My career started in the true meaning of the word – I found myself careering like a go-cart out of control downhill. It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention”; this applied to my mindset as a teenager faced with the reality that as soon as I left school my bags and my person would be out on the streets and I would have to find my own way in life. I blundered through A levels, not quite sure where I was going. Like many young people, there would be a command from on high with instructions on “the types of career that would be acceptable”, however, if one is not destined or does not have the aptitude, one is rather stuck.
We didn’t have the Internet, nor Job Boards, we had the Unemployment Office of the DHSS. As a teenager these places looked daunting, impossible, so I turned to newspapers. They actually had real job there, but they were few and far betweeh.
In a flash of inspiration I took to the Yellow Pages, that is where we would look if we were looking to find anything, so the job hunting started with the first section, under “A”.
Accounting – not for me, couldn’t see myself just doing sums, Apothecary, no…
Banking – a distinct possibility so I sent out a whole flock of letters to various banks and lo and behold, I landed a job.
I was totally unprepared for the British mysogenistic banking world of the 1980s where I witnessed highly qualified and talented women being passed over in favour of men with the brains and charm of a monkey. It came to a crossroads and I decided to change tack purely by chance into insurance where I found underwriting and dealing with claims highly entertaining and ended up with my own department looking after marine, engineering, commercial property with small business risks.
However, the systems we used were suboptimal, any data entry was laborious and I soon had the idea that I would like to change the business processes and the systems. There was a wave of change going through the banking and financial sectors where back office work was being automated, jobs were moving from the banking floor to IT systems. There was an opportunity to embrace the technical side of business systems, which was just fascinating.
My own path was changed irrevocably with the advent of three children, who became fellow travellers on the journey through college and university to study information technology and business information, they even accompanied me to my lectures in Strategic Management. I thought they were all naturals. Still, they all have their own university degrees and are playing their own role in their own stories.
The first job I found was by pure chance, I happened to be shopping and happened to have a briefcase, a freshly printed CV and gaggle of kids when I spotted a poster that Hyder was hiring. I managed to sell the idea to a recruiter that they needed an IT and Business hybrid graduate and was invited to an interview for a Business Analyst. Now I thought that meant Financial analysis, but it was the analysis of systems and development of a coprorate business process model and information model using ERwin and BPwin, which were the beginnings of an Enterprise Architecture. Later Popkin built their System Architect modelling software with ERwin and BPwin at the core. Even the IDEF modelling was embedded.
What is hard is the uncertainty of it all, when you are trying to raise a bunch of otters who don’t really understand why their mother is preoccupied still with reading new methods, techniques and playing around with interactive and collaborative software. To be honest, without a partner the children would have greatly suffered and worse still, they didn’t understand, in fact I doubt that they understand what life would have been like without a dad.
The UK is no place to be a single parent. Europe offered far greater opportunities since as a mother you are not treated any differently from all the other workers. We all, men and women, were parents, partners, sons, daughters and all had equal role in family life. The work life balance was extremely important and as such, it meant that people made solid decisions that were taken calmly, deliberately and with consensus.
The Anglo-American work environment would do well to learn lessons from these more efficient and effective models. It is well documented that longer hours do not improve productivity, in fact, the contrary. As a mother, balancing the needs of family and the imperative need to deliver. There is, nevertheless, an over riding tendency to over compensate, probably down to a perception that so much effort is put into children that work also requires an equal if not more attention, especially to delivery. The plus side, I’ve never had a pub or bar to support.
I have wondered if my partner, long suffering as he is, would expect to perform as much as I do as a professional and carry so much of the domesticities on top of this, but I have plenty of male counterparts who also do their equal share.
Maybe it is our industry, but I thank the Lord that I’m not expected to go to work caked in make up the way I watched the manikins totter into the banks in the 1980s. That was gruesome. I would say that IT is one of the best industries for women, we need more of them to take up systems engineering and come and join us. The greater the diversity of background, race, sex, age, orientation the better, we all bring something different, a new perspective to our work and collaboration.