Katie Barker Ward

Waterstons: Business & IT Consultancy

Can you tell us about your journey into your current role and what inspired you to go into it?
I have worked in IT for six years, which is really all about data. I studied History at the University of Edinburgh with a view to go on to a law conversion course but when I finished, it was still the middle of the recession. I looked at working in finance. History is all about pulling loads of information together from different sources and making sense of it and then articulating it to your audience – and I think working in finance relates to that skill set. I handed my CV in to a local company but they came back and said my skill set suited to an IT role, which was a curveball for me. The thing that drew me in was that in the role I would work across the whole business, all the different parts of the organisation.
My manager was drawn to my research – when I was studying in the USA, I had done a thesis analysing a lot of census data.

Where did you study abroad?
Richmond in Virginia. I absolutely loved it. So he had seen from that project that I had worked with data. That first job – a manufacturers – I was in the in-house IT department. My favourite area was reporting, we collected data from all over the factories to have insights like how well the line was doing, if any of the machines needed maintenance and what the outputs were. I looked to progress and found the company I’m working for now. They have an area called Transformation which is about aligning technology with the business needs such as writing IT strategies for businesses and helping companies choose the right system rather than bringing in technology just for technology’s sake.

When you worked in that first IT role, how supportive did you find that of women?
I was the only girl in that team. It was all men on the team but they were really lovely; they made me very welcome and I learnt loads from them. I was really young and didn’t take all the opportunities that I could have to network with other women and feel more at home. The Managing Director was a woman, the daughter of the founder, and she was very interested in data and pushed the company to gather data to understand it so we could be more efficient and see how well we are doing. I did not feel supported specifically as a woman but I did as a person and a team member.

Can you tell us what a typical day of work looks like for you in your current role as a Senior Transformation Consultant?
I’ve been working on a business intelligence strategy, which involves interviewing key stakeholders to find out what their needs are and to understand what the status quo is. Another project we’re involved in is building a data warehouse for a customer so that they have the right information from which to make decisions. That uses different products to get their data, transform it and output it in to Power BI so that they can report on what they need.

What part of your role do you find the most exciting?
I just love IT and how it helps give people a better handle on what they’re doing, a better picture. What we do is so broad – from helping people collaborate better to ensuring their data and systems are secure and robust. I personally like talking to lots of different people and learning about their business. I moved into the data team because I do find it so interesting, you can learn so much about your performance from a business perspective – you might think you’re doing really well in one area and then the data can tell you a different story. I also like organisation (laughs) so I like working on data warehouses and getting everything in order!

And specifically what data sets do you work with?
There is a real variety of data and tools because we work with a lot of different clients which is always exciting. What we do with data is all business-led so it depends on their needs and vision.
With data, people get fixated on numbers solely and lose the background and the context. For example, in education, teachers are almost forced to focus on targets but pupils are more than numbers. Teachers have to consider their home lives and so on. Don’t rely solely on data, think about the background.

Is your role something that you would recommend for women and girls to go into?
I love my role, there is a blend of soft and technical skills – talking to people and understanding data. IT can be really flexible so this is great for all genders and good for those who have children or other family commitments. It is important nowadays that things move away from the nine to five. We don’t live nine to five lives, or staying in the office for nine hours for the sake of it – it doesn’t mean nine hours of output. The client comes first so it means I travel as well. Sometimes we work shorter hours, sometimes longer hours. The culture means we work when is best for you, as long as the needs of the customer and colleagues are met.

So do you just have one office?
We have three! London, Durham and Glasgow and people working for us in Australia, which is cool. We’ve become a global organisation and we’re in the process of opening an office in Sydney!

Can you give us a picture of the partnerships and customers that you have, who do you work with?
We work in specific sectors – the manufacturing sector, distribution and transport, education, higher education. There’s more information on our site but it includes charities like Age UK all the way through to Quorn, the vegetarian and vegan range!

Fun! Do you have a fun fact or a hero or heroine that you would like to include?
I admire founders of Waterstons. They’ve built a global business from scratch. I feel incredibly lucky as Sally Waterston mentors me. She is highly skilled and excels at what she does. But above all, she is a kind, thoughtful and generous person. She was recently named as one of the 50 ‘Leading Lights’ in the inaugural Kindness and Leadership Awards. It’s important that in business – and life in general – people are kind to one another.

Image of Katie Barker-Ward
Picture by Lesley Martin, interview Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

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