As an LGBTQIA+ woman, Helen Baker takes an intersectional approach to gender equality.
Helen Baker champions diversity initiatives in her sector alongside her role at Sage. She mentors up and coming talent, and regularly takes part in the Women in STEM Accenture annual event where she encourage young women to get curious about tech and open their minds to the skills and roles available.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
As a southerner with a Master’s Degree in English, I headed up North following my heart rather than my head with no real understanding of what my skills were and what I wanted to ultimately do. The journey up North however has ultimately resulted in me being in a civil partnership with my soul mate and now enjoying the life long journey of being a Mum to two amazing children. I am currently QA Director and Interim Director of Payroll for Sage UK& I Product Engineering, which basically means I spend my days working to ensure that I create the conditions for other software development leaders and teams to succeed. When I’m not helping people to be their very best selves at work, I can be found trying to get my garden to flourish!
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I wish. My planning seemed to stop at University, when I fell in love with my subject and just concentrated on loving the experience rather than working out what the I was going to do with the qualification after. My career path has followed that trajectory ever since. I try out a challenge, find the interest and love in it until I can’t really grow my skills any more. I then reach out to look for the next challenge, either in an area I’m familiar with, or frequently in an area that’s going to require a lot of personal investment to get good at. I made the leap from phone support to Technical Authoring. From Technical Authoring to Leadership. From leading teams in a discipline I knew to teams where I didn’t possess any knowledge of the skills they had. And once I made that leap and had successes under my belt, the opportunities and challenges have really opened up.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I had many personal challenges in adolescent years and early twenties which left me with real confidence issues in later life – an inability to take on board praise or promote myself. It took years for me to recognise and be able to articulate the skills that I had and how they could really add value and positively transform the performance of a team. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my skills were considered ‘soft’ and should play second fiddle to ‘technical’. I was my own blocker for many years and in some sense I wasted time here and didn’t fulfil my potential as quickly as I could have.
Taking nine months out of work on adoption leave was also a challenge – more on the return to work. I felt that the experience had radically changed me, my skills and who I was, while everything around me on my return was the same. It took me a good year, maybe longer, after returning, to work out how I could utilise these new skills for the benefit of my company and myself – time where I felt like I didn’t quite fit, but didn’t understand why.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is an amazing process to be part of either as the mentor or mentee. I’m sure that if I’d had mentors in addition to line managers earlier in my career, I would have accelerated on my successes. There is nothing like having someone to help you look at yourself with fresh eyes. Equally, there is nothing like helping someone to understand themselves and their skills more so they can take that understanding and amplify it for themselves and others. I’ve mentored many different individuals over the years for different time periods and different reasons – this includes other leaders, women returners, apprentices, grads and work experience students. I always learn from them during the process and gain a fresh respect for the power of listening and questioning.
What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?
I want to see diversity become so part of the inner fabric of organisations that it almost seeds itself somehow. I want leaders everywhere to recognise the part they play in understanding the true power of diverse and inclusive cultures. I want our organisations to reflect the diversity of the communities outside them and to understand that this also reflects the world of our customers and customer needs.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
That’s difficult, there are quite a few. Perhaps the one burning the brightest in my mind today, would be that I would like to create cultures where women are really supportive to each other in organisations. Shared experience, supportive collaborations and coaching, positive words of encouragement when speaking out all really help to create a positive supportive culture that might start with women but extends to all. I’ve been in too many situations over the years, where women are very critical of each other’s achievements and miss the opportunities to celebrate each other and role model. This is something we can all play a part at changing.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Professionally – it would probably be undertaking the testing transformation journey with my colleagues here at Sage and seeing the team members rise to the challenge and have great success. Personally – sitting up on stage with my daughter and managing to play the right hand of a Grade 3 piano piece as she’d broken her wrist – I was super impressed with myself!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I’m looking to broaden my leadership skills in the future – try them out in a completely different area of the business to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m lucky enough to work in a global organisation and so next steps for me would be to explore roles where there is a great deal more relationship building and interaction with other countries and cultures. I also have a few ideas that I want to drive forward over the next year to transform how younger generations interact with our organisation – always good to have a fun side project.
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