We speak with Karen McInerney on accelerating female leadership in Computacenter

Karen McInerney is the Group Financial Controller at Computacenter. With over 25 years’ experience shared with the company, she launched the ‘Growing Together’ programme in 2018 which mentors women seeking roles in active leadership.

Karen has been awarded the CRN 2019 Executive Mentor of the Year and continues to direct and expand the ‘Growing Together’ programme.

As a company, we believe that people are our most important asset, so why not invest in their growth as they invest in ours?

Can you tell us about your role with Computacenter?

In my current role of Group Financial Controller, I lead the Group Finance Operations team. This is a 200-strong team located in 4 countries who manage all finance processes. In this role, I lead the Finance operations team to act as ‘steward’ (safeguarding the assets of the Group), as ‘operator’  (driving effectiveness and efficiency through improved processes), as ‘catalyst’  (analysing activities to stimulate change in the organisation), and as ‘strategist’ (contributing to long term direction). 

And whilst the technical aspects of the role are demanding and rewarding, one of my key motivations is to develop people and teams that can flourish. Having cultivated an environment within my department of personal development and advancement, I am thrilled that more than 35% of my team have grown to the extent that they have secured promotion or advancement within the finance team. Encouraging and seeing people succeed, and seeing teams work well together is my core motivation. 

How has coming from an accounting background shaped your role as a leader and mentor for women?

As a ‘numbers’ person first and foremost, I usually start any analysis with the data. I was interested when we were required to start publishing gender pay gap information a few years ago, not what the published gap number was but really about how we could improve that over time – how we could create a more balanced workforce. To improve that measure, it was clear to me that we needed to see more females in more senior roles, and I started to reflect on why that didn’t happen naturally within our organisation. I wanted to be part of a change and with a fairly unique perspective as a senior female within the company, I wanted to help to steer this measure to reduce the gender pay gap. In particular, I set out with an objective of increasing the number of females in senior leadership roles.

In 2018, I was inspired to launch the ‘Growing Together’ programme which focuses on coaching and mentoring talented and ambitious women at Computacenter - to inspire confidence in their abilities and empower them to reach their full career potential. By sponsoring this programme, I committed to supporting Computacenter’s female talent pool to recognise their potential and prepare them to play a significant role in the future leadership of the business. 

As part of this programme, I have established a formal mentoring network so that each of the participants are matched with a senior mentor to continue their learning and foster a focussed sponsorship culture. So far, we have helped over 60 women to advance their careers by developing skills, self-confidence, and business contacts.

Can you tell us about the structure of the programme, and why it has been so successful?

The programme focuses on group and individual coaching to increase the participant’s confidence in their abilities and empower them to reach their full professional potential.

Following the coaching activities, we then match the individual with a business mentor who is selected on the basis of the areas that mentor can add most value to the participant. We have found that these relationships are really powerful in expanding the participant’s knowledge and exposure to other business areas. There are no limits as to how the mentors can help the candidates, what we want to achieve is great business relationships which unlock people’s full potential.

We’ve also held a number of networking events in the last year. These range from ‘women in tech’ business led workshops across various divisions focusing on the challenges and what it means to be a woman working in those individual areas, to a dedicated women’s networking chat page for people to connect and share professional experiences. One of the things we’re most proud of is that these initiatives have been driven and led by our employees who feel empowered to lead change themselves with the support of their senior managers.

I must stress that this is not a ‘course’ that someone goes on and forgets, it is a programme that focuses on the needs and goals of each participant which is most successful when the participant drives the change themselves.

It's not just about what the candidates can take out, but also about the what they can contribute

Who is eligible to participate?

The programme is aimed at motivated women who are on the path, or have the intention, to take up leadership roles within the company. We’re aware that tech can be male dominated at the top which is why we want to foster the right talent where we can. Currently, this means that employees at our job family levels five and six (junior to mid management levels) are our target candidates. We are excited to be expanding the programme into our European entities within the next few months.

Part of the programme is not just about what the candidates can take out, but also about what they can contribute and the self-reflection that goes along with this. Self-assessment is a key area that we cover, and we know that the values, skills and tools can be taken into broader networking, mentoring, and other opportunities that eventually feed back into the business. As a company, we believe that people are our most important asset, so why not invest in their growth as they invest in ours?

If you were at another company and wanted to encourage more women into leadership roles, where would be a good place to start?

I think programmes like Growing Together really help to build confidence in female colleagues and I would start here. Personal Coaching as part of the programme really adds value to the individual. Developing strong networks within businesses to foster the feeling of ‘belonging’ or ‘family’ also help to attract and retain female talent.

One of the other areas that Computacenter focuses on is the unconscious bias and unintentional barriers to female advancement that can exist, as part of my sponsorship of this programme I also gather feedback from my Growing Together Alumni to highlight some of the challenges faced. I think it is important that companies reflect on how to improve, and how to obtain diverse opinions and perspectives into decision making.

Karen accepting the Executive Mentor of the Year award at the CRN Women in Channel Awards 2019

As a senior female leader at Computacenter, what responsibilities are attached to this role?

As a female role model within Computacenter (one of the most senior females in the Group) I am aware that other females look to me to demonstrate how to be successful in a way that is authentic, feminine and bold. This means being open and accessible to more people than strictly required by my role – to ‘lift the veil’. People want to find similarities, so they can believe that they too can be successful. 

The creation of the Growing Together programme was motivated by the knowledge that to reach more females in the organisation, I needed to demonstrate that myself and other female role models were ‘real people’ with self-doubt and vulnerabilities. Giving females the opportunity to build networks of support has demonstrably increased the confidence of the programme participants, allowing them to grow from good-to-great and take a more leading role in our business. 

Highly visible female role models will play a significant role in inspiring a future generation of female leaders. 

What advice would you give to women today who wish to become leaders in their field tomorrow?

Oh, that is a big question. I think the key thing is to always be open to listening to others and learning from them. I have been fortunate to have worked with some great leaders over the years and I have picked up tips from most of them. I would advise women to invest time in coaching, mentoring, and reflecting on their own behaviour and how that positions them within a Company.

Very often women are held back by their own self-doubt and so you need to find a way to silence your own inner critic because it is probably holding you back! I would also recommend that you find a way to make sure you speak up and share your opinions.

The most important piece of advice though is to be authentic to yourself, to your values, and be clear on the type of leader you want to be.