On 10th March, I had the pleasure of attending a CEO roundtable event hosted by our partners at Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT). I was asked to reflect on my career and share learnings from my professional experience. I’ve always believed in passing on the lessons I’ve learned so others can benefit, and this event was a great opportunity to do so.
From my first job at M&S to leading a start-up, my career has taken me in many different directions. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to work with fantastic people across the globe. The lessons I have learned from colleagues, clients and mentors have driven me forwards and, in turn, I have been able to give back by passing on my own advice and experience to others.
My career journey
My first job was in M&S graduate training, and I then spent time as an accountant for News International before making the transition into consulting. For me, consulting is the best job in the world. Effectively, clients invite you to work in their sandpit and you get to spend time helping them make their world better. The variety of work is unparalleled, and the opportunities are immense. When I joined Gemini Consulting in 1999, within weeks I was travelling around the world, from Ireland to India.
After eleven years in consulting, I made a huge leap, becoming employee number one at start-up Value Team in 2008. I was suddenly CEO as well as performing the role of receptionist, delivery team, and everything else besides. I drew on my existing network of contacts for people I could bring on board. I recruited some wonderful people and Value Team grew until it was acquired by NTT DATA in 2011.
In 2017, I was asked to become CEO of NTT DATA UK. We still had significant silos across the business at this point because of multiple acquisitions, so our mission was to move towards one team, one culture, one company. I had learned that with the right team-based culture, everyone wants everyone else to succeed. I am proud to say that’s the culture we’ve built at NTT DATA UK, and that’s what makes us the thriving, successful company we are today.
Across my career I’ve worked in ten different countries across local and global teams. We now live in a world where we can connect with others on the opposite side of the globe at the touch of a button. These connections bring us closer together – but we ignore cultural differences at our peril.
When visiting any country, it’s important to respect its culture and traditions as we do business. This means being self-aware about our modes of communication. Personally, I’ve always followed the rule that it’s my responsibility to ensure others understand what I’m trying to say, rather than putting the onus on others to decipher my meaning. In other words, we should mould our communication styles to suit others – and their cultures – rather than always expecting people to meet us on our level.
An example of this is the Japanese tradition of nemawashi – the informal process of laying the groundwork for a proposed change or project by talking to the people concerned and gathering their feedback and support. Before a meeting in Japan, it’s respectful to ensure that everyone is aligned – and each person should be approached in line with their level at the company.
Of course, our Japanese colleagues are kindly lenient with us as we seek to incorporate these traditions into our work with them. Nevertheless, it remains vital that we make an effort to show respect for Japanese working traditions when visiting the country – and the same goes for any country we visit on business. As I like to say, walk in the moccasins of the people you’re talking to.
The importance of diversity
Over the years, I’ve found that people work best in an environment where they can be themselves. I’ve also seen that the more diverse a team is, the more creative, innovative and successful it will be. At NTT DATA UK, we’ve elevated our D&I strategy in the last couple of years by introducing the DoDiversity campaign, an umbrella initiative designed to give smaller D&I initiatives and projects more visibility, thereby boosting their impact.
Previously, some of our smaller D&I initiatives might have slipped under the radar, but the DoDiversity campaign has had a halo effect, highlighting all the good work our teams are doing and brining more and more people on board. Activity under the DoDiversity umbrella has included support for numerous charities, recruitment schemes and mentoring, and ongoing awareness and education activities led largely by our brilliant business networks.
With the DoDiversity campaign, we’ve been able to create a movement that has gathered its own momentum and that has huge potential going forwards. Since the campaign launched in September 2020, I’ve learned so much and I look forward to seeing where the campaign goes next.
Adjusting to the post-pandemic world
In the last two years, we’ve seen fundamental shifts in the way we work. There have been some fantastic benefits to this, as well as some challenges.
Organisations are recognising that flexible working is good for employees, especially those with caring responsibilities. But there are potential unintended consequences associated with a more dispersed workforce. Without the right structures in place, there is a risk that employees who tend to work remotely more often get overlooked because they are not in the office. Given that women still carry out the majority of caring work, this potential negative consequence could disproportionately impact women over men.
To prevent this from happening, organisations must make sure people who are more likely to work remotely receive the support and recognition they need to continue progressing in their careers. This is especially important as organisations move towards a hybrid working approach, with some workers commuting to the office more regularly while others continue to work remotely. With the right support systems in place, these new ways of working can remain an advantage, rather than a hindrance to progression.
Looking back over my career to date, the key lesson I’ve taken away is to work with people you love. I’ve learned the importance of being able to work in an environment where you can be yourself. A lot of us spend our working lives trying to pretend to be someone else, succumbing to imposter syndrome and having to put up a façade. It makes such a difference when you are able to be authentic – whether that’s with a client, when you are line managing someone, or when you’re presenting yourself and your own capabilities.
If I had to give advice to my younger self, I would encourage myself to say yes to everything. Doing the things you’re afraid of helps you learn, even if there’s a chance of failure. Ultimately, it’s about being curious, and moving towards things and not away from them. I like to follow the mantra: don’t regret what you do, only regret what you don’t do.