Women In Tech: Interview With IT Director, Carole Kingsbury

As part of our interview with IT Director Carole Kingsbury, Carole smiles next to the words 'Women in Tech 2023'.

For my latest Women in Tech instalment, I conducted an interview with IT Director, Carole Kingsbury, who just exited from her role at retail giant Ted Baker.

Keep reading to learn about Carole’s interesting path into IT, how tech’s changing landscape continues to keep her engaged in the industry, and why she believes women should be doing more to support women!

 

Can you tell us about your most recent role and what your core responsibilities were?

My most recent role was IT Director at Ted Baker, where I was accountable for all the infrastructure, applications, data and security that supported the Ted Baker business globally. In terms of leadership, I led the IT team that provided Project Delivery, Service and Support, and Development capabilities.

As Ted Baker had recently been acquired by Authentic Brands, an additional part of my role was to work closely with the new owners, their management consultants, and the Exec to ensure that the transition to the future operating model for the brand could be defined, planned and supported from a process, people, data and technology perspective, leveraging knowledge and expertise from the IT teams, software vendors and 3rd parties.

In simple terms, we were tasked with taking our global solution template and carving it up into smaller, regional templates, where in the interim, transitional state, we needed to ensure that we were able to manage “business as usual” and weren’t introducing problems or disrupting key processes such as in the buying and supply chain.

 

Did your role come to a natural end due to the acquisition?

We had transitioned the UK and the US businesses to running under the new operating partners, in terms of their transition states. The systems were not all completely decoupled, as the new operating partners’ systems were not all in place. But in terms of having set up, orchestrated, enabled, supported, and delivered the transition service agreements, as well as having driven the definition of the core customer journeys and Minimum Viable Product for the new incumbent for the UK and EU, it felt like the right time. It was a natural endpoint, which allowed me to take some time out over the summer with my family before taking on a new challenge elsewhere.

 

What was a typical day like for you at Ted Baker?

I mean I’d love for there to have been a typical day. Ted’s actual company name is No Ordinary Designer Label, and I don’t think there was an ordinary day in the 4 and a bit years I was there!

Most days started with a very strong coffee and a look at the day ahead. I’d then go straight into a 30-minute standup with my leadership team, where we would catch up on what was on the horizon, whether anything had happened overnight, any problems on the other side of the world, people issues etc. So as a management team, we had a clear view across the team and the wider business, in terms of anything that might have been or was bubbling that could require attention.

After that, it was a combination of 121’s, supplier reviews, project meetings, planning and prioritisation sessions, finance / budgeting reviews, ad hoc conversations with colleagues and stakeholders, and team meetings.

 

How did your degree in English Literature lead to your career?

From a very early age, I wanted to be a doctor. But things didn’t work out, and I ended up studying for an English Literature degree – a slight change of plan!

From there I decided publishing might be a good idea. I landed a job as a freelance editor for a medical publisher, where they were working to digitize massive textbooks. Sometimes the copy I was proofreading was in HTML format, and I kept asking the developers questions. I’m pretty sure they ended up getting me more involved in what they were doing just to shut me up, to be honest!

I went to work for another publishing company that was publishing titles for Microsoft. I visited their offices in Dublin, which got me more curious about tech. After I cut my teeth with project and programme management, I then randomly found an ad in The Guardian during a coffee break. Capgemini was inviting people who had some experience of the workplace to apply to become technology consultants. So I thought I’d give it a crack and I landed the job. And the rest is history really. So my degree hasn’t really been relevant to my career path, it has largely been driven by just being curious, keen to learn new things, and asking lots of questions!

 

Are there any industries you’ve particularly enjoyed working in?

I’ve worked in many different industries – utilities, reinsurance, government, and telecommunications, but retail is definitely my home. It’s very relatable – we all shop! It has such a people focus.It’s creative and is constantly changing.

In fashion retail, you’re working alongside designers and seeing products come to life. It’s fascinating. Tech in retail is becoming increasingly sophisticated – the use of virtual models to show prototypes of clothes, where the fabrics move like they would in real life – this will I’m sure become more common over time – a bit like art imitating reality and vice versa.

 

What is it about technology that’s kept you engaged throughout your career?

I often have debates with my father about his dislike for change. Change is literally all around us, and I think the thing that keeps me going is that things do change.

Whilst not all changes are positive or welcomed – for example, how Covid changed our ways of working, lifestyles, social interactions etc… there is always something to be learned from change.

Whether that’s needing to amend processes when there are changes to legislation , implementing new systems when the old ones are not fit for purpose, or needing to understand how to embrace and include something like the introduction of AI into our daily lives – all of these things present us with challenges to overcome and also provide us with new possibilities.

 

Are there any particular areas of technology that you notice a lack of women in?

For me, there is still a noticeable lack of representation, particularly on the development side of things. At Ted, we had fewer women working in development roles, versus project management or business analysis. It’s something I’ve seen quite often in companies.

I think part of the change that is needed is how hiring managers approach recruitment, how they view a pool of talent that has surfaced from advertising vacant positions, and the language they use when creating the job descriptions.

I also think that there is a need to discuss more openly the topic of unconscious bias and to ensure that the culture of an organisation is one that promotes equity over equality, as this is a more holistic approach to ensuring we create increasingly diverse teams.

It is a very human thing to identify with someone who is very much like you, or who aligns to your beliefs and ways of working – but I think we need to educate ourselves and our teams more, to look past the obvious or the comfortable, and to look to hire those who may be more challenging and who do think differently. Healthy debate and disagreement can be creative and constructive if conducted with respect – we need diversity in our teams in every way, shape and form – it should never be about age or biology; it should be about skills and aptitude for the role.

 

Is there anything you like to do in the recruitment process to avoid unconscious bias coming into play?

I think aptitude testing or setting bits of pseudo-project work for candidates works well. This might be in the form of technical design work, refactoring code, or asking them to create and present an approach, such as a test approach for a project scenario. Technical questions help whittle out obvious errors and those who are very dependent on development environments that can construct code for you. Assessments where you need to construct or present information are important to show a candidate’s thought process and how they can articulate it.

Aside from technical skills, it’s the fit as a human being that’s really important. Can I see them working in the team? That doesn’t mean slotting in and being a clone of other team members – it can be good if you ruffle a few feathers and challenge people. It’s always about balance for me – you need a good mix of skills, experience and personalities that both complement and challenge.

 

Do you think the management team at Ted was representative?

I think it improved massively while I was there. At one point, the Exec board was 50:50 female to male. There was also good female representation in the Senior Leadership Team, which was encouraging, and our CEO, Rachel Osborne, actively championed the delivery of a leadership course for a female-only cohort, which was invaluable.

The reality most of the time though is that I tend to be in the minority in the technology space.  I remember going to a conference recently and there was another woman there from the company running the conference. She surveyed the room, looked at me and said, “the usual 20% then”. I did a quick look around the room and it was as she had observed – so while things have changed and are still changing, I don’t think that it is fast enough.

 

What helped to improve representation at Ted?

I think it was probably having a female CEO. It set the tone within the business.

I think sometimes there’s a need for women to support women more. And that’s not just being a friendly ear, that’s advocating, cheerleading, and actively promoting their skills and experience. I find women tend to be less self-promoting – they will shout about their achievements far less often and openly in general.

I think this need to advocate is sometimes a challenge. Throughout my career I’ve had experiences of female leaders / colleagues who believe that to lead and progress they need to behave like a man, being overly assertive and putting their female colleagues down.  I don’t see this often today but there is still a degree of microaggression in the workplace  – more education is still needed to raise awareness of this and ensure companies foster a culture that does not support these behaviours.

 

Has your gender impacted the way you’ve been perceived or treated at any point in your career?

Like many of my female colleagues, I’ve had my fair share of poor treatment and inappropriate behaviour.

Not long after I started with one company, I was in a portfolio board meeting and one of the long-time directors asked if there was the possibility of delivering something. On the fly, I worked out what it would mean, and what it would take. I basically said if it was his priority and he could deprioritise other things, we could do it. But if he couldn’t, the answer was no.

He wouldn’t deprioritise anything, so I said we couldn’t do it. I remember he looked at me strangely, glanced around the room, and said “Mm I think she said something, but I didn’t quite hear it.” I repeated what I’d said, and he just continued to say, “What did she say?”. One of the other women in the room turned to him and repeated what I had said. The director blanked her as well and eventually, one of the men in the room told him to stop.  It was quite shocking and childish for someone so senior to behave that way and to attempt to intimidate to get his own way.

I have learnt to manage situations like that, and while in my early career it did impact my self-confidence, I’ve realised over time that where these incidents do happen, they are more about the other person’s weaknesses or insecurities than they are mine.

 

Which moments in your career are you particularly proud of?

There are a few deliveries that I’m particularly proud of.

When I was consulting, I was working on E.ON pre-payment meters. Not the most exciting of topics, but they had two systems and two different sets of processing which was inefficient. They’d struggled for a long time to get those two worlds to come together. I love a challenge and took it on. I proved there was a way to get some synergy and to align them into a single process, and so we constructed a new solution to deliver that.

At Dixons, I worked on a commercial systems programme which was the biggest programme that had been run for quite some time.  It was a 4-year programme delivered by a team of over 100 people, with business and IT teams working closely together and which realised some significant cost savings for the business and huge process improvement benefits.

At Ted, there were many proud moments. Seeing teams I built pulling together to find solutions to day-to-day business problems, as well as seeing them deliver an ecommerce replatforming in 12 months from a difficult start during perhaps the most challenging economic environment we’ve had for many years, was nothing short of amazing.

 

Is there one piece of advice you wish someone had given you at the beginning of your career?

These are my top three principles that someone new to the industry should definitely remember.

  • Be kind to yourself and others – everyone makes mistakes and people will always find faults. Don’t erode your own confidence by being too hard on yourself when you do make a mistake. Think about how not to repeat the mistake and do better next time. Keep control and believe in yourself – that’s your superpower.
  • Empathy – put yourself in others shoes. Think about how it feels for them based on how you would feel and then use that insight to help them.
  • Be curious always – keep asking questions and challenging ideas until you’re happy you understand or have the answers you need.

 

Is there any advice you would give to women looking to go into tech?

I think it’s important that I’m honest here. The landscape of technology is changing, but further change is needed. Coming into a still predominantly male environment does require resilience and confidence in your own abilities.

I’ve never felt like a fish out of water, until someone has tried to make me feel that way, and I think half the battle for anyone, male or female is in your own mind. Whether that’s in a board room, at a speaking event or just doing something unfamiliar, the one thing you can control is how you feel about what you’re doing, and how you then approach it.

 

Thank you for reading our latest Women in Tech interview with IT Director, Carole Kingsbury. You can access more interviews from the series here.

Please click here to get in touch if you are looking for talented individuals to join your tech team!

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