Women in Digital: Helen Kelisky

“As with many industries, there are areas of the sector that remain very male-orientated. Whilst this offers an opportunity for women to disrupt and really make a difference, they can’t do so if they’re not in the room.” Google Cloud’s UKI MD Helen Kelisky shares her career journey to date, and what can be done to encourage more women into tech.

Posted 19 December 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Yes, I really enjoyed school! Especially maths because I loved anything to do with numbers. I relished the social aspect of learning, making new friends and experiencing new things with them. That said, I have to admit I was quite disruptive in class. I would often finish a task quickly, and then mess around with my classmates during the rest of the lesson. What can I say – I was young! 

When I was 12 years old, I moved during the middle of the academic year to an all-girls school. It was a testing period for me because most students had established friendships by this point. In addition, the curriculum was more challenging, and I found that it took me the entire lesson to finish my classwork. It was certainly a watershed moment for me and I began to learn the meaning of hard work.   

What qualifications do you have?

I have a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Business Studies from Middlesex University. I also have a Diploma in Market Research. 

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?

It has been mostly smooth with a couple of bumps along the way. However, if you haven’t experienced a rocky road at some point during your career path, then you’ve probably been too careful. My career in tech started as soon as I graduated from university. I wanted a career in a fast-paced and exciting industry, so I chose the tech industry. 

There have been instances in the past which have been rocky. For example, being told to let someone go when I felt it was the wrong action to take, navigating through this whilst being true to my values.

Most of the time my input has been respected and I’ve felt listened to, but there have been occasions where my desire to change the status quo have been less well received. These instances have been valuable learning opportunities. 

What specific challenges do you see women facing in the industry? 

As with many industries, there are areas of the sector that remain very male-orientated. Whilst this offers an opportunity for women to disrupt and really make a difference, they can’t do so if they’re not in the room. Leaders need to drive change from the outset by focusing on how they can attract and retain people from all forms of life in order to capitalise on the talent available and to more closely reflect society. Hiring in one’s own image is an unfortunately common issue, and an ongoing challenge for women looking to enter the space. 

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

The most important piece of advice I could give to anyone looking to advance their career is to treat others how you would want to be treated. This is just as true in life as in business, and it’s a vital quality for anyone striving for success. Human interaction is integral to almost every industry and career, and ambition should never come at the expense of compassion, respect, and communication. 

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

I’ve been very fortunate to witness the progression of several inspiring tech leaders, all of whom have played a part in where I am today. Seeing the journeys, successes and mistakes of a multitude of mentors has helped steer me throughout my career, and watching these individuals break boundaries and forge new channels has taught me my most valuable lessons. 

From where do you draw inspiration?

Everywhere! I draw inspiration from everyone, from my husband and children, my colleagues, to the late Queen Elizabeth II – the list goes on! Especially those who take personal risks to make a positive difference to the world.

I recently celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with my husband who has also taken personal risks throughout his career. He is incredibly supportive of me and is always on hand to add a perspective on a situation or to bounce ideas off each other. My children also keep me grounded and give me perspectives of the younger generation. 

I also draw inspiration from my boss and my diverse team at Google Cloud, as well as from Google Cloud’s customers and partners. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?

For the last ten years of my 30-year career in tech I have specialised in cloud business leadership. In all that time, the sector has experienced an unprecedented scale of digital adoption and change. Today, the industry is seeing levels of interest like never before. Clearly, this is a very good challenge to have, but as organisations large and small are increasingly turning to cloud technologies to overhaul and advance their operations, the industry must meet this unparalleled and diverse demand. 

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

To ensure I am always the best leader I can be, I put myself at the service of my team. I consider it my responsibility to support them, giving and encouraging real-time straight talking feedback. Importantly, I always try to do this with good humour, fostering a friendly and open working environment to make sure team members feel comfortable, and able to thrive, whilst doing their best work. 

From a work viewpoint what has the last 12-24 months been like?

It has been quite diverse. I’ve been working at Google Cloud for the past eight months, contributing to the expansion of the business and building the supportive team that I have today. Prior to this, I was at OpenText where I enjoyed my role and felt like I made a significant impact in the workplace.

Google Cloud is a great platform for supporting women in IT, however, there is so much more to be accomplished to drive gender equality in the technology industry. Part of my legacy as a female tech leader will be to encourage women into corporate life and into senior positions within the field, to show them that it can be done and that they can be trailblazers themselves!

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

One of the main challenges we’re facing today is the shortage of highly skilled technology workers. With 11.8 million working adults still lacking the digital skills needed for the workplace, the UK is crying out for skills in both the private and public sector. It’s an odd paradox as the technology sector is generally a well-paid industry.

In a bid to tackle this challenge and expand the pool of skilled UK talent in the sector, this year we announced Project Katalyst. A new cloud training programme which has been designed for underrepresented individuals who are looking to gain skills in Google Cloud’s technology and the workplace in general. Our long-term goal is to provide people from all over the world with an accessible platform and opportunity to work with Google Cloud and within the cloud sector. And one of the ways to foster this change is through the Katalyst Programme.  

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?

One way to encourage more women into the tech industry is through proactive attraction, retention, and development strategies. Businesses must look to proactively address unconscious bias in recruiting processes, which may mean implementing mandatory training in precise language, interview techniques, and more. Beyond this, the industry must look to appoint, support and celebrate its female leaders whenever the opportunity presents itself. Seeing is believing, and demonstrating the possibility of this career trajectory to the next generation will help them see themselves there. 

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I’m a bit obsessed with Candy Crush – I love playing it during any scarce spare time!