Don’t stop following your path, no matter what others will tell you. An Interview with Karen Copley
What’s behind the world’s most loved pizza company? Fun and innovative people who are driven to win and believe in the power of the possible. Inspired to make each day better than the last! What motivates them to stay are the passionate and talented colleagues committed to their vision of making Domino’s the number one pizza company in the world. And, they’re having fun doing it! Their IT and Marketing teams, have debuted technology firsts like their iPhone® and Android™ apps and recently they became the first pizza take away service to offer voice ordering using Alexa through the Amazon Echo.
They run a high transactional e-commerce platform which at peak smoothly takes more than £1m an hour across their responsive website and mobile app channel. The whole team at dominos are driving their corporate social responsibility and focusing on improving their diversity within their tech team.
I spoke to Karen Copley about her career from Banking Assistant to Head of Infrastructure & Operations. Karen has had a stellar career within technology and now a respected and senior leader for Dominos.
YES, GENDER EQUALITY HAS COME A LONG WAY, BUT THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER YET. YOU HAVE HAD A SUCCESSFUL CAREER SO FAR AND I DON’T THINK IT’S ANY SECRET THAT MANY WOMEN IN THE TECH INDUSTRY HAVE FELT THEIR GENDER HAS AFFECTED THE WAY THAT THEY ARE PERCEIVED OR TREATED. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A SITUATION LIKE THAT? HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT?
I think (being very honest), women in technology weren’t taken that seriously (but remember! I started my IT career back in 1995). I think when I started on a Service Desk as an analyst this was seen as more acceptable as you were answering basic queries from users and doing fairly menial tasks (which is what people thought women were capable in my opinion). But when I moved into Desktop Support and Server Infrastructure (in new companies) things felt a little different. Eyebrows were raised so to speak. I was somewhat patronised and told how to do something word for word, not for one second did my new team members think that I may have already done it (or at least knew how to). But as time went on and I did what I did very well, I was respected for being a “tech” that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the men based on skill and nothing else. But it took a good few years for me to “earn my stripes” as they liked to tell me. I handled the constant questioning and raising of eyebrows in one way – judge me by my work. That was fine until I got something wrong of course. When I made mistakes, it was a pretty grim experience as there was sniggering and finger pointing at how stupid I’d been. I would say that during these times (certainly in the early years in both Desktop Support and Server Infrastructure) I questioned whether I should leave the IT industry altogether.
DO YOU THINK WOMEN FEEL INTIMIDATED IN BUSINESS?
I think in some scenarios yes, especially in a technology role but I think the tide has turned. I attend technology events where more and more women are solving business challenges using technology. The sad thing is – these are leadership roles rather than technical roles. I still think there is a huge gap in men vs women in the technical part of the IT industry.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN WHO WANT TO SUCCEED IN THE WORKPLACE?
Be comfortable that you are entering an industry where you are always learning. You never know the job inside out as it is constantly changing as technology moves forward. You think exams finished when you left school or Uni? Think again. Exams and Certifications will part of your DNA as they can be something to anchor yourself to when doubters are around you. Don’t stop following your path, no matter what others will tell you. If you want to be a cloud technician – do it. A software tester – do it. But…..be really good at it. Be the best you can be and do it really well. I always wanted to be the expert in my field and this gave me huge confidence when dealing with men in my area of expertise.
HOW DID YOU GET WHERE YOU ARE TODAY, AND WHO/WHAT HELPED YOU ALONG THE WAY?
Study would be the first thing. I kept my technical knowledge fresh and current and took the opportunity to take the exams as well (these were my stripes I could display when the doubters moved in!). Work hard at being the best you can be. Also, no matter how hard it may be to do; ask for help. Be humble. Don’t think you have to act alone to try and prove something (no matter how much you think you have to). Form strong relationships with technical people around you and work together. I was fortunate that I formed strong bonds with technical people across many different companies and these are people I still reach out to today. And finally, try to develop a second/thicker skin. It helped!
AFTER ALL THIS SUCCESS, WHAT DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH NOW?
I think the main thing I struggle with now is the pace of technical change. It was fast back when I was a technician but it feels at lightning speed now compared to back then. I try to keep my technical awareness up to speed (as my role is no longer deeply technical) but even that is a challenge. I think even now as an IT Leader, I can count on one hand the amount of meetings I attend where women are present and I think the eyebrow raising still somewhat exists (albeit more subtle and mostly hidden). I do think that sometimes my opinions are brushed aside and I struggle to get air time amongst a mainly male audience.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT LEADERSHIP, ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND MENTORING OTHERS?
The main thing I would say is “one size doesn’t fit all”. You have to be adaptable as a leader, and know which management style you typically are by default and which one suits the challenge/person. You get the best out of people if you are adaptable. I am not the most entrepreneurial person so I am not sure I can really answer that! As for mentoring others, I have found it useful to listen rather than talk. To help the person breakdown the challenges and understand how they could solve it. I certainly don’t give the answers as I don’t think there is value in their development if I did.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?
There is nothing permanent except change. Heraclitus.
Thank you Karen, looking forward to hearing more about Dominos and working with you all moving forward.