“The #MeToo movement may have made a difference to some corporate systems, but societally there is still progress to be made” Pauline Norstrom, Founder and CEO, Anekanta® Consulting and Anekanta® AI
With a dynamic and varied career in technology companies, including several years as Chief Operating Officer for AD Group, Pauline Norstrom reflects on standing out as the lone woman at the top table, the support she has found from the IoD and applying her experience to establish her own AI business.
I didn’t quite fit into the inflexible higher education system offered in the late 1980s; I excelled in both arts and science and back then university courses didn’t accommodate a mix, you had to choose one or the other. I deferred my place to read Law, and instead became a technology entrepreneur, including being part of the team which developed one of the first e-commerce sites, pre-Google.
In the 90s I was working on my business idea to create a template-based online system and one of my projects asked me to join the management team. I didn’t know the corporate world and accepted the opportunity to develop my career. I was lucky to be appointed a mentor, a (male) engineer with an MBA from whom I learned a great deal about all aspects of high-level business management. Through my hard work and commitment (often working until 2-3am) I progressed into more strategic roles.
The technology industry was, and still is, a male-dominated environment which seeks to judge women to a higher standard. I have experienced language and gaslighting behaviour which could not be left unaddressed, for the sake of other women too. The #MeToo movement has made a difference to some corporate systems, but societally progress needs to be made to get used to seeing women in leadership roles. To address bias, I have developed a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system, the first, accepting that mistakes can happen, the second perhaps a coincidence, and the third, a pattern, whereby I call out the behaviour or make more formal complaints.
In my experience, it is usually a handful of people who perpetuate bias. Most of the men I have worked with have been very supportive, but I have found that a misogynistic environment left unchecked by the leadership can have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to speak up.
The voluntary side of the tech industry, which is also mostly male, has been extremely welcoming and supportive. I really enjoy being a board advisor to the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), following being elected their overall chair in 2014-16, and the role now involves leading and advising on AI, biometrics and facial recognition policy and practice, regulations and governance.
When I was appointed to the Board of AD Group I was the only female on the board, and only one of two women in statutory director roles across the entire business. This was a tough job involving difficult decisions but sometimes you need to say yes to a challenge to get on.
I joined the IoD because I wanted to be clear about the role of the statutory director and the legal duties and responsibilities. I embarked on the Chartered Director Programme and I also work on a voluntary basis with the IoD Expert Advisory Group for science, innovation and technology. It will be good to see the group become more gender diverse; I am the only female and would encourage other females to join.
In 2016, I formed Anekanta AI and the company’s values are based on a Jainism principal meaning ‘in search of the truth’ which I think represents my career well. The IoD’s new ‘AI in the Boardroom’ guidance – which has been a priority for the Expert Advisory Group – is based on my business’s own ethical framework.