Women in Tech

An interview with everywoman finalist … Fran Baker, Arm

13th March 2024
Sheryl Miles

Fran Baker, Director of Sustainability and Social Impact at Arm, has a career that is infused with the power of passion, purpose, and perseverance. Her journey to becoming a leader in the tech industry embodies the essence of using technology for good.

Sharing her story with Electronic Specifier, Baker discusses her role as Director of Sustainability and Social Impact, her philosophy on technology and sustainability, and her recognition as a finalist for the everywoman ‘Tech for Good’ award.

The foundations of a purpose-driven career

Baker's career began when she was just fourteen years old with her first job working with children with disabilities. It is this early experience that set the stage for a life dedicated to service and impact.

“I had volunteered with refugees, worked in media for charity clients, and realised that a lot of the areas I found interesting and wanted to work within sat under the umbrella category of ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable development’.”

Baker's pivotal moment came when she decided to transition from a comfortable job to a role in an international development charity focused on science and technology innovations for low-resource settings. It was here that she first observed the profound ability of technology to bridge inequalities.

"I was meeting people who were developing biometrics for last-mile health care workers in low-income countries, rapid testing systems to detect bacteria in drinking water, and innovators from all around the world."

This experience led to Baker being headhunted into the tech sector, where she found the freedom to align her career with her passions for sustainability and social impact, alongside the needs of the business and the wider world.

Pioneering sustainability and social impact at Arm

At Arm, Baker has carved out a role that she describes as the best in the company. As the Director of Sustainability and Social Impact, she is at the forefront of extending the benefits of technology to underserved communities and addressing global challenges such as the climate crisis and inequality.

"The goal of my role is to extend the benefits of technology to people and areas not currently prioritised in technology development," she explains.

Baker’s work involves strategic planning, charitable giving, and leveraging Arm’s technology and network to create a positive impact. Her approach is holistic, as she considers not only the technological innovations but also how they are developed and deployed, ensuring a human-centric and sustainable practice.

Having recently completed the inaugural AI Ethics MSt at the University of Cambridge, Baker is deeply engaged in discussions about the ethical use of AI. She believes in the potential of AI to be a force for good, emphasising the importance of keeping humans at the heart of AI design, development, and deployment.

"AI brings a lot of opportunities with it, but we have a responsibility as an industry to ensure a human centric approach to how it evolves. No technology exists in a vacuum – it exists within and affects the broader society and world it is part of … The growing trend to consider the environmental and social impact of technologies alongside the technical and engineering requirements of technologies (e.g. machine learning, natural language processing, robotics etc), are key to unlocking the positive transformative potential of the incredibly powerful technologies we are seeing today, particularly in the realm of AI.”

Ensuring strategies are in place

Speaking on how she leads and implements strategies to ensure that Arm’s technology is aligned with sustainable and social impact goals, Baker speaks about the trade-offs between the short-term needs of businesses and the long-term needs of people and planet.

“Our approach varies, but always centres where we can have the most effect – what is our organisational ‘additionality’ – what can Arm uniquely do in terms of our skills and resources.

“From an internal perspective, we have employees who are skilling up in topics related to the SDGs (UN’s sustainable development goals) and how these problems can be more than just risks to be managed or responsibilities to be delivered, but how they can be strategic opportunities for innovation. At a C-Suite level, we have an engaged and knowledgeable Sustainability Committee who we meet with regularly to set the trajectory for sustainability and impact ambitions within the company.

“Outside of Arm, our long-standing innovative partnerships that co-create solutions to address technology related inequalities are driven by the need – and this is reflected in our approach of enabling the enablers.”

Recognition and achievements

Baker's dedication and impact have not gone unnoticed, and as well as being honoured with the UN SDG Pioneer award, primarily for her work in response to COVID-19, and named on the ‘100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics’ list for 2024, she is also an everywoman ‘Tech for Good’ finalist.

“Being nominated for the everywoman Tech for Good category means that others recognise the transformative change this network of amazing people I have the privilege to work with are delivering, and hopefully will also encourage more women to align their careers and their most precious asset, their time, to work that matters.

“I’ve been really honoured to receive recognition for the work I do, as it reiterates the importance of aligning your work, your skills, and your values.”

These accolades reflect her commitment to combining her expertise in sustainability, impact, and AI ethics to broaden Arm’s message.

“I am extremely passionate about sustainable development, ethical and sustainable technology, and the role of business in addressing global challenges. Building a social impact programme for a leading technology company that has had huge, outsized impact, has been such a career privilege. Our work has directly reached 5.6 million people, 31.6 million people indirectly, with a cumulative reach of 794 million people impacted. While we know that reach does not necessarily equal impact, this figure is growing year on year and reflects the global breadth of the work we are able to deliver. But what I am really proud of is the depth – the stories and the people that those figures represent, and how our impact work at Arm is enabling the enablers and making positive changes in the world.”

Advocacy for intrapreneurship and diversity

A firm believer in intrapreneurship, Baker is advocating for using one's position within an organisation to drive change.

“Intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship within an existing company, an entrepreneur on the inside. Intrapreneurs work to effect change within their sphere of influence and use the resources available within their organisation to do so. This is something I strive to do within my subject matter expertise and my organisation as a social intrapreneur.”

Recognised as a Fellow by the League of Intrapreneurs in 2022, she continues to inspire others within Arm to pursue impact-driven projects, and she also champions the idea of replacing the term 'mentor' with 'champion,' to encourage a more active and supportive role in career advancement, especially for women in tech.

“I like Cindy Gallop’s approach, [that the term] ‘mentor’ should be replaced by ‘champion.’ A champion is someone who makes things happen for you – a committed sponsor who can influence decisions and situations for you and will push for you to get ahead and challenge the status quo and power gaps that exist.”

We want you!

Baker’s words to women are loud and clear:

“We want you here! Technologies are reflections of those who build them, so we need those technologies to reflect all identities, particularly minoritised identities.

“We spend an enormous amount of time at work and with our colleagues, so find the work that drives and motivates you as it will not only make you happier, but better at it.”

Baker's story underscores the importance of aligning careers in the tech industry with meaningful work. Her journey showcases the significance of passion, innovation, and commitment to making a difference in the world through technology, and aims to encourage and inspire more women to embark on careers that reflect their values, contributing to a sustainable and equitable future.

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