When my mother was alive she frequently asked in exasperation “What is it you actually DO”? Largely because my career trajectory didn’t make any sense to her. I wasn't a solicitor or a teacher or a banker all traditional careers she understood. I started in the arts, moved into journalism, then into government and finally into technology (both inside and outside of government). So when she asked the question I said “just say I’m a Management Consultant”. That made things easer. Titles are always a comfort for some.
It was only many years later in my career when I started my own consulting firm that I thought long and hard about how I would describe myself. And that’s where I settled. Mostly I am about change. Change of course is a two way street. I’ve made change for sure but I’ve been equally changed through the many jobs I’ve done and the people I’ve met along the way. That's why I'm launching my coaching and leadership practice, aimed at helping junior and mid-career professionals to get what they want out of their careers. The rest of this post is about how I got to where I am today, and gives you an idea of what I'll be like to work with.
When people ask me what is the secret to career success I always respond that it’s about intellectual curiosity, because that’s what I’ve brought with me to my many roles. It’s one of the qualities that can help rebalance opportunities particularly for women in business. We know from Linkedin research that in general women apply to 20% fewer vacancies than men do. And they are also much less likely to apply for positions that were more senior than their current positions. Research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%.
But what’s needed to narrow that 40% gap? Well it’s knowledge and how is that gained? By being intellectually curious. It’s also about being open about what you know and don’t know and how to demonstrate that while you don’t currently have a certain type of experience you know you are capable of gaining it.
My first job as an arts administrator was completely out of left field. I had no experience in theatre whatsoever. Indeed my knowledge of the arts was pretty slim. But I’d done a secretarial course when I was sixteen and the woman who owned the school was married to an IBM salesman. A few years later, when the Artistic Director of Cork Theatre Company was buying a computer he asked him could his wife recommend a good administrator. She thought of me and so I found myself “working in the arts” as my first job at 21 years of age. Picture the scene I’m surrounded in my first week by actors, producers and directors. I don’t know the buzz words, or the culture or how I’m supposed to behave. I’m pretty sure I shouldn't have shown my hand when I announced in the green room “I watched this weird film last night called The Birthday Party and I didn’t understand it at all”. “You’ve never like heard of Harold Pinter?” asked a horrified actor. So that was me to the library as fast as my feet would take me (in the heady days of actual books before the internet).
My next role was as Artistic Director of a major arts centre an opportunity that presented when I was 23. Thing was it had a gallery and restaurant and while I had my head around theatre I knew nothing about the visual arts. When I was approached for interview I said “I’m happy to interview about theatre but don’t ask me about the visual arts”. First question I get asked at interview? “Define a visual arts policy for the mid west of Ireland”. So I simply answered “I can't answer that now but if you give me the job going on my past track record I’ll be up to speed in no time”.
And here is the next important thing about being intellectually curious you have to get your ego out of the way. So when I was a week in-situ in the arts centre I walked around the corner to my potential competitor in the Municipal Gallery and said: “Hi I’ve just been appointed as Artistic Director for the Arts Centre but here's the thing I know nothing about visual art can you help”. And amazingly their curator looked at me and said “Come and help me hang exhibitions in your spare time then”. And I did. And I learned heaps through practical experience and the book recommendations that followed.
My point is not knowing stuff is not an impediment if you have the right frame of mind and you are willing to put the work in to learning. Not knowing is not important If you believe in your abilities to learn new things. Not knowing is not a problem if you are open about what you do know and open yourself to collaborators who will help you learn and grow.
This was very true for me when establishing The London Datastore another huge change challenge. When appointed Director of Digital Projects in City Hall in London I knew nothing about Open Data or what an API was. So I did a call out on Twitter (back when Twitter was actually useful) calling on collaborators from the technical community in London to come help me. And boy did they. I subsequently wrote about how similar Artists and Technologists are blending my early life in the arts with my emerging career in Technology.
I’ve stepped back from technology for the past couple of years because I found the scene so dystopian. I stepped away from Twitter, or X or whatever its called for the same reasons too toxic and lacking in value. This walking away from networks has been challenging on many fronts forcing me to ask the question “if I don’t share publicly who am I?” (rather like the tree falling in the forest with nobody there to witness it). Enforced silence it turns out is good for reflection.
And here is my main reflection. Mostly I am about change. And now I’d like to share what I know to help young and mid career professionals to reach their business and career goals. I’ve a special place, as my network knows, for women striving to succeed in technology careers but not to the exclusion of others. So if you feel I can help send me an email to email@example.com for a no cost initial consultation. Lets see what we can do together (us change makers).
Note. I now live in Portugal so all coaching sessions are remote/online on the technology platform of your choice.