It's about results, not gender

Samantha KinstreyBCS managing editor Brian Runciman spoke to Samantha Kinstrey, managing director of 2e2 Training.

What's your view of the so called glass ceiling?
I think it definitely exists, quite often for women the challenges we face are different to the ones men face. One of the difficulties in my life has been trying to balance the family and working. I'm pretty sure most women find that hard.

One of the things I've done to enable my working life is to be organised. I live five minutes from where I work, my children go to school two minutes away from here, and I think in order to work the kind of hours that a woman in a senior position does they have to be very organised. They have to be able to organise their private life as they do their work.

For me it's about making everything easy and making travelling easy, because I view that as complete downtime: I've minimised that to a point where I can get home in five minutes.

As a women in a high position - what is your perception of the difficulties you had to overcome to get there?
The natural tendency of most women is to be quite conciliatory and to not necessarily be very aggressive. In the IT industry it's very male dominated, there's lots of testosterone flying around all the time and unless you're the sort of person that can handle that kind of behaviour it's very off-putting. There's a lot of going down the pub and getting drunk and sexist type behaviour.

For me, I think more fool them. It's not stood in my way; I just laugh it off or ignore it. I've had plenty of years of it and so I pay very little attention to it.

I do think that there are a lot of women who are younger than me who have grown up in a more gender-neutral environment. For younger people there are less differences between the sexes now. In my formative years there were a lot more differences between the genders.

In some ways that's enabled me to handle the differences more. Younger people, when faced with sexism, don't know how to handle it. Different generations have different challenges. I'm in my forties so I'm not generation Y...

What you seem to be saying is that your personality helps you cope - but that can't help everyone.

As a woman you just have to work extra hard. You have to be better than your male counterparts to succeed.

You still think that is so?
Absolutely. You have to work hard, but then as you get older and have children you find it harder to work the long hours that men are able to do so you have to balance your life in such a way as to get the same output in the same hours.

There are still many men who see women going to get their children at 5.30 and there is a certain amount of frowning. I put my hours in when I was younger, before I had my children, and I’m now able to control this more because I’m targeted and measured on what I produce rather than the hours I work.

A past MD said to me that he pays me to produce results, not just work eight to 10 hours a day. It's a relevant point as a woman.

If a woman approached you out of university for advice, what would you say?
Do the best you can in every situation. Look after the people around you, the people who work for you and the people you work for. Then, in my experience, when push comes to shove they will look after you. People are what make the whole thing glue. So build loyalties, it's very important.

What other difficulties are there?
As a successful woman in work with a family the balancing act is ridiculous. It's so important that partners, husbands, boyfriends, whatever, see how difficult it is to run a business, run a family, run a home, run the children and a social life and a relationship.

I had my children very close together, which was a challenging time!

Anyone who has a good family is really fortunate. Without my parents I would have sunk some time ago. The support of that nucleus of people around you is important.

Tell us about your career path
I left school at 18, after A levels. Whilst my teachers wanted me to go to university, I wanted to go out and earn some money. Midland Bank, now HSBC, took me onto a management training programme and in 18 months I had got to a stage where people who'd been there for 10 years hadn't got. I thought, 'I've done this, but it's so dull - do I really want the bank manager's job?’ I really didn't so I went travelling.

When I got back a friend of mine who worked for a training company was after someone young and enthusiastic to create a bit of buzz in the office and some more structure around what they were doing. That was in 1988. So I got involved in that and was managing the team within a few months.

Then I was head hunted by an IT training company and I was with them for a couple of years before joining a small IT solutions provider. They were trying to build a training business - and they had a niche customer base. In a couple of years, by 1995, I became MD of that business. I was very young!

That business was bought out, and I started to work with the founders of 2e2. I guess my career stopped at that point, but the company has changed considerably. We’ve had so many name changes it's been hilarious. In 2002, after NCR had had the company for around 18 months, one of the executives said that they were not in the training business! I was just coming back from having my first child, so you can imagine the alarm that reverberated around the place.

So my previous boss and I bought the company out in 2000. 2e2 was born in 2002.

BCS are pursuing IT professionalism, what's you view on that?
There are a number of strands to that. Qualifications and certifications are absolutely vital. Some of the skills can be quite ethereal and you can't necessarily prove you have them till you're in a job and you can do lots of damage if you don't have the skills.

Since 2000 it's been something of an uphill struggle to persuade some organisations that they need certified people. In our space it's vital, but corporates view it very differently.

If companies are looking to keep people they need to make them feel valued and that their career is being progressed by the organisation. For large organisations they sometimes allow people to train themselves but not take the exams and so they don't get the recognised qualification and that is very short sighted.

One area where we seriously lack professionalism in the IT industry is around soft skills. It's a very challenging area because we have some very clever technical people but sometimes they don't have great soft skills and can't talk to customers in a coherent manner, in a way they understand. These people have hard skills and find it hard to change the way they communicate - senior people don't want the level of detail that they go into, for example.

Recently there has been more a push to improve soft skills but you can't certify them so technical people don't often see their value. They usually want letters after their name - which they are rightly proud of - but they need the soft skills too.

Trainers are a different breed to other technical people. Because of the nature of the job they do their communication skills are much more formed and they can deal with different types of people in different ways.

Have you seen an impact from the downturn?
Everyone is asking me this. So far, no. We've had a good November, we have things for December. We're very fortunate because our business model is different to most IT training companies. We don't have hundreds of sales people but use partnerships and we have many routes to market. I think we could be lucky. Fingers crossed!

You've been involved in big projects: what tips can give on this?
It's critical to communicate and plan. Sounds dull, but it's so important. If you miss things and don't give yourself enough time to get the planning in place then you're setting yourself up for failure.

In any change project, whether an acquisition or a plan to role out a new piece of software, whatever, communication upwards to stakeholders so that they are communicating the right messages downwards and communication downwards to the recipient of the change is critical. It needs to be honest, it needs to be timely and it needs to be consistent.

How should we address the perception of the IT industry?
Talk about the successes. The press seem to love to cover failure in IT, but you see less about the successes. IT is viewed as exciting from the consumer end of the market, everyone loves iPods and the latest gadget, but somehow that does not translate into IT in business. I think that is a shame as some of the cutting edge technologies are making a real difference to how businesses create business advantage.

Quick questions

Mac or PC?
PC.

What gadgets are in your pocket at the moment?
I could not live without my BlackBerry, I think it's one of the most revolutionary pieces of kit ever invented. It enables me to know what's going on.

And I love my iPod. I've got one of those little Bose speakers - it's brilliant.

Most played iPod track?
Either an Elvis, Robbie Williams or Rhianna track.

Favourite website?
CBeebies - great for the children.

One piece of careers advice?
Be true to yourself and the people around you.