1st September 2020 by
Inspirational Woman: Katy Chamberlain | Chief Executive, Business in Focus
Katy Chamberlain is the Chief Executive of Business in Focus which supports businesses in turning their ambition into reality.
Katy spent more than 20 years with international accountancy and advisory firm KPMG, leading teams delivering a variety of services to businesses in Wales and is also the former Chief Executive of equality action organisation, Chwarae Teg.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am lucky to be the Chief Executive of Business in Focus and a Board member of Technology Connected – the organisation which brings together and champions the technology sector in Wales. I’m also the Deputy Chair of the ICAEW’s Wales Strategy Board, a member of the Cardiff Capital Region Business Council and the Welsh Government’s Tech Valleys Strategic Advisory Board.
I have lived and worked in Wales since 1984, when I joined KPMG from University to train as an accountant – and that was when we were still preparing accounts using a large piece of paper, a pencil and a rubber. We did have calculators though! I worked in KPMG for the next 23 years, gaining experience with many companies across Wales and the UK, from international listed companies to local microbusinesses. From KPMG, I joined Chwarae Teg, the Welsh charity that works to improve the position of women in the workplace and in enterprise. That was a great experience, working to support individual women in their career paths, and to support companies to improve equality and widen their access to talent, including launching the Agile Nation project in 2008.
I took the role of Chief Executive in Business in Focus in 2012. We are a social enterprise whose purpose is to promote enterprise, whether that is helping people to start businesses or helping existing businesses to scale up and grow. We achieve this through providing business accommodation, access to finance and advice and support to businesses and people across Wales. Many of our clients are technology based, and all use enabling technology to deliver and enhance their product or service.
Our website at www.businessinfocus.co.uk shows how we provide each of those areas of support, and also links to our two Enterprise Hubs in Carmarthen and Newtown. Leading the business is a great job, and all the more important now as we seek to support our clients to manage their way through the Covid-19 pandemic and all its implications.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I have never planned my career, although I have always tried to look forward and make sure I know what I need to do to take my skills and experience to the next stage. My real philosophy has been to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, without spending too much time wondering whether they are exactly the right thing for me at this precise minute. That has worked very well for me and has given me some great experiences.
Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?
I have been extremely lucky in my life and career, but have certainly had times when the obstacles in front of me have seemed very high – and sometimes this has been because I have made mistakes or handled something badly. I have worked hard on recognising – but trying not to dwell on – my own mistakes, taking a logical approach to resolving the problem, and getting whoever is necessary on board to help me solve it. Learning from each experience and recognising that each problem solved increases my experience to handle the next one has been key – and that goes for the teams I have worked with too.
What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
I believe that leading Business in Focus through the Covid-19 pandemic may well prove to be the biggest achievement of my working life to date. Even for a robust company like ours, the pandemic and its economic impact is profound, and realigning our services to ensure that we are serving our business clients at the time of their greatest need has engaged our whole team of over 100 people in a lot of innovation and hard work. I am massively fortunate to work with a great bunch of people throughout Business in Focus – professional, clever, dedicated and great fun – and we are passionate about supporting people to start, maintain and grow their businesses throughout this very strange and difficult time.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Easy – my family. My immediate family have enabled me to give the hours and flexibility needed to do what is necessary to deliver on the roles I have undertaken over the years, and they and my wider family have given me nothing but encouragement throughout. Any lapses of self-belief I have had (and surely we all get them) are given short shrift by my family.
What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?
Never stop learning is my universal top tip, but it is particularly relevant to the fast moving tech industry. Be open to learning opportunities, whether this is formal training or on the job learning from a colleague. The volume of online webinars, training courses and workshops is incredible during this lockdown period and I would encourage anyone looking to boost their CV to take advantage of this and see it as an opportunity.
As we have seen in recent times, recessions can be a time of innovation in business start-ups with many entrepreneurs adapting their business plans to meet the needs of the changing economy. I would advise anyone looking to upskill themselves or diversify their business models to explore funding options as there is currently a large volume of strong financial options available.
Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?
Achieving gender balance in the tech industry is not a barrier for women to break down – it is a challenge for us all to break down. It would be a mistake to confine the question of ‘how to get more women into tech’ to a female audience. I feel strongly that this needs to be an inclusive conversation with both men and women involved. It would be wrong to replace a male-dominated workplace with a female one – the true value is found in the balance of genders and to that end we need to have inclusive conversations.
By solely championing women as role models we can limit the conversation. When we search for strong tech mentors for women we have to be bold and select based on skills and personality match not gender. We ought to be encouraging men to mentor women and vice versa.
In my experience, there is an impression, whether real or imagined, that women in tech lack confidence in their abilities and if that is the case, we have to look carefully for the root cause. Confidence comes from circumstances and we have to make sure that we are creating the conditions for women to receive training, mentoring and opportunities that increase their skills and experience thereby their confidence.
What do you think companies can do to support the careers of women working in technology?
Whilst strong female role models and women in leadership roles are hugely important I don’t believe that is enough to break down barriers to women entering the tech environment. As a new female employee joining a tech department you may be the only woman or one of very few. We need to recruit women at all levels throughout an organisation to ensure there is a strong, supportive network available for women in technology fields.
As part of the Business in Focus suite of business advice, we host regular Women in Business Coffee Mornings (adapting to deliver online following lockdown). These sessions are always very well attended with the purpose of the session to allow women to connect, discuss their barriers, look at how to overcome them and explore how collaborative working is mutually beneficial for them. One of the reasons these sessions are so popular is because women are not getting this level of connection from their colleagues in the workplace. Companies should support the development of strong professional networks and increased opportunities to interact within their workplace and business sectors.
Business culture plays a crucial role in removing barriers in the workplace. Providing a working environment that encourages different perspectives and levels of experience opens doors. Companies that prioritise work life balance and positive company culture support women pursuing careers in technology because typically more women are juggling caring responsibilities within their families and sometimes require a degree of flexibility.
There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?
Short term, I would like to see flexible working mechanisms embraced by companies to encourage applications from the widest pool of talent. Women continue to carry out many of the family caring responsibilities and this means that standard hours and ways of working may be a barrier to their engagement with work opportunities. Longer term, I would like to see us, as parents and within education establishments, really focus on expanding the horizons of our children in early years – regardless of gender – to help them have ambitions in tech from a very early stage. Approaching this in the teenage years simply isn’t going to get us the pipeline of talent we need.
What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?
In Wales, I would certainly recommend keeping up with the activities of Technology Connected https://technologyconnected.net/. The organisation’s mission is to bring together and champion the technology sector in Wales and is a great indicator and barometer for opportunities and activity in Wales and much wider. For women running tech businesses, membership of Technology Connected opens doors to market and collaboration opportunities plus events and activities to help you achieve your goals. And while you are at it, supplement that with support from Business in Focus in your general businesses matters such as finance, HR, marketing and accommodation. Wales is a great place for growing businesses, even in difficult times.