IWD2020: Q&A with Kate Sneddon, CEO at Biovault

Leigh Jenkins
Marketing Manager - Innovation | Enterprise Europe Network
8th March 2020

As part of International Women’s Day we interview Kate Sneddon, on her role at Biovault, her views on women in business and what a more gender-balanced world-view means to her.

Tell us about your role? 

As Chief Executive Officer of Biovault I manage the Biovault Group of Companies, including Biovault Technical and Biovault Family Umbilical cord stem cell banking.  Through these companies we offer human tissue and cell banking services to the NHS, International partner organisations and private customers.  The tissue and cells are stored with the intention of future use in medical treatments, and we specialize in the processing and storage of stem cells for treatment of blood cancers, and childhood conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy.

What do you enjoy most about your job?  

I really like working for a small and agile company, we make decisions quickly and are able to involve others in the organisation in the process.  I also like engaging with customers, on occasion we are asked to provide seemingly impossible requirements and the process of unravelling what the customer wants and needs and developing the product and process to meet the requirement is challenging but extremely satisfying, particularly when we get it right first time.

And what are the most challenging aspects? 

Stem cells and the future medical possibilities associated with their use quite rightly generate a buzz in the press and interest from the wider public.  However, with all future possibility there is also the chance stem cells won’t work or work in the way we expect them to.  We find balancing the messages to our customers and partner organisations really challenging, and as a result we pay particular emphasis to providing an unbiased and ethical view on what the cells can currently be used for.  

Despite the press interest in stem cells, the banking of stem cells from a child’s umbilical cord is still relatively low in the UK when compared to other countries across the world.  Generating awareness and understanding of the services we offer is a continual challenge, and we invest many resource in raising awareness.

What 3 things do you think you need to progress as a woman in business?

I find this a difficult question, as I’m not sure it is different to a man in business, but the things that have helped me are:-

Bravery, even when I’m really nervous about something I turn on my “game face” and give it the best I’ve got, I can’t ask anything more of myself, and a good game face can disguise any nervousness or doubts you have in your own ability.

Knowledge of your subject.  I always like to be prepared and know my subject, and having this base knowledge gives you confidence and most importantly credibility with your peers and stakeholders.

Integrity. If you commit to an action, do it, and if for some reason you can’t do it or no longer think the action is relevant, communicate this to your stakeholder so they understand the reason why.  

What are the biggest challenges the future generation of women in business face?

I think they are much the same as current generations, developing the knowledge, expertise and, most importantly, confidence to develop ideas and lead organisations.  Plus ensuring business models and central government support continues to support women's progression throughout their careers, with particular emphasis on inclusive childcare support that allow both women and men to work flexibly around family requirements.

What can the next generation bring to business that previous generations may not have?

Technological advancement has to be the obvious answer, the digital knowledge and familiarity that future generations have is already and will continue to bring huge advances to business in terms of efficiency, marketing and communication with customers.  And in particular, the use of Artificial Intelligence for data handling and analysis to support business will become even more important.

How has the innovation support you received helped you as a woman?

I think the innovation support I’ve received has enabled me to realise I and my organisation can’t do everything, and there are experts out there that can do a better job, and enable me and the Biovault team to do a better job.  It is very easy to get drawn into the detail, and relatively small interventions can allow you to see the bigger picture and what is important to focus on.

What does a more gender-balanced world-view mean for you?

I think a gender balanced world view would mean that our children don’t experience gender stereotypes, and it doesn’t even feature in their consciousness.  It’s a big ask, as there are so many messages, often very small that we are not even conscious of that influence our children. I must admit I feel slightly deflated when my children say something that implies a limitation to what they can do or achieve based on their gender, and I do my best to counter any such views with positive enforcement of what we can all achieve.

How can we enable more women to take a place at the board-room table?

Allowing women to access Board members and Board meetings would inevitably break down barriers and open up opportunities.  As an organization the Biovault Board are looking at how we can allow more Biovault colleagues to access the Board, Board meetings and shareholders, through invitations to present and showcase initiatives and work within the company.  This exposure and experience for both women and men informs individuals and importantly instils the aspiration to progress to a Board level position.

How can businesses evolve to be more gender-balanced?

To achieve true gender balance we need to break down the gender stereotypes at a young age, both myself and my husband work for organisations with a greater number of women than men.  And whilst this may be seen as unusual in some business sectors it is completely normal in the healthcare sector in which we both work.  However, I’m encouraged that in Plymouth, where I work, the sectors that have traditionally been dominated by one gender, such as tech, seem to be targeting school age girls to break down some of the perceptions and barriers. This gives me great hope that more businesses will take this approach and reap the rewards.

What advice would you give to young women and men starting out in business today in context of promoting a more diverse world-view?

My advice would be to pursue what you are interested in, and what you enjoy doing, but try to keep as many options open as possible.  Look for opportunities to broaden your experience and exposure to areas outside of your own knowledge.

What women inspire you and why?

For me I find most inspiration from people closer to home, rather than world leaders or celebrities.  I am constantly inspired by the knowledge, ability and resilience of women who I routinely interact with who have skills and expertise outside of my own.  These women are wide and varied, and include my close colleague the Biovault CFO, who without I couldn’t tackle the challenges of running a small business, my children’s headteacher who I do my best to support as a school governor, and my fitness and yoga instructors who both whip me in to shape and bring peace and calm to my life on a weekly basis.  These women have the same daily struggles as most of us, and yet excel in their chosen field, for me that is the greatest inspiration to try my best.

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