Tiffany Hall has just taken on an additional responsibility as the chair of Ada, National College for Digital Skills, alongside her day job as CIO of Cancer Research UK. Her role as chair of a further education college board of governors means holding the executive of the college to account.
The North London college for 16 to 18-year-olds focuses on digital skills with students having to take a BTEC in Computer Science. The tight focus of the curriculum and dedication of the students and staff paid off when 2016 cohort achieved fantastic results in 2018 and the following year did the same.
Hall sees her job as taking the college into its maturity stage. She said: “It’s been in start-up mode and it is now into stabilising and growing and one of my responsibilities is to take it forward. The founders have done the most amazing job of getting it launched and approved and now it is coming of age.”
She is also bringing her experience of working in public sector organisations which will assist her with governance. Hall said: “I understand the machinations of governance and the distinction between the executive decision making and the trustee governance decision making.” At Cancer Research she is ‘on the other side of the leadership fence’ as she has to report to trustees, and be very clear about which decisions are for the executive and which are for the governing board to make.
Another aspect of her role will be to help increase the number of employer partners that the college works with. Currently Deloitte, Google, Bank of America and Salesforce are amongst the companies that take on students for work-based training. But Hall is hoping to use extensive network to bring in new partners.
The chairpersonship is a good fit for Hall because the college is committed to removing the glass ceiling in tech for women and those from low-income backgrounds, an issue that is close to her heart. Over the years she has been involved in a number of initiatives that promote diversity in the tech sector including e-skills UK which later became The Tech Partnership and the Tech Talent Charter. She said: “The Tech Talent Charter started with an emphasis on gender but it has now moved on to other forms of diversity including ethnicity, disability, social mobility and so on which is really important. I have quite a strong interest in that area.”
Currently, just under a third of the student body are female and one half are from low-income backgrounds. Hall has spent the majority of her time at university and in the workplace – prior to CRUK she spent 20 years at the BBC and was at Shell before that - in majority male environments, to the point where being outnumbered gender-wise doesn’t faze her. Her tip for thriving in such environments is to find male allies who will support and step in if they see difficult or inappropriate behaviour.
The students themselves are taking steps to widen participation with clubs and apps. They are teaching computer skills to younger, local pupils and have developed a gamified tech careers app. “Ada 6th formers run the Primary Computing Club. It helps them learn and it helps with their social skills and confidence and the kids in the school learn as well so it is a really lovely initiative,” said Hall.
Another reason that Hall makes a good chair for the college is she has done the same role many years ago at another FE college. That experience taught her to resist the urge to jump in and fix any issue she could. “That’s not what you do as a governor,” she said. “You identify the problem, point it out to the management and then they have to fix it. Getting that line right is really important.”
With regard to her day job, a role for which she won the prestigious CIO of the Year at the Women in IT Awards earlier this year, I wondered how she saw the rivalry or antagonism that supposedly exists between CIOs and CDOs. It turns out, Hall doesn’t have to worry about that as CRUK does not have a CDO with data operations and data strategy leadership coming under her. In Hall’s view, it is all down the personality of the individuals in those roles. She said: “It would be extremely likely that if you’ve got a CDO and a CIO who are by nature collaborative types of people, they will make it work fabulously and if you’ve got people who are by character slightly different it might be a different story.”