How to Succeed as a Woman in the Tech Industry: Q&A with PRA Group’s Chief Technology Officer, Kim Carr
Have you ever wondered what it takes to achieve success as a woman pursuing a career in Information Technology? The best way to learn the answer is to talk to someone who has accomplished it herself. In celebration of Women’s History Month, our employees sat down for a “PRA Talks” seminar with Kim Carr, PRA Group’s vice president and chief technology officer (CTO), to learn how she became a technology executive at a global, publicly traded company. Continue reading to discover the highlights and key insights from her presentation.
Q: What encouraged you to pursue a career in IT (Information Technology)?
A: Several things led to my pursuing a career in IT: First of all, I needed a job and had an offer to answer phones in a small computer shop in my hometown. Second, IT was new and exciting. Even then—in the early 90’s before the Internet was popular—I think most people knew the potential for computers, networks, and software was enormous. Third, I had a knack for it. I’d always gravitated towards math and sciences in school, I was handy with AV, and I enjoyed problem-solving. My first role answering phones for that small computer shop was a perfect fit for me and from there, my journey began.
Q: What personal or professional characteristics are essential to success in the IT industry?
A: That’s a great question–especially now that tech is so prevalent globally. There are a vast number of avenues that potential IT professionals can take now in tech–some requiring more technical adeptness, while others lean more heavily into business acumen. That said, I do believe that all IT professionals would enjoy a higher level of success by embracing patience, flexibility and perseverance. I am a huge proponent of prioritizing customer service as a driver of support functions, so I encourage teams to imbue their work with the characteristics necessary for customer care, such as helpfulness, willingness and courteousness. Even in the most technical roles, the human and business considerations will almost always take precedence.
Q: What can you tell us about your journey in tech?
A: Today my journey in tech would be considered rather non-traditional, although, at the time, it was quite a common path. I have had no formal education in IT outside of a couple of IT classes I took along the way. When I entered the job market as a young adult, IT was not even considered a functional area in most companies. The Internet had only recently gained a bit of popularity with the general public and was far from being considered common for businesses or individuals. Most households at the time did not have a computer and many businesses used computers primarily for productivity functions like word processing and spreadsheets (remember Lotus 123?).
I took a job answering the telephone for a small computer shop in my hometown and quickly found that I had a real penchant for troubleshooting. It was nearly a decade later that I finally broke into tech with my first official IT role. And that was as much to do with the timing as it was about me being a woman. I began in a support role, then moved into working with networks and infrastructure, followed by a position implementing systems and solutions. I entered IT Management early on and now find my biggest passion is working to help team members—and the business as a whole—realize their highest potential.
Q: What has helped you advance your career in tech?
A: Early in my career, I’d cite my work ethic and ability to think quickly (and especially under pressure) as having aided me most. But by far, developing a strong business acumen and relationships with key stakeholders have helped me most. I’d like to add that a huge part of that is listening to what others have to say. For much of my life, I would typically “sort of listen” while I was also–simultaneously–developing my response in my head. I have learned over the years to instead focus on what others are saying and HOW they are saying it. We can learn so much more about what people ask of us or tell us by truly listening and paying genuine attention.
Q: Can you explain the importance that business plays in IT and how business is integrated into your current roles?
A: Great question! As we have talked through my journey, I think it is important to understand the context of the times. Early in the evolution of IT, technical jobs were almost exclusively all that were available. I can remember early in my career telling someone I was in IT and she or he would assume I created websites. But as IT has evolved to become a functional department in most companies today, the related roles have also evolved. This occurred specifically, I think, because the business value of IT has evolved. As greater emerged, so did the number of roles within IT. Even in the most non-technical companies, IT done right can offer a competitive edge. Certainly, in tech companies, the value added by IT can be the difference between success and failure.
As for my current role at PRA Group, when you reach the executive level, technical skills take a backseat to developing business knowledge and relationships. Business acumen is critical to decision-making and prioritization based on what most impacts the business. One cannot do that well without understanding the business first. While there are many positions that focus more on technical skills, I believe every career in every company benefits from a solid understanding of the business they are in.
Q: Statistics show that the number of women majoring in computer science engineering and entering the workforce is declining. How can universities and companies encourage more women to enter the field?
A: I’ll first say that I think education outlets are doing a good job of making coursework available. Every day I see program offerings—many times free—from universities, community colleges, technical schools, vendor-specific academies, and online training sites like Udemy, Coursera, etc. So, training is available.
However, how these educational avenues and businesses can better appeal to women is a much bigger question because I think it all comes down to societal influences. The more women and minorities our society see in IT roles, the greater the appeal will become for young women globally to pursue the same career path. And I think this can come in a variety of ways:
- Certainly, businesses can make an impact by continuing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts to level the playing field, educational institutions can hire more women to teach STEM courses and offer scholarships to any demographic marginalized in a specific area.
- I also believe TV shows, movies, TikTok videos, etc. have a huge influence. Girls need to be able to “see it to believe it,” so these outlets have a role to play in reflecting women in technology. Once it is the norm to see a woman as CIO, CTO, software engineer or a support or NOC analyst, we will begin seeing more young girls committed not only to IT, but also to all STEM career paths.
There is a terrific Netflix documentary, “This Changes Everything,” executive produced by Geena Davis, about the disparity of women in the entertainment industry. Consider checking it out because it does an excellent job of building the argument about the ability for young girls to see women in careers where we are currently underrepresented. I truly believe that showing women in technology roles could be equally as key to increasing the number of women in tech as the documentary purports for the entertainment industry. Worth mentioning as well, the push by Mattel to create Barbies in the likeness of real-life extraordinary women, and most recently, women in STEM careers. It’s exciting to see!
Q: What advice would you give to women who are interested in a career in tech?
A: There are a few things I would like to address. First of all, do it! Certainly, go in with eyes wide open. You will be a minority in the field and will face challenges, but right now is a fantastic time to consider a career in IT because there is a lot of attention being given to the disparity of the number of women in the field. Second, I would encourage women – in all fields – to create their own support network, whether that is a group of other women in your company, a company-hosted employee resource group or a mentor, friend, family member or career coach – you will need this network throughout your career. Since my arrival at PRA Group, I have been fortunate enough to be embraced by many of the wonderfully strong women here, and they have made my landing much smoother than otherwise. We have all heard the quote: “Empowered women, empower women,” and it is so true! So, both create your own support network and take part in others’ to continue this empowerment. Third, I see careers in IT only growing in numbers and variety. Just as we have seen IT roles evolve and change dramatically in the last 30 years, we will continue to see that with the emergence of new technology, the use of old and new technology, and so on. So again, I say “go for it!”
Q: What challenges have you faced as a woman in tech and how have you overcome them?
A: I have probably faced the same type of challenges that all minorities face in particular roles that are dominated by a specific demographic.
The primary challenge I have faced is that many times throughout my career, I have been the only female at the table. And while I recognize that can be uncomfortable for everyone involved, as the only woman, it can be a multi-faceted problem. As a woman, of course, I think differently than my male counterparts and often my messaging is quite different because of that. It can be tricky to make certain that my voice is heard. To overcome this, I think any minority must bring a tremendous amount of confidence and self-assurance to all discussions, making certain you are in the best position possible to allow your message to be considered. Preparation and communication skills are also extremely valuable to overcoming this specific challenge.
Let’s face it, women are often held to a different standard in how we communicate and how we present ourselves. If we are “too strong” we are labeled; if we are “too weak” we are labeled; and even if we deliver “just right,” well, we are usually still labeled. You may recall the famous quote from Ginger Rogers, “I do everything a man does, only backwards and in high heels.” And while it is significantly better in some ways today, all minorities (including women) still face this challenge daily.
Q: If you could give your younger self career advice, what would you tell yourself?
A: Oh wow, there is so much! But I will go with these two: First, as Ted Lasso said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” And I think for this discussion, I might add a finer point to the phrase to also say “Be receptive.”
As humans, it is so easy to fall into the mindset that what you believe is right and anything that anyone else thinks or says is not as right as you and may even be wrong. I know I was that way especially in the early part of my career. What I have learned is that even with an idea that might seem on the surface to be completely outlandish, there is likely some aspect of it that can contribute to the final answer.
Second, and this one might come across a bit tough, but it is 100% one of the best pieces of advice I ever received and that is: “No one is coming to save you.” Whether in your life, your career, your relationships … Whatever the realm, your outcome, in most cases, will likely fall squarely onto your shoulders. So, if you enjoy doing something, pursue it! If you are miserable, pursue something different. Do the work and sacrifice whatever you must, but in the end assume the responsibility and own your agency in that! That is truly where you will find your power.
About PRA Group
As a global leader in acquiring and collecting nonperforming loans, PRA Group, Inc. returns capital to banks and other creditors to help expand financial services for consumers in the Americas, Europe and Australia. With thousands of employees worldwide, PRA Group companies collaborate with customers to help them resolve their debt. For more information, please visit www.pragroup.com.
Najim Mostamand, CFA
Vice President, Investor Relations
Senior Vice President, Communications and Public Policy