Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. As such, CBR has reached out to the many successful women proud to lead in STEM fields to talk about their work, accomplishments and advice for those wanting to embark on a STEM career.
Here in the first of a series of interviews, CBR’s Ellie Burns caught up with Claire Carter, Managing Director for Wolters Kluwer, Tax & Accounting, UK&I.
EB: What have been your most significant achievements in the IT industry in the past year?
CC: I am particularly proud of having created a new strategy for Wolters Kluwer that is fit for purpose for the future of our industry. Historically, the richest integration between a client’s online accounting system and their accountant’s accounts preparation software was only possible if both used software from the same supplier. Accountants were sometimes supporting many different bookkeeping solutions, leading to inefficiencies.
My solution was to create a ‘hub’ where a number of cloud vendor competitors could partner for the good of accounting practices. This hub is called the ‘Open Integration Programme’ and its popularity amongst customers means we have now forged relationships with an impressive number of suppliers.
When I joined Wolters Kluwer in 2015, a big priority was to understand the ways in which the industry was changing. For me, this meant getting closer to our customers to fully comprehend the challenges they were facing. In turn, this allowed me to realise the product strategy that we needed to build and the talent we needed to bring into the business to make our strategy a reality. We created new roles – for example a Director of Business Transformation – as well as bringing in a new Head of Technology. I’m also immensely proud of the young talent we’re bringing into the organisation. Through our Living Leader initiative which I introduced to Wolters Kluwer (more on this later!) every employee has the opportunity to become a leader, the freedom to make mistakes which they can learn from and the chance to effect long-term personal and workplace change.
EB: Tell us about your current role. What motivates you? What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
CC: I am proud to be the Managing Director for Wolters Kluwer, Tax & Accounting, UK&I.
At WK, we put the customer at the heart of all that we do so I’m keen to ensure that we always deliver great solutions and incredible customer service. I visit customers every week and constantly speak to them on the phone. How else would I obtain their honest feedback, demonstrate how seriously we take our partnership and gain their insight on our strategy? For support functions like Finance, HR & IT, we invite customers into our office every month, to provide the valuable feedback we need as a business.
I am driven by accountability. I am accountable for my customers, people and the success of my business. Accountability means not giving up, being resilient and showing determination. It’s crucial to be accountable for what you can control in your personal and professional life – it’s too easy to blame others or create excuses.
This quote says it all:
“The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch.” Michael Armstrong.
Feedback is key; helping people identify “blind spots” and encouraging individuals to be brave in giving their valuable feedback. Some have corridor conversations rather than contributing in a meeting. Some question peoples’ contributions but never tell them to their faces. Some observe poor behaviours but don’t call them out. Creating a culture of open and honest feedback is a critical part of creating a high performing organisation.
My pet hate is the word ‘can’t.’ It’s a word I’ve been told in my career but I believe there is always a way. I have a mindset that my legacy will transform the UK business from an on-premise provider to a thought leader in advisory services through cloud. I look for opportunity in everything. Ways to innovate that will leapfrog competitors, ways to exploit the developing talent and thought leadership we have and, ultimately, ways to win.
EB: What is your proudest achievement to date?
CC: I am proud to have constantly created a culture of accountability, authenticity and personal leadership in each of my roles. I support the main principles of integral performance, i.e. that it is imperative for a business to give clarity on vision, strategy, structure and process, but beyond this, I believe you must give people the freedom to innovate, take risks, be themselves and be accountable.
Great leadership is about continually developing your people and enabling them to have freedom to innovate and to be the best they can be while retaining their own identity and aspirations. Many leaders judge their legacy on the results they have achieved for a business and of course, that’s critically important but for me, a huge measure of my personal success has always been about how many people I develop into great roles and opportunities.
Authenticity is also very important to me. When you’re authentic, your words and actions align with who you say you are and what you say you will do. By being transparent and genuine in all that you do, you will earn the respect and support of those around you to create a winning team and a winning mindset.
In the last year, I spearheaded the conception of the Wolters Kluwer Culture Programme (based on the principles of the Living Leader series) which recognises excellence and champions my belief that everyone in the business is a leader. As a qualified Executive Coash is was essential for me to introduce an approach that encourages our people to appreciate the importance of communication behaviours, challenges existing mind-sets and supports people in asking empowering questions to unlock habitual thinking.
EB: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
CC: First, I strongly believe that you should deal with problems head on but only after you have taken logical steps to try to find a solution. It’s important to stay calm. Research shows that moderate levels of stress can have an upside as it entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this is only when stress is intermittent. Heightened levels of persistent stress actually suppress the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
Next, it’s important to gather as much information as possible to ensure you’re in possession of the facts. I am a firm believer in always confronting the brutal facts no matter how hard they might be to acknowledge. Then, clearly map out what needs to happen – additional resources required, the need to stop procrastinating or to undertake further research for example.
I believe it’s incredibly dangerous to make assumptions. We all do it – probably every day. Some can be trivial whereas other can have significant repercussions. Importantly, almost every single assumption we make is flawed in some way.
Finally, I’ve learned that you’re only as good as your community of people. You need to have the right people in the right roles and you must never compromise on your recruitment. I ensure that I always balance the candidate’s experience and skills with the need to get the right culture fit for our business.
EB: As it is Ada Lovelace Day, what would be your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
CC: This brings me back to the need for authenticity. I have seen many instances of women, across a range of industries, creating a persona because they think they need to be more assertive or more bullish in the way that they communicate versus their male counterparts. There’s a bizarre pressure to become more dominant that you are and this is dangerous as it can cause people to lose their empathy and what makes them their valid selves.
Rather than mirroring those around them in the boardroom, women must acknowledge and celebrate their own knowledge, behaviours, ability to empower and realise that they can be a great leader.
I believe there’s now an abundance of role models in our industry who should inspire young women to consider a career in IT. For example, in my own organisation, Wolters Kluwer, we have significant female representation at the most senior levels – our CEO and Chairman (Nancy McKinstry), our CEO for Tax and Accounting (Karen Abramson) and myself as UK & Ireland MD are all proud to be successful women in the world of technology.
In my view, we must see people for what they contribute and how well regardless of their gender.
EB: How would you encourage more women into the IT sector?
CC: For me, it’s all about education. An interest in technology must be sparked way before girls start to consider the career choices they’re going to make. It must begin at school. We must continue to encourage girls to study STEM subjects in order to develop the sort of critical thinking skills needed in the high-tech workforce, both now and in the future.
Over the past decade, employment in the UK technology sector has grown 2.8 times faster than overall employment. Cultivating girls’ initial interest in STEM and encouraging them to pursue careers in the field will not only create greater job security for the next generation; it will also act as a boost the wider economy and ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the global cloud-enabled economy.