We are celebrating International Women’s Day across Egress Group and Stalis today.

International Women’s Day (IWD) recognises the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and serves as an opportunity to reflect on the progress made, as well as work still to do, in terms of gender equality. This year’s theme is Inspire Inclusion, emphasising the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society.

To mark the occasion, we spoke to some of the wonderful women who work across our joint teams. We asked them to share their personal career journeys, thoughts on how we can increase inclusion in tech, as well as hopes for the future of healthcare.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you arrived where you are today?

Kate Bryan, Managing Director, Stalis

I joined Stalis back in 2000. I did my university work placement at the company initially, worked part-time in my final year, before joining after graduation as a Management Information Systems Developer on a permanent basis. The company was relatively small at that stage, with a predominantly male staff, including the MD. They were looking for some new, young blood, so I started at the same time as two other people, one of whom was Emma.

I studied Technology Management at University which equipped me to have technical conversations with the techies and translate those into non-techie language for end-users and customers. This led me to more of a customer facing role, whilst also taking on the responsibility for our products as technical lead.

Working in a small company gave me great variety, which I enjoyed and allowed me to take on lots of different roles. This ultimately paved my way to becoming Managing Director.

I had always enjoyed taking the lead (I chaired the Prom Committee at school!) but hadn’t necessarily set out to achieve such a senior role. Starting a family delayed the move which I would have liked to have made a little earlier, but my opportunity came in December 2020. I was a newly appointed MD and also, at that time, mum to two young boys (6 and 3) and we were all, of course, in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

So, it wasn’t a childhood ambition or deliberate decision to go into healthcare IT – it was more fate – which played me a great hand. It’s such a rewarding industry to be a part of. Plus, I love my job and the people I work with. I am incredibly proud of where I and the team have arrived at today.

Emma Jackson, Professional Services Director, Stalis

As Kate has mentioned, I joined at the same as she did, fresh from university, where I studied Computer Science and Psychology. Stalis was founded in the eighties to support and develop Patient Administration Systems, initially for Moorfields Eye Hospital and was looking to expand into providing improved reporting for hospitals, particularly in respect of Commissioning Data Set returns.

I started as a Management Information Systems Developer and, mostly self-taught, here I am – 24 years later, now Director of Professional Services. It’s been quite a journey!

I worked as a developer for four years, building a VB.Net front-end for the CDS extract tool. During this time, I was noticing areas for improvement on implementations and how we delivered our projects, as well as the need for more structure and process to create efficiencies and maintain standards. A pivotal moment arrived, when an external business mentor challenged me to go away and put my words into practice, which I did. I haven’t looked back since. I took a PRINCE II project management course and researched other best practices before developing a locally defined delivery methodology for Stalis which is still used today.

I fell into healthcare IT, it was not a deliberate choice, but have fallen in love with it. That is in no small part because of the people I work with. Their support and the fact that we have built a culture that respects a good work / life balance have been fundamental to helping me arrive where I am today.

Polly White, Operations Director, Stalis

I started out in publishing after studying English and American Studies at University. My roles focused on managing intellectual property rights and tough contract negotiations, the latter of which has stood me in good stead in terms of honing my people skills and commercial view. I worked my way up over the course of 14 years before deciding to start a family. I returned part-time, but not long after was made redundant.

I needed to work but it was difficult to find that all important flexibility I wanted, so I found myself doing various part-time jobs that would fit around childcare responsibilities. The last of which was a part-time account / office management role at a small company called Stalis. That was back in 2004 and now 20 years later I am delighted to be Operations Director at a fast evolving and growing company, which has retained its family feel and supportive culture.

One of my proudest achievements to date was putting into place all the processes we now rely on to maintain the company’s smooth running and efficient operation. I also love the people aspects of the role, supporting the development and wellbeing of the Stalis team, ensuring everyone is engaged, happy and fulfilled in their work.

Jane Harding, Financial Controller, Egress Group

After leaving school, I wanted to be an accountant. I wasn’t successful initially, so started working in pensions in a number crunching role. I stayed in this area for a decade until I was made redundant.

This turned out to be the change I needed to refocus on my initial ambitions. I took on my first junior accounting role and commenced college level accounts training. This gave me the confidence to train as an accountant in university and also return for a second time to do a Masters degree in accounts.

Studying whilst working full time and bringing up 4 children was difficult, but I had much more motivation to study at this stage in life than I did in school.

Karen Taylor, Business Development Manager, Egress Group

I have a 30+ year investment in IT after failing to become the actress I’d planned to be after university. I drifted into Business Analysis, with an electrical wholesaler, before joining an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendor and, in various guises since then (e.g. working in process management and systems integration) have travelled the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, plus a stint in the US.

Since 2005, I’ve worked exclusively in sales with some pretty hefty public sector wins under my belt. I’m an accredited public speaker – one of the most common phobias I believe – but I do confess to loving an audience and fondly remember the days when we ‘stood up at the front’ of a room to present to an audience clutching a pointer stick!

In the last 15 years I’ve specialised in Human Capital Management (HCM) and payroll, but Finance crept back into my life very recently so coming back to my ERP roots at Egress Group was too good an opportunity to not go for and that’s why I’m here.

What has been the defining, or proudest, moment in your career to date?

KB: Two things make me very proud. Firstly, watching Stalis evolve and grow, taking the business to the next level, and leading our fantastic all women senior management team. Secondly, designing the database architecture for the Predictive Health Intelligence Liver disease app, hepatoSIGHT, which is a case-finding search engine that uses existing data to identify people at risk of liver disease early, enabling quicker intervention and better outcomes for patients.

EJ: I would agree. Seeing Stalis grow has made me very proud, as has defining and developing the methodology that we use for all our data projects. I am also immensely proud of our track record in delivery. For example, our data migration work during the merger of four major London NHS Trusts onto one Cerner Millennium instance was a significant project for the trusts and for us. It was challenging, because of the many different requirements from each Trust and the number of third-party system suppliers involved, but so rewarding when a successful go-live was achieved, based on significantly improved data quality within the new system.

PW: Redundancy from my role in publishing was a defining moment as this set me on a new path and led me to Stalis. Here, my proudest achievement was the successful acquisition of the company by Egress Group. It was a tough process, but for me personally, the ratification of the success of the work I had put into the operational running of Stalis, was tremendous recognition for my efforts.

JH: Personally, getting my first role as a qualified accountant and earning a professional level salary, made life much easier. Professionally, being involved in the Egress Group acquisition of Stalis was new for me and an on-going challenge I am really enjoying.

KT: The step into sales was a pivotal moment for me. I’d been steeped in application consultancy (implementing the South Wales clients when I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne!!) and then product development (after I got fed up with the hotels in South Wales). I was happily supporting the sales team in prospect presentations about Purchasing and Inventory Management, which they couldn’t spell, and I could talk about in my sleep, until a canny Sales Director persuaded me to join them. My journey to full quota bearing started in presales, so proposals/bid-writing + product presentations, which I loved but I wanted more of a challenge over time hence that final pivot and sales never disappoints so, I’ve never looked back since!

Working in tech, specialising in healthcare data, what have been the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?

KB: Having been in the healthcare tech industry for 24 years, I have seen so many positive changes during that time. I started out, more often than not, being the only woman in the room, which could be quite daunting. I would attend industry conferences and events where the delegates, speakers and exhibitors were primarily men in grey suits. At that time, it also felt like I had to prove myself more than my male counterparts. They seemed to be respected by default. Thankfully now, the industry is much more diverse. More women hold senior positions, undertake roles across healthcare, take the stage and speak at events, which is so encouraging.

When I became a mum, I faced other challenges. As a mother it feels that others believe you are not as dedicated as you should be. Taking a call from nursery / school is non-negotiable, but that does not mean you are not committed to your job too. I’m proud to be a “working mum”, but it’s not a term applied to the millions of working dads. Those attitudes are (slowly) changing and many dads are now far more involved with their children than their fathers were. They understand the demands of parenting (or indeed any other caring responsibilities) and that is supporting a positive shift.

EJ: All tech sectors were historically dominated by men and healthcare IT was no exception, but it is improving. I have been used to being the only woman in the room since I first started out. I did a BTEC in Computer Studies at college and was the only female in a class of 28. The same was true for all my university interviews for a place on a Computer Science degree. Thankfully those statistics are changing.

There is more to do though, I still think there are significantly more men at C-Suite level than women in our industry.

How do you view gender diversity in the tech sector and what improvements would help increase inclusion?

KB: Diversity is vitally important. All sectors, including the tech industry, need to be representative, not just in terms of gender, but race, religion, age, background, sexual orientation, and so on. Society is made up of a rich and diverse tapestry of individuals and our workplaces need to reflect that to ensure that those differing voices, views and opinions are heard.

I am particularly passionate about encouraging girls from a very young age to learn and get excited about technology. I would like to see industry working more closely with schools, for example, to showcase Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) opportunities and bring them to life.

Flexibility is key, I think, to supporting more inclusion. Again, as a mum, being able to continue working after starting a family means there need to be more part-time opportunities and proper nursery provision. We don’t want to lose skilled staff from the workforce simply because they have childcare (or other caring) responsibilities. This applies to any working parents too, not just women.

JH: I agree. Generally speaking, women are still the primary carers. Flexible working arrangements assist women in juggling work and care commitments in all sectors.

EJ: Having an all-female senior management team (which was not a deliberate, intentional move) has certainly helped attract other women to Stalis.

I believe it is about finding the right person, with the right skills for the job – irrespective of their gender, although I do appreciate the importance of a diverse array of opinions. I have also never thought I can’t do something because I am a woman.

I was the first woman at Stalis to have children and helped pave the way for ensuring the right support was in place for returning mothers (and now also for working fathers thanks to shared parental leave entitlements). That’s a really important part of the culture at Stalis now and providing the flexibility to cater for caring responsibilities. It would be helpful if customers also understood the need to be more considerate of these demands. It doesn’t happen often, but I have been challenged at 6pm on a Friday for needing to collect a child from an after-school class!

PW: Diversity is very important, and I agree that flexibility help supports inclusion for everyone. Roles are changing – for men and women, both professionally and personally, and most people, regardless of where they are in life, will need flexibility and support at some time.

Giving staff the ability to ask for help is also important, as is acknowledging hard work, thanking people for their efforts and supporting their development and career progression.

KT: That’s a big subject! Any diversity by its definition means that some people become marginalised, which is unacceptable, especially when they have valid contributions to make, not just in tech, but in any sector, although tech does seem to have certain biases.

I’m lucky that even though I’m a white, middle-aged, woman, I have never really experienced any exclusions or discrimination (not a second time anyway!) and I would dearly love everyone to enjoy the respect and accolades that they deserve. One day…

What would your number one piece of advice be for women wanting to embark on a career in healthcare IT?

KB: The hardest part can be having the confidence in yourself, so believe in yourself and go for it. Hard work and determination played a huge part in my journey to MD, plus a willingness to learn and soak up knowledge. When I first started I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I was never afraid to ask – there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

PW: Agreed – go for it, work hard and speak up!

KT: Embrace knowledge, hone skills, listen and remember, the customer is always right (even when they’re not)! Plus, fight your corner – your opinion counts. If you’re wrong, the sky won’t fall in, so learn and move on.

What are your future hopes for the healthcare industry?

KB: I want to see more use of technology and data to prevent disease. The data is available, and part of our role is to ensure it is of the highest quality possible to support this vision and ambition for better preventative and proactive care.

EJ: More joined-up healthcare. So many people are still amazed, quite rightly, that their medical history is not available to hospitals across the country. We have come some way to addressing this with single, integrated health and social care records, such as our Careview solution, but we now need to enable sharing beyond the hospital walls and across the country.

JH: I agree. Information being shared across multiple organisations would help improve efficiency and improve experiences for patients and their care teams.

PW: That the NHS remains a public health system which is accessible by all.

KT: My hope is that the NHS, one of the finest institutions ever created, can be nursed (forgive the pun) back to full health and also properly joined up with social care so that ‘people’ don’t inadvertently slip between the care cracks.

Thanks to Kate, Emma, Polly, Jane and Karen for taking the time to speak to us.

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