to provide customers the products and support needed to keep people and data protected wherever and however organisations are working.
What areas of improvement do you think need more focus?
Organisations need to remember that diversity is everything from age to ethnicity, sexuality to neurodiversity – if companies only recruit from the same small pool of people, or in the likeness of those already in senior positions, they’re putting themselves at a huge disadvantage. Products created by those working in information technology are used the world over. We need full representation from people of all characteristics and backgrounds during the development process to make sure that what’s being created is appropriate for all. Creating a diverse leadership and management, will give organisations wider perspective, global outlook and strength across different parts of the businesses.
Does Forcepoint have any diversity initiatives in place?
During the last year, we introduced a company-wide inclusion and diversity training module, really challenging the way we think, build teams, recruit and retain. Currently within the IT channel at Forcepoint, 80% of the team is female, and there’s a strong gender split in the sector more broadly. Diversity of personnel brings along an equivalent diversity of thought – the perfect environment for great ideas, new innovation and different thinking. As a woman in the channel, I can confidently say that we often have a different approach, worldview and way of thinking that can add real value. While it can sometimes be intimidating to go into a room full of businessmen, knowing clearly where your own strengths and weaknesses lie allows you to be true to yourself, and thrive even in environments where there is still work to be done around diversity and representation.
What about education? How can the channel look to encourage early interest in the tech channel at school level?
As children and young people, we often develop preconceptions about what certain industries might be like. So, when we’re presented with career options as we come through higher education, some people automatically rule themselves out from particular career paths – without grounds to do so. Information technology is a case in point. Sadly, in my experience IT has been represented as something you need strong technical qualifications and a computing or mathematical background to get into. In fact, careers within technology are much more diverse, and can be right for a far wider range of people than you might think. There’s a whole chain of technology sales, support and account management out there, which requires people with completely different skillsets to those that are hands-on with the tech itself. As an industry, I think there’s more we could be doing to make that clearer, whether that’s by focusing on graduate or early careers schemes to give people some real-world experience, or by adapting and changing how we recruit and what elements we choose to focus on in the process.
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