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Charting A Course: Martin Carpenter On Career, Progress, And Allyship


Martin Carpenter
Chief Digital Transformation Officer
NHS Kent & Medway

by Bernie Clarke

7 February 2024

A Meandering Career Journey


Martin Carpenter is proof that taking an unconventional path can lead to career success. Over several decades, he progressed from finance manager to NHS chief digital transformation officer, gaining experience in a diverse array of industries along the way. This trajectory also gave Martin firsthand exposure to the importance of allyship in breaking barriers.

After earning an economics degree, Martin embarked on his career in the early 1990s at Serco, then a company with £50 million in turnover employing 1,500 people. He rose through the ranks over 12 years there before moving to global built asset consultancy EC Harris and later a facilities management startup. Following positions in social housing, tele-radiology, and a healthcare IT consultancy, Martin is now the chief digital and transformation officer for Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board, helping overseeing an approximately £4 billion health and care system serving 2 million people.

Reflecting on the arc of his career, Martin says, “It’s a bit of a meandering journey.” Early on, he discovered a passion for technology after his manager took notice of Martin reading an industry publication. Though lacking a technical background, Martin under-took ample training. He says, “I’m reasonably technically adept, but no expert.” This IT fluency enabled him to take on increasing responsibilities culminating in large-scale payroll system implementation impacting 25,000 employees.


The Importance of Allyship


Martin has smashed several ceilings during his rise to the C-suite. Along the way, he realised the importance of champions providing “air cover” to help talented minorities ascend past systemic biases. He explains his view on allyship: “It’s really important for me because I recognised quite early on in my career my difference, being mixed race…There’s lots of bias that happens in organisations. And allyship is really important, because in order to break glass ceilings and in order to make sure that you get the representation within organisations of the people that you are serving, quite often you need people to provide air cover for you.”


Speaking Up Against Injustice


Having personally experienced prejudice, Martin feels compelled to speak up when witnessing unfairness now that he towards the back end of his career. One poignant example involved being invited to a meeting solely to check a diversity box. The meeting was with representatives of a BAME group in the NHS and it was clear that my colleague wanted to demonstrate “allyship”, but was hugely tokenistic. This left him “really uncomfortable” but also unwilling to jeopardise his career by making a fuss. He has also was ignored by leadership when raised under-representation and lack of diversity with the organisation only wanting to focus on gender pay equality.

In addition to cultural diversity, Martin was diagnosed with Autism in 2021, he often wondered why he felt a bit on the outside at times or why things went in the way they did. This diagnosis has bought a lot of clarity and given me another reason to be an advocate and champion of diversity. “I have now a rich network of neuro-diverse super humans to tap into.” says Martin.

Martin says, “I think it’s important that people are willing to put their head above the parapet and say, ‘Actually this is wrong,’ because if we don’t then nothing will change.” However, he recognises the courage this requires, especially for those earlier on in establishing themselves, observing: “It’s really difficult for someone if they’re in the early stages of their career, they’re really worry about the perception of difference it can have on career progression.”


Empowered to Make a Difference


Having arrived at a point of seniority empowers Martin to speak openly. He says: “I’m heading towards the end of my career now…I think in my situation, it’s important that people are willing to say, ‘Actually this is wrong,’ because if we don’t then the status quo will remain.” His allyship sometimes involves educating colleagues, as when he brought neurodiversity training when working for a genomics startup. This created space for junior staff, like one colleague with ADHD, to share their stories without fear of judgment.

Charting an unconventional career has furnished Martin with an appreciation for the richness diversity brings. It has also revealed difficulties minorities face pursuing leadership roles without assistance conquering systemic barriers. As his trailblazing career demonstrates, allyship serves as a force multiplier for realising the potential of underrepresented groups. Martin plans to continue this advocacy during the remaining years of his impactful, still-unfolding journey.

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