In Conversation With Colleen Knight Head of Service Delivery Arden and GEM CSU
Colleen’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line.
With an educational background in Psychology and Criminology, Colleen started her career working with young offenders, before accepting a role with the police as a criminal intelligence analyst to follow her interest in offender profiling. Colleen then joined the NHS as a junior analyst, where she worked up through the analyst career path ladder and, after 6 years of leading the analytical and BI function, Colleen decided she needed to step outside of her comfort zone.
“I really wanted to diversify and add some more interest to my CV.”
Colleen got the opportunity to do just that when she moved into her Head of Service Delivery role. As those who have made a move from a role they’ve stayed in for quite some time, this isn’t easy.
“I had worked in business intelligence for 15 years. I was an expert, and I was very confident in my abilities. But I knew that unless I diversified my options would be limited, I really had to think about what I wanted long term and realised I needed to broaden my experience to get that real breadth of knowledge that I admire in the leaders that have inspired me."
I Never Wore A Dress to Meetings
To get to where she’s wanted to be, Colleen has had to stick her head above the parapet many a time. As a result, Colleen has often found herself as the minority in many of the meetings she’s attended. A familiar situation for many of the people who have contributed to this series, we’re often all surprised by the length we go to, often subconsciously, to present ourselves in a certain way.
“My husband commented on the fact I never wore a dress or skirt to work. . I always wore trousers and I wonder if subconsciously that was part of how I wanted to present myself.
“A lot of myths have been dispelled – like you have to work exactly 9-5, or you have to be able to travel if you want a leadership role. But now we’re seeing children running around in the background and the work is still getting done. I’m hoping this will level the playing field a bit more.”
Imposter Syndrome Proves You’re on the Right Track
One of the greatest barriers to moving outside your comfort zone is the fear that you’re an imposter, that you’re not worthy, that you couldn’t possibly be qualified to do whatever you’re aiming to do. It’s a fear that strikes many of us: impostor syndrome.
For Colleen, it’s a feeling that everyone feels at some point in their life. A feeling that can be crippling if left unchecked.
“Because it can be crippling if you're not careful. Really you are self-sabotaging , because you will be the only person thinking those thoughts about youand you can really sabotage your own success if you are unable to challenge your own negative thought processes.”
But rather than viewing Imposter Syndrome as something to be hidden away or avoided entirely, Colleen believes that Imposter Syndrome has always been a positive indication that she has made the right decision.
"I always think if I'm in a room of people that make me feel like that, then I'm in the right room. If you are always in your comfort zone, then you aren't pushing yourself hard enough, take it as an opportunity to learn from other people and grow, rather than as something negative.”
But acknowledging the feelings as being a sign of progress won’t always help you get over the symptoms. For that, Colleen turns to her support network.
“A trusted network can help you challenge negative thoughts as well as pointing out blind spots in your own unconsciously biased thinking. I have a strong peer network, it is important to find and build your network as these people are invaluable."
For those looking to follow in Colleen’s footsteps and move towards a leadership position, Colleen has this advice:
“Push yourself out of your comfort zone. The kind of portfolios you’re going to be managing at a senior level is dynamic and always changing. Ask for opportunities to broaden your remit I am always open to requests if someone asks to come and listen in on a meeting, or help out on a project – but these opportunities never land in your lap. You have to seek them out and push on the doors to get them.”