Sharon White – from Leyton schoolgirl to Ofcom leader by John Plunkett

Twelve things you (probably) didn’t know about Sharon White.

 A highly respected economist, Sharon White is the first woman – and the first black person – to lead the media regulator, and the first black woman to have such a senior role in any UK media organisation.

 In her current role as second permanent secretary at the Treasury, White is responsible for overseeing the UK’s spending cuts. She is one of the most powerful women in Whitehall, her appointment was hailed as punching a hole in the glass ceiling.

 White is married to Robert Chote, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, with whom she has two children; the couple are dubbed “Mr and Mrs Treasury”. Asked how much the couple talk about work over dinner, Chote once said: “Not a great deal. It’s mainly who’s picking the kids up, who’s dropping the kids off and why there’s no milk.”

 The pair met when she was a junior Treasury official and he was a reporter at the Independent (he later worked for the Financial Times). They married in 1997 in Washington DC when White was working for the British ambassador and Chote for the International Monetary Fund. They are said to be regular churchgoers.

 White was seventh in the UK Black Powerlist 2015, a top 10 that also featured MediaCom chief executive Karen Blackett and actor and comedian Lenny Henry.

 White’s parents emigrated from Jamaica in the 1950s, when her father was 15 and her mother 11. She was born in east London and grew up in Leyton, where she went to a single sex comprehensive school. She later went to Cambridge University and University College London.

 She joining the Civil Service in 1989 after working for a church in a deprived part of Birmingham.

 At the Treasury, White oversaw a review into the “financial management of government” and an inquiry into the Treasury’s management response to the financial crisis.

 Former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke is said to be a big fan, according to the FT.

 She once said the Treasury was seen by people on the outside as having “quite a macho culture … This may reflect the fact that economics as a discipline is still very male dominated”.

 White previously worked at the World Bank and the 10 Downing Street policy unit, where she was once described as “extremely good at her job, but fun” and had spells at the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Justice.

 She described her management style as a “delegating (and I hope empowering) style of management” and said she had done “a lot of coaching and mentoring, particularly of women at the early stages of their career – trying to boost their confidence to put their hat in the ring for more senior jobs. I try to be open and accessible to staff at all grades”.


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