Since 2004, Biovault Family has collected, processed and released cord blood stem cells to treat leukaemia, neuroblastoma, sickle cell disease, cerebral palsy and more. Stem cell therapy could ultimately treat a huge range of conditions including Alzheimer’s, hearing loss, and even spinal cord injury. Biovault is the only UK cord blood bank working in partnership with NHS hospitals and it’s led by CEO Kate Sneddon.
No wonder so many women put Kate Sneddon on a pedestal. As a personality she’s calm, peaceful and beautiful, widely revered in the business world she swims so confidently in. How did she get where she is? And what attributes have sealed her success as a senior female in a world where men still mostly rule the roost?
Back in 2009 Kate Sneddon, who lives in Cornwall with her husband Ken, two daughters and Cocker Spaniel puppy Piper, joined Biovault Family. In 2016, just seven years later, she accepted the role of Chief Executive Officer. A respected microbiologist who worked with GSK for more than a decade, these days Kate’s expertise in cord blood banking is widely recognised through a collection of awards as well as features in respected publications and contributions to high-profile research projects.
As Chief Executive Officer at Biovault, Kate manages a group of companies including Biovault Technical and Biovault Family. She loves working for a small, agile company that makes fast decisions involving experts from across the organisation. Engaging with customers and people – in her spare time she’s a governor at a local school and Chair of the Plymouth Health Innovation Alliance Executive Group – is a vital skill, especially when faced with seemingly unrealistic aims, pinning down exactly what the customer wants then developing a suitable product and process.
At the same time, it’s important to realise an individual can’t do everything. The internal and external delegation has helped Kate and the Biovault team do a better job, avoiding being drawn into the fine detail when there’s neither need nor benefit. It’s about working smarter rather than harder.
As you can imagine, the potential locked inside stem cells always generate strong media interest. Kate works hard to make sure the messages Biovault broadcasts are unbiased and ethical, giving an accurate picture of what these cells really can be used for. Despite the media furore, stem cell banking take-up remains comparatively low in the UK, a fact that drives her to keep on raising awareness.
Three things have supported Kate in her journey so far as a woman in the world of business, and bravery is one of them. In her words, “When I’m nervous I put my game face on and give it my best. It’s the most any of us can do.” Knowing the subject is another. When you have all the facts at your fingertips you’re confident and credible. And integrity is the third. “Commit to something, then do it. If you can’t or it isn’t relevant anymore, explain why not clearly and honestly.”
Today’s business landscape remains challenging for women and, in Kate’s opinion, the challenges faced by working women in future will probably be much the same. Developing a solid store of knowledge, expertise and confidence will, in her view, help women succeed, as will making sure future business models work fairly for all genders. Support from the government matters, and she places special emphasis on inclusive childcare support. There’s a lot more work needed before both men and women can work flexibly around family life.
Will all this bring more women like Kate to the boardroom? Hopefully. A better boardroom gender balance breaks down barriers, delivers more business opportunities, and inspires more people to aim for boardroom positions. But first, the world of work needs to break down the gender stereotypes we face from childhood. In a balanced world, there wouldn’t be any gender stereotypes. It wouldn’t even occur to children.
Achieving the change is an enormous ask thanks to the many small but potent messages given out every day that unconsciously affect our children. Kate does her best to counteract these when she notices them in her own two daughters. As she says, “My children sometimes feel limited because of their gender. I do my best to positively reinforce the message that gender isn’t important, that we can achieve anything we want to.”
Kate is hugely optimistic about the next generation of working women, born with the internet and mobile technologies and naturally able to adopt and run with new tech. This will deliver dramatic business advantages around efficiency, marketing and customer communications, particularly via Artificial Intelligence and the findings that fall out of Big Data analysis.
Both Kate and her husband work for organisations that employ more women than men. It’s perfectly normal in healthcare. She’s delighted to see sectors traditionally dominated by men, for example, the tech industry, beginning to target girls at school in an effort to break down the old barriers, and she hopes this will continue and spread.
So what inspires Kate on to ever-greater things? It isn’t celebrities. It isn’t world leaders. It’s actually the “knowledge, ability and resilience of women who I routinely interact with who have skills and expertise I don’t.” These include her colleagues at the Biovault, her children’s headteacher, and her fitness and yoga, instructors. They’re all women. And while they face the same day by day issues as the rest of us, they excel in their chosen field.
Kate’s advice is to follow your own star, do what you love, keep your options open, notice when you’re given the chance to broaden your experience and absorb as much knowledge as you can. As she concludes, “I’m seeing, as time passes, a steady improvement in the potential for women at every level in business. Being in a position to move the needle and help change things faster means such a lot to me.”
And for Kate, aside from her job, doing what she loves involves making the most of living in the South West, exploring beaches locally and further afield in the family camper van, and cold water swimming and paddle boarding throughout the year.