Lessons from the go-getting woman CEO who stared down an all-male boardroom

A woman executive sits in a boardroom with 15 senior men around the table. One of the men turns to her and half-jokingly asks, ‘Aren’t you a bit intimidated?’ She pauses, looks him straight in the eye, then calmly responds, “You should be intimidated – there are only 15 of you…”

It’s a great retort. And even better than that, it’s a true story.

That woman was Anita Dougall, CEO and founder of dynamic tech firm Sagacity Solutions, who has joined the REED family as a new Non-Executive Director of REED.

Anita graced our Women In Leadership event to share her wisdom, advice and anecdotes with the company to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

Anita has had an incredible career so far and says she has experienced no setbacks – only opportunities for improvement, growth and change.

She talked passionately of the guiding principles that have accelerated her success in business life.

These are:

  • Learn what you like – and don’t like – about a job, then act on it
  • Remember that the only person who can hold you back is you
  • Build a network with people of a similar mindset – they will support you in tough times
  • Just go for it! The four most inspiring words in the English language

That ‘go-getter’ attitude allied to a strategic approach are tremendously impressive and led her to set up the hugely successful Sagacity Solutions in 2005.

Anita started her career in the male-dominated world of investment banking at Natwest. She found the environment too repetitive and sought something more challenging.

It was while at the bank that she learned how important it was to recognise what you like and don’t like about a job. Then act accordingly – don’t stay stuck in a role you don’t enjoy.

Following her own advice, she moved to a telecoms start-up at a time before mobiles had taken off.  She found that she thrived in that chaotic atmosphere of a start-up. But when it became too corporate she made her next move to another start-up.  

However, six months later after the company folded and she was made redundant, she embraced the opportunity to create something for herself. She embarked on her solo project in 1999, and in 2005 decided to bring on two partners and establish Sagacity Solutions Ltd.

Anita stressed that you must always remember the people that helped you along the way. There is no such thing as a successful individual. Everyone’s success is the result of collaboration, mentorship and assistance from others. Don’t forget these people or cut ties once you’ve ‘made it.’

At REED, we are all about people, and connecting the right people to the right jobs. For Anita, the people that she works with are also the core of her business. There are certain qualities that she looks for when hiring teams:

“Having people that are trustworthy and reliable is crucial if you’re looking to build that strong business force. People that are hardworking and always striving to do better, but also just being completely happy in themselves. Being motivated and happy in what they do and always looking to grow further in their role. I think these are characteristics that we should all look for in the people that we work with.”

People are the most important aspect of a company for Anita. She doesn’t see gender when it comes to business, only individuals, their skillsets and how they handle situations.

The story about her dealing with the male dominated boardroom perfectly reflects her ideology that success is all about your personal mindset.

In an environment where more people are seeking alternatives to university, Anita showed us how qualifications aren’t the most important things on your CV. At her company, where the COO didn’t do A Levels or go to university, they hire people based on their attitude and skillset, as opposed to qualifications.

Anita rightly reasons that courage in the face of intimidation is worth half a dozen A Levels.