Tracy Butler

Tracy Butler, who has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years, is Head of Group IT at EMIS, one of the UK’s largest healthcare tech providers.

Tracy became interested in IT in the 1980s while working at a bank and, after spending her career fighting to be heard in a male-dominated industry, is now passionate about getting more women into tech.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role:

I’m Tracy Butler, Head of Group IT at EMIS. I’ve been married for 31 years to Richard, we have three daughters, Alicia, Rosie, Ella, and a grandson, James. I currently spend weekends tracking dinosaurs in the local woods or making mud pies! Since leaving school – so many years ago, I took a natural interest in computers starting from the early 80s when the company I worked for bought their first PC – an Apricot Xi twin complete with 5.25 floppy drives! Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled with work in 5 of the 7 continents, met some amazing people and completed some great projects. In my current role at EMIS, I’ve had the opportunity to progress my career further and to lead a great team in transforming the corporate workspace – we’ve just finished a major migration to Azure.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all! Leaving school at 16 I went straight out to work in a high street bank in a role known then as a waste clerk – encoding cheques and deposit slips.  As a back-office team, we quickly came to realise we could go home early if we quickly and accurately input the details to balance the day’s transactions – this was very motivating and taught me how powerful it was having a great team focussed on a goal!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I’ve been very well supported throughout my career in IT, but the biggest challenge came for me when I was made redundant just before my 25th anniversary following a successful career in a major water treatment company. At 52 years old and up against so many aspiring IT professionals in a male-dominated role, I was faced with the possibility that I might not get another position in IT.  I took three months to declutter and take some long walks in the countryside, then set about writing my first CV for a very long time.  What surprised me most when I reflected on my career at that time was the number of important initiatives and projects I had led. I took the opportunity to write my journey instead of listing the key responsibilities.  I had two interviews within a week of submitting my CV and was offered both jobs!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Easily it’s the development of those in my teams. It might be twee to say, but it’s true. Recruitment is a major responsibility for any manager, and you need to ensure that you get the right fit for the team to coalesce.  I’ve met and recruited some amazingly talented people from different backgrounds with different academic qualifications and I’ve been delighted to be part of their progress.  For those reading this and thinking, well you need a degree to get into IT, neither myself nor my Director went to University – don’t let that put you off following your dreams.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have been successful without the opportunities and trust shown to me by the people I have worked with throughout my career. I truly believe that irrespective of your gender if you show a keen interest to learn, listen to those with experience around you and push yourself forward you’ll be rewarded with opportunities that will help you be successful.  Get out there, be brave!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think I may have answered that in the previous question, but let me go further and say – don’t sit back! Just doing your job is not enough, you need to be seen and heard. Get involved in different aspects within your company – be a representative on an employee forum, build your networks with forethought, but most importantly get involved!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I do, and I see this as an issue we can resolve. To me, there are just not enough women applying for IT roles and this means the ratio is heavily weighted towards our male colleagues and they are inevitably achieving higher positions.  Where are the women!?  We are so well suited to this profession. I’d encourage any woman with an interest in IT to look at the roles available – women are natural problem solvers, we’re creative and organised – we need you in IT.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Businesses have a responsibility to create a fair playing field, but should encourage greater diversity in areas where one gender is more prevalent. Advertisements for roles should be written openly to appeal to women looking for an IT role – in my experience women will apply most often when they can tick all the requirements, whereas men are likely to be more ballsy.  Mentoring, development, and succession plans should be provided throughout a career. We’ve set up a Women’s Network at EMIS and this has been popular for networking and discussing issues that affect our gender.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Start at a younger age – we need schools and career advisors to promote IT as a gender-neutral profession. We need the media to stop stereotyping IT professionals as male computer nerds!  As successful women in tech, we need to stand, loud and proud and tell other women about our journey and what an amazing career you can have in an IT role.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Change is fundamental in IT – it’s evolving fast and it’s important to keep yourself informed of trends and new technology – the development of AI is set to bring about the biggest changes this century. There’s a lot of great speakers on TED Talks that I’d recommend checking out. To improve your technical skills, search the web for virtual free training, you’d be surprised by what is available. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, post your accreditations and follow tech business areas that interest you. Join local women in tech support groups and don’t be afraid to ask for help, it goes without saying add to your browser favourites.

What personal attributes are key to achieving success in an IT profession as a woman?

You will need to be resilient. Be honest, be confident, and be supportive. Add to that a touch of good humour and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Who has been inspirational to you during your career?

I’ve been working in an IT role for 35 years and find inspirational people are not just those above you on the career ladder but all around – a full 360. I’ve been fortunate to have known visionary leaders and peers who have been empowering and team members who have exceeded expectations.