In Conversation with Kay Lee, Head of Continual Improvement at Arden and GEM CSU

We spoke to Kay Lee, Head of Continual Improvement at Arden and GEM CSU about her career, WannaCry and raising young children while working. 

Kay'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. 

Leaving University in the early 90s with a Network Management Degree, Kay joined the NHS as an apprentice and almost immediately got work within an operational role. Hitting the ground running, Kay quickly set up a service desk, server infrastructure and active directories. This initial involvement very much set the tone for the rest of Kay’s career within the NHS where she stayed in technical and infrastructure roles.  

As the years went on the teams and departments around Kay grew to contain new teams, Kay has stayed within infrastructure – managing teams and professionals up until 2 years ago when Kay moved into the Continual Improvement role she remains in.  

 

Leaving A 30 Year Career Behind 

On this series, I get to talk to professionals who are obsessed with change and transformation. The challenges they face while delivering process and technology improvements at scale while keeping up with the day-to-day work within the NHS always makes for interesting listening.  Likewise, the careers of these individuals also make for interesting listening as many come to realise their passion for technology later in their career.  

For Kay, who’s technical portfolio and experience speaks for themselves, it was quite the opposite.  

“I knew I was leaving my beloved infrastructure career behind me. That was a career I had put 30 years of my life in to. It was difficult but I know that I love what I'm doing right now.” 

These incredibly difficult decisions are ones that people will consider for months, maybe years. For Kay, who believed that her skills and experiences would add value to other service lines, extra motivation for making the move away from her technical-focused career was found within the team she was leading at the time.  

“Succession planning was hard. I felt like I was blocking progression for people by just sitting there. So by me making that move, it’s allowed everyone to take on new roles and new challenges. I could’ve sat there for years and year and years, but I would’ve just lost talent because they’ve got nowhere to go.” 

 

WannaCry and Having Young Children 

Studying Network Management in the early 90’s and launching her technical career from there, Kay has very much been emersed in what many would call a ‘man’s world’. Despite this, Kay has only ever overtly felt like she’s been in the minority at one occasion in her career.  

The WannaCry incident was a worldwide ransomware attack that disrupted many of the NHS’ crucial systems and infrastructure in 2017. Kay was working full-time during that period, but was also raising her young children who were at Nursery.  

“This was the biggest cyber-attack known to man. People were turning up at work and never leaving as they tried to protect NHS data from being encrypted. But I had to go at 4PM each day because my kids needed picking up from Nursery.” 

I’ve spoken to many women throughout the course of this series. Many of them are Mothers and many of them find it challenging to find a balance between the two sides of their life. Even when a balance is found, difficulties remain in the form of guilt.  

“There's this kind of mixture of feelings. There's a feeling of guilt, that you've got to go, there's a feeling of jealousy, that you can't stay. There's a feeling of guilt that if you do stay then you've left your child at nursery And I'm not saying males don't struggle because they’re obviously parents too, and have the same kind of commitments, but I've struggled with that a little bit. But I think that's been the only struggle.” 

 

You Have to Specialise 

For those looking to follow in Kay’s footsteps towards a technical leadership role within the NHS, Kay has this advice: 

“I don’t think you can just be a generalist anymore. I think you’ve got to become a subject matter expert, perhaps in cloud or project management or infrastructure, become the subject matter expert, become that person and then from there on, become the manager of that team and, you know, set yourself career path of where you want to be maybe in sort of five years time or 10 years, and then work backwards. But, crucially, make sure it’s an area you enjoy.” 

 

Bernadette Clarke

Divisional Contract Director

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