AiAllies – Kelly Archer, Valcon
Kelly Archer is distinctly proud of her ‘humble origins,’ having been raised by hard working parents that provided for the family in Northern England.
Her pride emanates from what she has achieved over the course of a career that began at the age of 16 as a work experience intern at an accountancy firm. Now, Kelly holds the position of Associate Partner for Valcon, one of Europe’s leading transformation consultancy firms.
“To have achieved success and to have been able to return the support that my family provided is something I am really proud of. I loved being able to buy my mum her first computer and to have supported her in learning about IT, which she eventually went on to teach before retiring recently.”
Taking satisfaction from supporting others is a key theme for Kelly, who has maintained the same attitude when working with colleagues and with some of the largest organizations across Europe. This is exemplified by her enthusiasm to be part of Artificial Solutions´ #AiAllies initiative, in which Kelly shares her story and insights for women that want to achieve similar levels of success within the STEM fields.
The Journey to Becoming a Leader in Tech…
At the age of 16, Kelly was studying for her A-Levels but had the first taste of professional life while on work experience with an accountancy firm. However, the profession was quickly dismissed as a future pursuit, “It was a complete disaster,” she laughed.
“I got through two weeks of work in three days and was completely bored. I thought ´if this is boring now, it will be for the rest of my life,’ so I decided to turn down their offer of permanent employment and continue with my A-Levels.”
Upon the completion of her studies at college, university beckoned. A the first member of her family to move into higher education, the choices of what to study were all her own. “I was always good at problem solving and enjoyed working on puzzles,” she said. And so, mathematics was the chosen path.
Over the course of her studies, Kelly supported herself by having a number of part-time jobs.
“My dad was a lorry driver and my mum was looking after my two younger sisters while I studied, so I had to look after myself. And that was the deal when I finished university – I had to pack up and go home, or get out there and find something that was worth investing my time and energy into.”
But for somebody with the tenacity and talent to make mincemeat of an accounting firm at the age of 16, it didn’t take long for an opportunity to arrive.
“I spoke to a recruiter and discussed my objectives. And after giving it some consideration, he put me forward for a job at the Chartered Institute of Transport in London.”
In less than a year, Kelly had secured a senior position, supported a merger and taken ownership of the IT support team thanks to the SQL skills she had learned at university. But when the recruiter who had helped her secure the position came for a visit, it became clear Kelly needed a change.
“I was bored! And the recruiter knew that right away. He was invested in my success and saw the potential that I had so, I took an opportunity to move into a contract role. That was the beginning of my consulting and tech implementation career.”
After working on a number of contract roles, Kelly took the bold move to become a freelance consultant at the age of 24 and worked across a multitude of projects and industries for the following 13 years.
“It feels like such a young age now and maybe it was a bit naïve, but I felt confident in myself having enjoyed so much success early on.”
Over the course of her freelance consulting career, Kelly became known for turning around failing programs of change, especially in the public sector and projects that nobody else would touch.
“I worked across the NHS, which was incredibly rewarding as well as the education sector and with the British Transport Police, which was a fantastic organization. It was great to work in the public sector where everybody was involved in each project. I love working with people and making significant improvements to organizations, which in turn, improve people’s lives.”
“To be doing something for ´the greater good´ and to be part of teams that care about making the world a better, safer and more inclusive place, was incredibly rewarding and empowering.”
Now, having left her freelancing days behind her, Kelly works to transform the operations of some of the most recognized organizations in Europe in her role as Associate Partner for Valcon.
The Need for Greater Inclusion…
Despite her meteoric rise through the world of consultancy and tech, there have been many uncomfortable and difficult moments for Kelly to overcome.
“In one of my roles, I really felt out of place and felt uncomfortable the with ´bloke´ culture that permeated the office. People would go out at lunchtime and get hammered and it was all about being the loudest person in the room. I wanted to be involved with people on a personal and genuine level to make them feel enabled, not to be in a shouting match every day.”
“That was just one instance, but it’s a story many women are familiar with in a number of industries.”
“Looking around the tech sector and in the world of consultancy, there are so few women that hold senior positions. There is such a lack of diversity and you simply don’t see people with disabilities despite the fact that I spend the majority of my time sat behind a desk, speaking to people on a screen, which anyone could do.”
“Considering the impact that COVID and technology have had on working expectations, there are less barriers than ever for women, and others who are less represented, across the tech sector.”
“Diversity doesn’t just happen,” Kelly said. “You have to work to create the culture every day.”
“We put a big effort into making Valcon an inclusive and open environment, because it really helps the business as well as the people who are less represented.”
Driving Change across the Tech Sector
When it comes to providing advice for other women working in the tech and consultancy sectors, Kelly highlights the importance of finding strong mentors and organizations that can help to support and develop the careers of women.
“The Change Management Institute is strongly represented across the consultancy community and they have an inspiring group of people working there. For anybody interested in working in the tech or consultancy sector, I would highly recommend getting in touch.”
“Once again, the NLP training that I did early in my career was incredibly valuable in terms of helping me to present myself as an individual. I also learned to become a better leader by becoming a trainer. Ultimately our responsibility as a leader is to make other people successful.”
And looking at the consultancy and tech sector’s approach to improving diversity and inclusion, Kelly highlights the importance of engaging with educational organizations while also creating internal programs to support women and individuals from less represented backgrounds.
“Many of the companies I have worked with have made an effort to work with local schools and launch internship programs. I think businesses in the tech sector and in the world of consultancy should place a strong emphasis on providing opportunities for young women and those less represented.”
Valcon also supports a ´Women in Technology´ group, that offers young women the opportunity to secure short internships.
The Importance of Mentors…
A number of supporting figures feature throughout Kelly’s story over the course of her 20+ year career, though one stands clearly from the crowd.
“One of the most important people I have worked with, was a woman called Kath Sheritt, who had retired from a career within the air force where she progressed from training people for their return to civilian life to leading logistics from Strike Command Headquarters during the Gulf War. She was an incredibly intelligent woman. I worked with her while I supported a project in the education sector.”
“She taught me how important it is to find your professional persona and not to compromise on yourself whilst being in the workplace. You have to have the confidence and self-belief to pitch your ideas. She put me in situations that I thought I never wanted to be in, but she knew that I would benefit from that in the long-term. As a result, I became a trainer and took on an NLP course, where I learned how to manage myself and my emotions in a much more constructive way.”
“At the beginning of my career, my anxiety and nerves showed a lot. But Kath helped me to understand that everybody feels that way during work and if I needed to go for a walk and have a little cry, that was completely normal and fine. Tears aren’t weakness – sometimes they are about anger, sometimes frustration.”
“As I have got older and used those techniques even more, I feel that I have become closer to my authentic self, and I have also learned not to limit myself.”
“Before the age of 30, I had taken on a governor role at one of the largest further education organizations in the UK, secured my first directors’ position and finished my NVQ5 in strategic management at the Institute of Leadership and Management. I would’t have been able to do that without the support of Kath.”
Kelly is eager to highlight this point, as she has no doubt that she would not be where she is today without the support of a multitude of people throughout her career.
“You need help to achieve what you want. So, make sure you reach out to those that inspire you and that you think can help elevate you.” If you would like to connect with Kelly on LinkedIn, click here.