There’s a lot people don’t know about Karen. For instance, she’s written four books about a horse called Hovis (despite what it sounds, they’re not for children - my favourite title is Fifty Tastes of Hay). This makes her somewhat of a celebrity in the Horse and Hound world where Hovis’ fan group has nearly 1000 times more fans than I do friends ... Awkward.
Karen joined Capgemini Consulting in 2009 and is a Principal Consultant with a focus on utilities, predominantly concentrating on operational efficiency. She has a weakness for pizza and if she was an animal she’d be a lion, because lionesses hunt for their family and are fiercely loyal. She’s bolshy and hardworking, proven by the fact that she has built a company from scratch – she was literally handed a blank piece of paper.
In this week’s blog, CDCer Hanna John interviews Karen about why she joined consulting from industry, the biggest risk she’s taken in her career, why consultants need to be chameleon-like and why she’s reluctant to pick out female role models.
You joined Capgemini from Anglia Water – why consulting and why Capgemini specifically?
I joined the graduate scheme at Anglia Water and worked my way up which was fantastic. I knew I wanted to move towards consulting though, because I wanted to go into lots of different businesses and see how they worked. I like Capgemini’s feel and culture and the way we work with clients. We really try to connect and collaborate with them – I’ve spent months on end in jeans and steel toe capped boots being rained on by waste water.
You still hold the record for being the youngest member of the senior management team at Anglian Water. What’s the key to your success?
Luck plays a big part – I’ve been in the right time at the right place. I’ve also never been afraid to challenge the status quo. In utilities, which is such a man’s world, you either sink or swim. But I had the opportunity to work with managers who were prepared to take a risk and realise they couldn’t continue to work the way they were, if they wanted to be a better-run company.
Do you have any business female role models or women you think are particularly successful?
I suppose I’d look to people like Karren Brady (former managing director of Birmingham City F.C. and current vice-chairman of West Ham United F.C.) and there are plenty of politicians who are strong women. There are also fantastic individuals in Capgemini who are really senior. But I’m actually sometimes a bit reluctant to pick out female role models. The moment we start saying they are successful women, we are almost going back on ourselves and creating a gender barrier. I think they’re successful because they’ve refused to be treated as women who are doing well.
Why do you think gender disparities exist in businesses?
I think it starts at school because there are lots of stereotypes thrown around. I was lucky enough to go to a school where it was bred into me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, but that isn’t the case for everyone. I also think some industries, including consulting, have a man’s image or reputation, where being brash and over-confident is the only way to be successful. Women are often less naturally inclined to ‘sell, sell, sell’ and network in a pushy way. In fact, women tend to defend their teams but are awful at selling themselves. And a lot of women have one eye on whether they can do this job and have a family, which of course is a key factor.
How do you think companies can attract more women?
We need to make sure successful women are visible, especially those who have managed to be so with a family, because of course that can work if you want it to - my three-year old daughter hasn’t keeled over yet! And perhaps we should also focus on the skills we need in consulting, which aren’t necessarily based on having studied finance, economics, maths or science but allow everyone to demonstrate their strengths. Let’s also look at other industries like retail that are doing really well at diversity and learn from them.
What qualities do people need to be a good consultant?
I think you have to be a good listener, and I don’t mean that in a trite way. You really have to understand what the client wants and hear everything, including what they’re not saying. You also have to be adaptable in your style. It’s not about swallowing Consulting 101 and following a hundred rules. You have to be chameleon-like in your style because our clients are very different. And you have to play hard as well as work hard because you’ve got to have a bit of fun doing whilst doing this!
If you could pick any other career, what would it be?
I’d be in the military and fly helicopters – it’s what I wanted to do until I injured my knee on exercise with the Territorial Army.
Karen then lists off a number of other things she does – she’s a qualified scuba instructor, keeps pigs and turkeys and has jumped out of a plane more times than she can count. It sounds like there is still a lot we don’t know about Karen!