Cheryl's Story

Cheryl Martin
  • Cheryl Martin

Cheryl is a Partner in financial services and leads our cybersecurity, privacy and operational resilience solution within the insurance sector. She is also our global insurance cybersecurity lead and the driving force behind our women in technology community.

1. Cheryl, what inspired you to succeed in the technology sector?

When I left school I joined Natwest Bank and then moved into stockbroking. I was looking for a change and found a role to join the sales team at Mercury Communications, a national telephone company and subsidiary of Cable & Wireless established to challenge the then-monopoly of BT. Mercury was the first competitor to BT, so it was a great opportunity to break barriers.

What inspired me to succeed was having the determination to prove to myself, and to others, that women like me could be at the forefront of a technology revolution. Enabling more women from diverse backgrounds into technology is an area we are tackling head on at EY. Our dedicated network of EY Women in Technology has over 1,700 people where we collectively work together to improve female participation in the industry at each step of their careers.


2. What has been your greatest success and learning so far?

Most of my female peers would admit that they are often the only woman in the room. My learning has been that we have every right to be at the table. It’s about being aware of our strengths and leveraging those strengths. If someone had told me I’d be jumping on a cable ship to link undersea cables from the UK to the US to help create the first worldwide web, I would never have believed them. We need to celebrate our abilities and successes.


3. To run a successful technology business, what qualities do you look for in your teams?

Collaboration and resilience. Our teams need to work together to create new solutions, and have the ability to work collaboratively by respecting each other’s roles and responsibilities. Each team member should be able to have a voice to suggest different ideas to solve a problem. The second key ingredient is being prepared for setbacks. If the solution does not work the first time, you have to keep tweaking and adjusting it. You are probably all familiar with the oil spray WD-40, used in many homes to prevent rust and squeaky doors. Its name derives from the team’s 40th attempt to create a product. By remembering those who came before us, their resilience and tenacity, this reminds us why it’s important to persevere.


4. What are some misconceptions about working in technology and how can we dispel them?

You no longer need to be that stereotype who studied maths or physics. I always get surprised when people tell me I’m not a techie, but I then ask them how often do they use technology, whether be their mobile phone, computer or TV? The fact is, we all have technology deeply ingrained in our lives. The challenge is to change the perceptions of people who work in the industry. For example, a few years ago, I was working on a client site where a female doctor was unable to access the gym because she had doctor on her membership card. As it was assumed that all doctors were male, the computer flagged her as an irregularity. We have to keep challenging those false perceptions of having to fit a particular mould or look a particular way to work in an industry.


5. What is the biggest change that needs to happen to encourage more women to work in technology?

I recently mentored a young couple, let’s call them David and Lisa. David acknowledged that he had been able to have more success in the technology industry than his girlfriend, Lisa. For David, from a young age, he had naturally learnt to work in a team and to be more tenacious through sports from the hours he spent practicing his football dribbling skills to the endless attempts he made trying to score goals. Unfortunately, from a young age, girls still don’t generally participate in as many group activities or sports then boys. That is then perpetuated by the media who often portray women as more divisive when working in a group as seen with women squabbling on reality TV.

I speak about this to many of my clients and 95% agree that in order to retain and develop female talent in our sector, we need to create environments where women feel safe to thrive in, and are supported by male alliers. At EY, we are helping to drive this change through mentorship programmes and by celebrating and calling out inclusion allies and behaviours.


6. How do you think we can move the needle to get more women into leadership positions?

Current statistics show that the number of women in the sector is on the rise. In 2013, only 11% of the global cybersecurity workforce for example were women. Today, this number has risen to 20%. However, this number is still low in the UK with only 8% of the cyber workforce being women. Compared to other regions, the UK is trailing behind. In countries like the US, more is generally done to expose girls to technology through school curriculums. EY has in the last four years collaborated with 'Girls who code' – a national non-profit organisation that seeks to inspire, educate and prepare girls with computing skills to help the gender gap. We have also introduced a number of targeted programmes to coach and mentor our female future leaders. To develop and grow more female leaders, it needs to start from the grassroots. 


7. Finally, what books are on your bedside table?

Recently, I have been reading: The stress solutions by Rangan Chatterjee; Work like a woman by Mary Portas and How to own the room by Viv Groskop. These books are a great reminder of looking at your own work-life balance, which many of us struggle with, as well as how to flex your style and present yourself without necessarily having to adopt a man’s style. Like all good skills, they are not necessarily given, but have to be learnt.

Cheryl Martin
  • Cheryl Martin

About the author

Cheryl is a Partner in financial services and leads our cybersecurity, privacy and operational resilience solution within the insurance sector. She is also our global insurance cybersecurity lead and the driving force behind our women in technology community.