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Kate Beverly didn’t start out in technology, but after doing some coding she got the tech bug and has risen steadily up the ladder at education publishing firm Pearson and is now one of the leading lights in the firm’s Women in Tech initiative. She’s also keen to encourage other women up this ladder.
Now Vice President of Programme Management: Information Technology, she has been able to combine her previous career in publishing with her technology skills.
Kate did her degree in graphic design and her first job was in a small all-female desktop publishing firm.
She worked her way up to art editor, but says she always realised that “something was missing” so she started doing some tech support alongside her job. It was the 1990’s and technology was evolving fast.
When she had been at school a career in technology was not an option. At the time, she says, it was associated with “uber clever” types and Kate never thought it was for her.
Someone suggested she might enjoy IT and that it might be a more lucrative career so she left her job for an eight-week coding course and loved it.
“It was a good fit for me and I loved the focus on analytical, logical thinking,” she says. She found that she took to it like the proverbial duck to water, finishing a four-hour exam in one and a half hours.
“It spoke to me. I got it and the course helped me into technology,” she says.
After completing the course, Kate started at a small consultancy in 1999 and progressed quickly, working at the FT as first a technical coder and eventually a project manager.
After that she moved to Hewlett Packard where she was the only woman in a massive office. In 2005 she moved to Pearson again as a project manager, rising to the post of senior manager in the global project management office.
In 2007 Kate was headhunted by News International and offered a big pay rise.
However, she soon discovered that money was not her main motivator and within two months she was back at Pearson.
“Money is not my motivation. I am motivated by doing something that adds value and that is intellectually challenging,” she says. “That was a big lesson.”
During her time at Pearson she has held a variety of roles, managing large and small tech teams, working in delivery and assurance as well currently being responsible for Technology SOX compliance [the accounting and investor protection legislation brought in following the Enron scandal in the US].
She says being open to change is part of the job. “If you work in technology you have to be open to new things. You have to read and stay current and keep an eye on what might be the next big thing, such as agile working,” she says.
“You have to be able to adapt to change and to create processes that can be delivered quickly. They have to be effective, but not so onerous that they hold the company back.
Everything is changing rapidly and people don’t want to wait. You have to be responsive and adaptable.”
That fast-changing pace requires flexible workers. Kate says Pearson offers “amazing career opportunities” and treats staff like grown-ups who can work out for themselves how to get the job done.
She can also dial into meetings from remote if she needs to and has a lot of control over her diary. She feels trusted to catch up on work if, for example, she has an urgent call from her children’s school.
Seven years ago, during her time at Pearson, Kate adopted two boys, now aged 11 and 13. She took nine months’ adoption leave and since returning has enjoyed several expanded opportunities, including promotion to a more senior level.
She is keen to help other women up the career ladder and is very aware about how important positive role models are, having worked with many women managers.
Although she has been doing mentoring throughout her career, in the last year she has been more active externally and has been mentoring women outside Pearson through the 30% Club.
“I like to see people develop and I had people who encouraged me so I know how important it is. It’s about sharing knowledge and giving timely feedback,” she says.
She is also keen to dispel myths that women in tech who take career breaks get left behind because things are changing so fast. “It is not difficult to catch up,” she says.
She admits to being a bit cynical about some initiatives for women. She is keen that they do not convey the idea that women are some sort of charity case and that they focus on practical support that will help women progress.
As one of the people very active in Pearson’s Women in Tech initiative since last year, she is pleased that the focus is very much on what will make a difference, including mentoring and getting exposure to the parts of the business women need to learn about so they have the broad expertise to make it into leadership roles.
Kate says Pearson has the kind of thoughtful, caring culture that allows women to succeed. It’s a great place for working mums and for women in tech. It is somewhere that really cares about the work you actually do, rather than when and where you do it.”