Hazel Davis talks to IT industry leader Tracy Pound about being told what to do and taking the locks off the IT world.
Tracy Pound began her career as a programmer in 1984 and was appointed as a manager of a small software company at 21. She was then headhunted by a division of BTR Industries, becoming its first female manager and the youngest, at 27, to head up its UK IT operations.
In 2014 she was named one of PCR’s Top 50 Women in Technology. She now runs her own consultancy and training firm Maximity and is director of IT trade association CompTIA, heading up its Advancing Women in IT initiative.
You started as a programmer and now run your own IT consultancy and have the task of helping more women to get into IT. Was this all part of a grand plan?
Not at all! When I started out, the thought of owning and running my own business didn’t even cross my mind. As a programmer I just wanted to be part of a team and see where my software went and how it was used.
It was only when I had my first child that I started to think about how I could work in a more flexible way. As my journey to work was 124 miles and the department I ran needed to offer support to staff all day, every day, 365 days a year, I decided that working for myself would certainly be more flexible and a lot less stressful.
Who are your role models?
Gender diversity is such an issue in the IT industry that there are global and local initiatives being run by some wonderfully inspirational women in IT whom I see as role models. This includes women who’ve been in IT for a long time and those that are rising stars. There are many women I could specifically name but I will stick with Nancy Hammervik, vice-president for industry relations at CompTIA.
Do you feel like a glass-ceiling smasher?
I’d like to think so! I’m not good at being told I can’t do something so I refuse to let age and industry dictate what I do. When I was 21 I felt I was ready to take on a supervisory role so I found myself a job setting up and running a helpdesk for a software house.
Then I was headhunted at 25 to work for an automotive manufacturing company – the first female manager and the youngest. The MD I worked for strongly believed that IT shouldn’t sit in an ivory tower but should understand the business it is supposed to benefit. So I opened the department out, took away the locks so that other people could get access to the IT department. I also implemented a new £1.4m IT system.
In and among that I ran the logistics section for six months. In a company that made 6.5m steel wheels a year, my job was to make sure that the right steel was delivered at the right time to make the wheels, and to schedule the production.
“When I was at school, I was told I couldn’t study computing as I wasn’t good at maths. I fought really hard against this decision and ended up taking the options I wanted, not those that the school thought I should.”
I distinctly remember a very big bust-up with the manufacturing manager when he was trying to track me down for a meeting one day and questioned why I wasn’t in his meeting, but in another. After I stood my ground and made my point quite forcibly, he then reported back to the MD that I had more balls that the rest of the (male) management team put together. We never had a cross word after that…
What’s the best business advice you have been given?
The best advice I was given was by my manager when I worked for an automotive manufacturer. He told me that you should always encourage people to want your job because then it means you are free to move on to something better.
And the worst?
The worst was listening to sales people who only have an interest in taking money off you when their advice is purely self-serving. I’ve learned to be a little less gullible and a little more questioning.
So how are you going to get more women into IT?
I’m not advocating that companies recruit or promote women for the sake of it. I’m advocating that companies actively seek to interview women for tech roles and that women need to start applying for them. When I was at school, I was told I couldn’t study computing as I wasn’t good at maths. I fought really hard against this decision and ended up taking the options I wanted, not those that the school thought I should.
IT companies are usually dynamic and responsive. They need people who will step up to the mark, be decisive, work well in teams, and have good interpersonal skills. These are all attributes women possess…
Your daughter Dani is now embarking on a career in IT – what advice do you have for her and other young women starting out?
IT is still very male-centric. But big IT companies will often have an internal initiative to encourage girls and women to shine and progress. Smaller companies can struggle to know how best to attract women but don’t be put off by the way they present themselves. Talk to other women in IT.
I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years and I absolutely love it. I never have two days the same and my company is in the great position of being able to help other people progress in their own jobs by using IT better.
Meet more of our Glass Ceiling Smashers here.
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Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".