Sheridan Ash, Technology Innovation Leader, PwC UK
In 2010, when Sheridan Ash joined PwC UK from Accenture to set up a new technology practice focused on the health sector, she was immediately impressed by the firm’s dynamic, innovative culture and readiness to embrace change. But one thing struck her as odd: less than 15% of PwC UK’s tech workforce were women. So she decided to do something about it – and set up a Women in Tech Initiative.
Fast-forward to today, Sheridan is a Technology Innovation Leader at PwC UK and founder Co-CEO of Tech She Can1, a tech careers education and skills charity working with over 250 companies to increase the proportion of women in technology. Along the way, she’s been awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list and named by Computer Weekly as one of the 10 most influential women in UK Technology 2022 among other accolades. And the proportion of women in PwC UK’s tech workforce? It’s now up to 34% and rising – testament to Sheridan’s early efforts as a catalyst for change, alongside all the other women in tech leaders and male allies across the firm.
“I love the culture and the amount of opportunities at PwC UK, because the firm will let you have a go at almost anything and you're not micromanaged. You're allowed to think really creatively. I love that. And the culture continues to improve since I joined, in fact, it’s gotten better and better. I’ve always found the firm very accepting of people coming in and trying to change things and do things differently. And that is even more so the case today.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who’s been such a change agent, Sheridan didn’t take a traditional academic route to PwC. Having left school at 16 with no qualifications due to undiagnosed dyslexia, she travelled the world as a fashion model for several years. When becoming a single mum put an end to her globe-trotting, she started afresh – going back to school and gaining a degree in psychological sciences before joining a pharmaceutical company. Finding that job unfulfilling, she took an MBA at Imperial College London – winning an award for the best dissertation by any MBA or PhD student – and then went to Accenture where she ran major IT projects in the UK and globally, before joining PwC UK.
At PwC Sheridan quickly progressed to be part of the technology leadership team and six years ago wrote and delivered a technology and Innovation strategy for the firm, and she has been leading various aspects of this ever since, especially in creating its innovation capability. To address the shortage of women in tech roles she led the launch of several initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining women all along the talent pipeline, ranging from promotional campaigns aimed at female students to “maternity mates” and reskilling for returning mothers.
“At PwC, Inclusion & Diversity is written into our DNA – into our purpose and values and policies. We don't just say it, we back it up, and we can now demonstrate we've changed in impacts and statistics. We still have a lot to do, but we’re making progress all the time.”
In 2018 Sheridan commissioned ground-breaking research – Time to close the Gender Gap – which showed that just 27% of A-level and university-age females were interested in tech careers, compared to 62% of males. What’s more, career advisers weren’t always suggesting tech to girls as a career – and there was a glaring lack of relatable visible female role models in technology.
This spurred Sheridan’s determination to improve diversity representation in tech not only at PwC UK, but across society. Harnessing the publicity around the research, and with backing from the PwC UK Board, she pulled together an initial group of organisations to create Tech She Can – and the rest is history. In September 2021 the movement was awarded charitable status, and today it has over 250 member organisations, spanning 40 sectors, with 20 strategic partners who fund the charity, including founding strategic partner PwC UK. The charity’s schools resources are available for everyone, and are now used in thousands of schools across the UK and have reached 25 countries globally. This year, on Safer Internet Day2, Tech She Can’s virtual assembly about cybersecurity was attended by 338 schools and over 13,000 students.
Sheridan’s proud of PwC’s and Tech She Can’s achievements in boosting female participation in tech both within and beyond PwC UK – but she knows there’s much more to do. For example, tackling the continuing ethnicity gap by attracting more Black women into tech careers and working with the government to make sure that every pupil has tech careers education and the opportunity to study tech in the UK where nearly one-quarter of schools don’t teach Computer Science.
In her personal life, Sheridan loves to read, catching up on books she missed out on when she was younger due to dyslexia. Sheridan has a famous brother in law, the author Philip Pullman, before she even knew him, his books had inspired her as they have strong female characters and role models. One day, she would like to have a go at writing inspiring stories for young children based on diverse characters that Tech She Can has developed for its schools resources.
2. TechSheCan Safer Internet Day: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7028785228127068162/
From your experience, how do you sum up Inclusion & Diversity at PwC?
It really is one of PwC UK’s top three priorities, alongside clients and growth. We don't just talk about it. We do something about it.
What should others know about PwC’s commitment to Inclusion & Diversity?
We’ve managed to make such significant progress because we measure results. And what you don't measure doesn't happen.