Five minutes with…Lesley Salmon, SVP & Chief Information Officer at Kellogg
In our latest edition of ‘Five minutes with…’, Fran Grant, Consultant in our IT Leadership Practice, talks with Lesley Salmon, SVP & CIO at Kellogg. Fran spoke with Lesley about the gender imbalance in IT and why there are fewer women at the top table. They discussed the root cause of this issue, the lack of PR surrounding industry changes, and the persistence of an archaic narrative.
Lesley is a highly accomplished leader who is committed to driving impactful business outcomes through great digital solutions. She is a passionate advocate for women in technology and a champion for the LGBTQ+ community, in and out of work. Lesley is the Executive Sponsor for the K Pride & Allies group, bringing Kellogg’s purpose to life by creating a seat at the table for everyone. Lesley and her leadership team foster an inclusive culture which encourages colleagues at every level of the business to feel they belong and are empowered to shape the future of Kellogg IT. In addition, Lesley is passionate about helping Kellogg achieve its ESG goals. Berwick Partners and Odgers Berndtson also have a history with Lesley, having helped her to secure her first IT Director role with Galaxy Optical.
The tech industry is male dominated, with women making up only 19% of the tech workforce as a whole and 22% of tech director roles (source). Why do you think this is?
There are so many reasons. I’ve been in technology for 30 years and I’m as much a minority now as I’ve ever been, which is sad. Technology is so exciting, and there are so many skills needed that play to women’s traditional strengths. There’s just so much to love about tech! I think the problems relating to gender imbalance are deep rooted.
Historically, tech roles have required a certain level of personal commitment and sacrifice – with out of hours emergencies, weekend and evening cover, Christmas, and bank holiday cover, and this would have been so much more difficult for mothers. Before joining Kellogg, I remember one of my colleagues bringing her kids into the office at 3 a.m. to deal with a production issue. So traditionally, this has been a barrier for women in technology.
Now, I’m glad to say, we have more agile ways of working, more flexible working hours and we’re more adaptable. Technology has also moved on – we have architectures that can be upgraded offline, at any time, causing minimum disruption, meaning less round the clock maintenance or cover. Companies are acknowledging that childcare is a two-parent job with increasing levels of support in place.
What advice would you give to females pursuing a career in this industry?
Choose a role where there’s room for personal and professional growth, so you get that sense of satisfaction, the feeling of accomplishment. Work smart and choose a company that values your contribution, and as you progress, pay it forward. Don’t forget to support other people on their journey too. Praise loudly and if you see bad behaviour, don’t be afraid to call it out. We need to get rid of the need to overcompensate, to work twice as hard as our male counterparts – it’s exhausting! Also, find a good mentor.
Are organisations doing enough to attract, support and retain women?
We’re all aware of the war on talent and we know that there is another layer to that because we also need to be fighting the battle to attract and retain great female talent. Equity, diversity, and inclusion is important to our company and Kellogg is committed to achieving gender parity in our senior leader population by 2025. We are being very intentional about this, seeking to pivot the role and the representation of women in our business.
What is the root cause?
Speaking for technology, there simply aren’t the numbers. The industry has changed enormously over the years, the ways of working have changed, but the perception, the narrative, hasn’t. This is why I appreciate opportunities like this to share my story and show women that they can have a successful and fulfilling career. If there is one person reading this who thinks technology is for them and goes for a role, then that is success!
What can be done?
We’re on the cusp of technology being a more inclusive environment and we’ve got to shout about it. We’ve got to empower our children at grassroots level, making them realise there’s no such thing as girls’ jobs or boys’ jobs. We’ve got to get girls into STEM subjects… early.
At Kellogg, we run an intern programme which is hugely successful. In fact, our current Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) started as an intern seven years ago. In addition to changing things at a grassroots level and creating great internships, we’ve also got to keep hold of the women we’ve got, unlock their potential at a junior level, coach them, and mentor them.
As a working mum myself, I’m all too aware of the challenges and I was lucky to have a good support system in place. I think back to moments in my career like coming back to work after maternity leave, and I believe that women who are ready to come back into the workforce whether that’s after maternity or a career break are a valuable and untapped resource.
At the end of the day, I want women to know that it is possible for them to become the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a global company and that they can achieve great things in tech, if that’s what they want.
As a woman in a leadership position, have you ever been discriminated against or faced any barriers that are unique to being a female?
I spent a lot of my career trying to avoid the fact I’m female. I often felt like I had to work a lot harder, but I never felt discriminated against, and I always found male allies very supportive. I just worked hard, did a great job, focused on people, learning and development. I fundamentally believe that the vast majority of people don’t discriminate intentionally, but a lot of us have unconscious biases that we need to break down. I’m part of a brilliant group called Women of Kellogg which helps to address these unconscious biases and break down barriers.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that there is a business case for embedding equity, diversity, and inclusion deeper into our businesses. Not only to inspire creativity and innovation but to reflect the diverse communities in which we live and work. But it takes time. If you want to get things done quicker, surround yourself with people like you, people you tend to agree with. If, on the other hand, you want a better business solution, immerse yourself in a diverse group for richer and more meaningful conversations. Those conversations may take longer, but you’ll be guaranteed a better result, and ultimately deliver a better overall business performance.
With 20 years’ experience in the field, Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Consumer Leisure and Hospitality.