Editor's Note: This article is part of a series featuring working women who've had a big impact on the tech industry, developed in partnership with multinational tech services company HCL Technologies. Read about other inspiring Red Ladder Honorees.
Corinne Knight, Senior Manager, Disney Studios, UK
Corinne Knight grew up outside of London and was always interested in math and science—way before girls were encouraged to consider technology careers. While still completing her higher education, she became a single parent of a son. She persevered, getting a degree in computer science and setting out on a career as a technology manager in media and publishing companies. Today, she's a senior manager for Disney Studios in the United Kingdom. HCL provides technology services for Disney Studios across many business areas and she is the main contact for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) applications HCL supports. She's been married now for more than 28 years. Her son is grown and she has 8-year-old twin grandchildren.
When asked to give advice to the next generation on what she's learned about workplace success and parenthood, Corinne had these reflections:
With hindsight, would you change anything about your early years as a working single parent?
"I had no social life and very little money because childcare is quite expensive and I didn't have family support. I was really living a very basic lifestyle. I would do it exactly the same because it has made me a much stronger person. I've had to be determined and have good values, which my son has inherited from me. He needed my time and we needed money and we managed."
What have you learned about time management?
"I didn't balance my time well until very recently. The majority of my working career, I would go into work early, come home late and I believed that was the right thing to do. Because of the kind of companies that I worked for, which are quite demanding, I would often go in on weekends to support my teams (such as moral support and bringing chocolate and cakes when they were testing projects). I wasn't getting my own balance. I was doing what was right by the company.
I haven't been doing that at Disney in my current role. I am in a role where there is the opportunity to stop on time and go home on time. I've learned that if you are working long hours regularly, it's not a good thing—you're not giving your best, you're just giving for a longer time.
Now, I'm being cautious with time and I am a better employee. The quality of decisions I am making is much better as is the energy I am providing at meetings. My focus is better. I am listening more clearly and using my time more wisely. Previously, I read every email, even when I was just copied and I didn't need to. Now, I've learned to park emails and read them in a quiet time or not at all."
Communication is often said to be the key to success. What lessons on communicating can you impart?
"I now know that the way I express my thoughts might be very different from how someone else understands them. For example, if I said that I wanted a cone, now I would explain whether I wanted an ice cream come or a geometric cone. What I would have liked to have done better years ago is to have explained clearly enough what I was asking for from the technology team.
What I didn't do then that I now do is get people to play back to me what they understand from what I'm saying. And now I really, really listen. I was guilty then of hearing someone say something and then pitching it in my own head and hearing something totally different."
What workplace experiences have made you grow most?
"Stretching outside of your comfort zone. In a previous job, I happened to take over a major project from another person and I needed information from him This was challenging for me because he was more senior and they were taking the work away from him. I needed to get him to hand this over to me without seeing me as an upstart. I had an open conversation with him and let him do most of the talking. I then relayed his words back to him to get more of the details.
As long as you are doing something that is in line with what the company wants you to do and your manager supports you, you should have the confidence to take it on, even if it's difficult.
You also grow by listening to different people. I am a strong individual and my natural approach is to allocate activities to people. I've learned that other people often have much brighter ideas than I do. Developers, for example, often have fresh approaches and logically understand ideas. I wish when I was younger I'd been more able to stay quiet and let other people talk because I would have gotten better solutions."
What differences do you see in the workplace for younger people today?
"There are more working mothers in technology and the difference is that companies now appreciate more that people can be valuable employees and have children as well.
I do see people needing to network more to understand other areas. When I was younger, I mainly talked to people who had the same roles as me and that was limiting. Now I'm much more comfortable talking to anyone. When I did one particular project where we had to work closely with the commercial development team, I got to understand the company in the context of how others outside the company saw it and what was legally involved in negotiations with external teams. Working in this area opened up a whole different realm of understanding for me."