Leadership is a critical topic in our campaign on recruitment and career progression. We had a great discussion with Beverley Bryant about her journey, her struggles and career lessons. We are sure these all will be valued by our One HealthTech community.
Beverly is Chief Digital Information Officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust. She is also the Lead for Digital and Data within Southeast London Integrated Care System. Beverley began her technology career in 1993 when she undertook a graduate training programme as a COBOL Programmer. From here, she progressed to become an analyst, then a Programme Manager before moving into the health technology sphere in 2002.
The Path to Management
Beverley’s decision to move into health technology came partly from a desire to spend more time with her children. With the NHS headquarters being situated near her home in Leeds, it became the driver for Beverley to make a change. She managed to get herself onto a health IT project when she was working at KPMG in 2002 and loved both the task complexity and the purpose of the work. Since then, she has spent almost 20 years in various leadership roles across the NHS.
The route to leadership is rarely a straight line, and Beverley reached her current position through a combination of her own career plan, circumstance, and opportunity.
“It does help to have a bit of a plan and have a feel for a direction, but you've got to be ready to take a detour off the plan. Circumstances come along, opportunities, setbacks and you've just got to be able to be flexible and not be frightened of moving off your plan when circumstances arise.”
This happened to Beverley in 2005 when she achieved her first breakthrough role as CIO at the Department of Health.
“It was quite a big step up for me. I went for it, they took a chance on me and I worked really, really hard to fulfill the role. I didn't have as much confidence in my own ability to do it as they had in me. But then that gradually grew. I built the confidence and knew what I was doing and I got some amazing policy and political insight.”
A Career and a Family
Like many other women in leadership roles, Beverley battled against traditional viewpoints from others who disapproved of her family makeup. With her husband undertaking most of the parental duties, she faced both criticism and her own guilt. Looking back, now that her children are 23 and 25, she is glad of the choices she made.
“I was never told you're doing the right thing. I always felt like I was doing the wrong thing, but we did it. We went for it. I earned the money. We ended up with a good lifestyle. We could afford holidays because of my earnings. It was our choices as a family. Then, when my daughter was 17, she said when I grow up I want to be like you. I could weep even now remembering this idea that I was actually a role model.”
As a sole woman in a sea of men in the earlier days of her career, Beverley would never have felt at ease to ask to leave early to pick her children up from nursery or spend more time with her family. Based on her experiences, she is now passionate about making working life easier for mothers.
“I work really hard to proactively support the girls and the women in my organisation. It is better now, but I don't want it to just be a tick box. We've got good laws and equal opportunities, but I want leaders - women and men - to make young women feel like you can have it all. I do think it’s beholden on women like me who are in senior IT roles to talk about family and motherhood and hobbies and life, and not just come across as like tech robots.”
Do you need to be technical to be a technical leader?
With technology becoming more and more commonplace and an element of technology featuring in almost every role, we asked Beverley for her thoughts on whether you need to be technical to be a technical leader.
In the role that Beverley does, where the technology systems she is responsible for are at the heart of clinical care delivery (prescribing, ordering tests, retrieving tests and clinical decision support), an amount of technical knowledge is a necessity to make sure that these run smoothly.
“We wouldn't put a generalist in charge of professions like accounting or HR. You wouldn't put a generalist as the governor of the Bank of England. They have to be an economist. So why do you think we could put a general manager in charge of IT systems that are critical to the delivery of clinical care?”
Overcoming challenges to be able to achieve
As anyone does, Beverley has had to learn lessons and overcome bumps in the road in order to reach the level of success that she has. One of these was raised in the early days of her leadership career, where she found it necessary to change her way of working following feedback from a mentor.
“My energy and pace is a massive strength. But it's also a weakness, because I can go too fast and I don't bring people with me. So I'm rushing on. Come on, everybody just do this. And the few people who have got the energy to keep up, do and then I leave the others behind. I got feedback on that quite early on and was able to then calibrate. So now I stretch myself across multiple roles and I don't try and drive pace, I move at a balanced pace bringing everybody with me so that it's sustainable change.”
Beverley has overcome other struggles, including instances where she hasn’t felt fully in control of her own career. From this, she learnt two lessons. Firstly, the importance of moving on if a role isn’t working out as expected. Secondly, she developed the confidence to realise that she is in charge of her career, and in fact, she interviewed her boss when she took her current role.
“If you find yourself in a scenario where your leader is not backing you or your immediate line manager is not on your side or not backing your policies or your direction, just leave.”
“I always thought that the bosses interviewed you and you were there to say, ‘Please pick me. Pick me. Please. Please.’ Whereas I realised this is a two-way process. I asked do you really believe in digital transformation? How much space am I going to get? What's my remit? What's your personality like? Are you going to give me space? Are you going to be micromanaging me? I had a little checklist and I was quite forceful about it. I am 53 and I'm picking my own boss.”
As a final piece of advice to those following in her footsteps, Beverley raises how essential it is to let your experiences help you to grow.
“Every job I've done, I've taken something out of it and added it to my kit bag to build up a richness of experience, and sometimes it wasn't always obvious at the time that it was going to end up being valuable because you can't have a crystal ball to the future. But as long as you are learning and as long as you are feeling stretched then it's all to the good.”