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The Spirit Of An Ally: In Conversation With Simon Marsh


Simon Marsh
Chief Information Officer
Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust

by Bernie Clarke

23 February 2024

With over 50 years of experience working in Information Technology, Simon Marsh has truly seen it all. He fondly recalls, “I used to build logic circuits using transistors  and I can still count in binary,  octal and hexadecimal.” His early days were spent doing preventative maintenance on mainframe computers in 19748, literally “with a little sweeping brush.” He muses, “Punch cards was the future when I first started because we used to do coding at school on those little teletype machines with ticker tape and Sellotape to correct errors.”


Experience Across Countries, Cultures and Industries


Simon worked his way up through roles in field service engineering, software support, quality assurance management, project and programme management. He even spent two years working in the USA. Simon reflects, “I’ve been involved in the IT related field for the last 50 years I would think.” His career has spanned commercial companies including telecommunications, multi-media, the public sector and private healthcare. Entering NHS IT only 8 years ago, the NHS sector culture was an adjustment for Simon: “it’s just a complete and massive adjustment and  change to working in the commercial sector.”


Thoughts on Workplace Allyship


When asked about his personal views on allyship in the workplace, Simon admits, “I don’t think I consciously go out and have a look at allyship.” However, he recognises its broader importance for “the advancement of minorities or people with special requirements.” Simon witnessed firsthand the complexities of affirmative action policies while working in the USA. He explains, “You can’t always recruit the best person for the job. I have had to do that where you can’t get the best person.”


Focusing on Team Fit and Future Potential


In hiring for his own teams, Simon looks beyond current skills and experience, focusing additionally on a candidates’ long term potential and the ability to complement existing team members: “We need the right person for the job.  That shouldn’t depend on what gender they are or what nationality they are or what the colour of their skin is.” He explains, “I’ll know within 5-10 minutes of somebody sitting down in front of me for an interview whether that person is the right person for the role and will actually fit into both today’s team and for evolving requirements.”


Planning Thoughtfully for the Future of the Organisation


Succession planning is also a priority for Simon. He provides opportunities for team members to develop their careers internally instead of losing them to other companies. As an example, he has spent the last 2-3 years training his deputy CIO, an Egyptian woman, to prepare her to potentially take over his role someday. He explains, “It’s my job to make sure that from a succession planning point of view, I’ve got the right people with the right experience in the organisation to be able to succeed when opportunities present themselves.”


Speaking Up Against Inappropriate Behaviour


In discussing how he handles inappropriate behaviour, Simon shares, “I have had to call it out because the world is full of misogynistic people…with fixed biases about what things need to look like and that really annoys me intensely.” He acknowledges that it likely was easier for him as a white male leader to speak up. However, Simon emphasises that bias should never influence hiring decisions.


The Spirit of an Ally


Though Simon does not actively label himself an “ally,” his account suggests someone committed to advancing others regardless of gender, race or background. As a leader focused on understanding employees’ aspirations, making compassionate decisions and thoughtfully planning for the future needs of the organisation, Simon tries to embody the spirit of an ally. He explains, “We are humans. We are people. Despite AI, organisations succeed because of their people…You have to be able to respond to that.” Simon reflects, “I’m a very compassionate manager and…leader in that way.” His own behaviour sets an example and has a real influence on those around him.

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