Trailblazing Women Leaders – Kate Phillips

As a business, we love to celebrate our people and their achievements; without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We particularly want to showcase our women leaders and the trailblazing contributions they have made.

We are excited to continue this series of articles highlighting some of our trailblazing women leaders. In this instalment we sit down with Kate Phillips, Practice Director, Modern Work & Digital.

How did you come to start working in the technology space?
I don’t know if this is unusual or not, but I have always been in tech, well before I started doing computer systems at university. My passion for computers came about from my childhood. My father was a structural engineer and he used to do complex, long mathematical equations by hand which would take up to four days at a time. Once computers and specialised software came out, he was able to complete these equations in a couple of hours, compared to days. This fascinated me and I would watch my father work on the computer and eventually he started showing me what he was doing. From this, I worked out I could create my own programs and I built a recipe database for my mother who used to cut out piles of recipes from magazines.      

Have you faced challenges in your journey and experience in technology?
I’ve been very lucky and always had great leaders and a network to support me in my career. A lot of this has come down to not what you know, but who you know – once you’ve done a good job here, then someone will refer you for a job there. Having a strong network is very important. I was referred to my first job out of university by one of my tutors – his family member was the CEO of a tourism company and they needed someone to take their website to the next level.

Some challenges that have occurred over my journey has been where you would be in a meeting room and everyone would look at you to suggest you take the notes when in fact, I would often have more experience and more information about the topic of the meeting than others, but as the sole female in the room it was assumed that I would take the notes. At the time, I didn’t see these things as challenges; I just accepted this as being the norm because it was such an unusual thing for a female to be in the tech industry at that stage.

I found leadership came naturally to me. It was something I was unconsciously doing, and I had never been formally trained. I found my own way and when I didn’t feel confident about something, I would put on my ‘game face’ and work through the challenge. If I showed empathy and confidence, everyone would see that and eventually the confidence came through. Like most women, I have struggled with imposter syndrome over the years. I often felt like I was surrounded by people I presumed knew more than me, but when you break it down, they didn’t, it was just their confidence which made me think that.

Highlights in your career journey?
There have been a few, but the one project I still look back on and think wow, I’m so proud of that was when I first moved to London in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis. I was working for a Microsoft Partner and walked into a project that was majorly off the rails. It was a three-year program of work for a charity. In the organisation there were around three to four hundred staff, the majority of whom were blind, partially sighted, dyslexic or deaf and they had an audience of approx. 35,000 people. This was a very different audience and client than I had previously been working with. Using Microsoft technologies, we were building a fully accessible front-end and back-end intranet, website and ecommerce platform which had never been done before. There were plenty of accessible websites at the time, but there was not one with a fully accessible back end, where a blind person could make website changes, or update content and add policies and procedures to the intranet. Because this work was so ground-breaking, we worked very closely with Microsoft over the entire project. In the office we worked with blind people side by side with their guide dogs while we were trying to figure out answers to problems that had never been solved before. We thought we were the experts when we won the work and coming into the project, but we were humbled because we were not. If something didn’t work, unlike with other clients where there is often a potential workaround way to solve it via training, in this project if it didn’t work, we had a find a way to make it work for the users. The project ended up being a huge success and we won the Microsoft partner award for the year for the solution and came out of it with a lot of learnings and a sense of community and huge respect for blind and visually impaired people. There have been other awesome community projects that I have worked on that save lives from technology implementations, but I still think back to this one as something I’m incredibly proud to have worked on.

What advice do you have for aspiring young female leaders?
I have always thought that if you can see it, you can be it. If you can see someone in a leadership role that you admire or aspire to be like, you can study their leadership techniques, understand what mantras they follow and think about how this aligns to yours.  

Make sure to be yourself. For a while there I was trying to be completely serious and overly professional all the time and not bring empathy and humor into my engagements. My natural personality is to have a joke and include a bit of humour in what I do. When I was more confident to be my authentic self this came back in, because at the end of the day, you don’t want to have a boring time, so you might as well have a bit of fun.

Find your people. I’ve always tried to do this and have been lucky. It doesn’t mean people the same as me, it means having a group of people around you that are completely different and bring a different point of view. I’ve always had people that I can hang out with and have a drink with, but they all come from different walks of life, and you are always learning from them and their experiences.

Having empathy and emotional intelligence goes a long way. Being able to read the human element in a room, rather than just the financials or commercial elements, is so important.

You must practice. Even if you publicly appear to know it all, behind the scenes you must be learning and growing. You’ll get seen through quickly if you just pretend that you can do something when maybe you can’t. It’s one thing to be confident, but you must do the preparation and learn to be seen as an authority on something.

My last word of advice is to give back. I enjoy going into universities and primary schools (recently it’s been virtual) to try and encourage people into this field of work, and showing people that there is so much diversity in the industry, more than just being a developer or consultant, you can be in marketing, project management, sales, a designer, or a user experience person.

We would like to thank Kate for her time and insights. If you would like to connect, please find her profile on LinkedIn.

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