Women in Digital: Polly Cook

Polly Cook, design lead, TPXimpact, shares both highlights and challenges from her career.

Posted 18 September 2023 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

For the most part, yes. Like most people I definitely had my rocky years but I enjoyed learning and sport always played a big part in my school life too.

What qualifications do you have?

I did English, drama, psychology and biology at A level and went on to study Psychology and Sociology at university, which I loved. That was followed by a postgraduate course in journalism.

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

A bit of both, I’d say. I trained as a journalist with the ambition of working in communications in the charity sector – but that inevitably entailed doing a whole host of unpaid internships and working part-time jobs to pay the bills. At age 23 I was offered the opportunity to go on an assignment with a charity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was an incredible experience that would go on to have a huge impact on both my life and career and one that made me even more passionate about working for organisations that make a difference in the world. From there, I got my first permanent job in the industry as a digital content editor and that kick started both my career in the charity and digital sectors.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

Trust your gut. A new job, career move or position might look perfect on a piece of paper, but if something doesn’t feel right during the application or interview process, trust your instinct and move on. A new door will open and you won’t look back.

Learn from others. I’ve found coaching and mentoring critical in supporting me to navigate challenging moments or decision points. Reach out to someone that you respect, can learn from, will always raise you up and knows how to challenge you to get the very best out of yourself.

Find your balance – whatever that means for you. I have three young children and work part time. I love my work but I try to have boundaries and make sure I prioritise the things where I can add the most value. Sometimes this means saying no. That’s not something that comes naturally to me, but it’s something I’ve learnt to do more of over the years!

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

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of hugely influential mentors in my career, most of whom work in digital and most of them are pretty kick-ass women. Probably the one that has had the most impact on my career and on me as a person is Julie Wilson-Dodd. Julie was the director of transformation at Parkinson’s UK when I was there and is now a transformation consultant in the third sector. She brings so much passion, energy and dedication to what she does and always makes me strive to be better at what I do. She challenges me, lifts me up and has always believed in me. I don’t think I’d be doing what I am today without her invaluable advice and guidance.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Much of my work over the last few years, both in my roles within the third sector and now at TPXimpact, has involved me working alongside charities to scale their reach to support the growing needs of many more people. I take a lot of inspiration from both the incredible people working and volunteering for charities to provide this support under increasingly difficult and more stretched circumstances, and from the people that they’re there to support. If I get the opportunity, I often find being involved in user research and hearing about the lives and experiences of people both very grounding and heartening.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

When I was at Parkinson’s UK, leading the redesign of our information and support services, and in March 2020 Covid changed everything. Overnight the needs of those people with Parkinson’s and their families drastically altered and it was vital the charity’s services were still able to be there for these people. Within a few days we pivoted our focus and went on to design, test and implement new services to respond to the most urgent needs. It was challenging, not only due to the sheer magnitude of what we were trying to do, but as a leader I needed to prioritise my own team’s wellbeing too as everyone was navigating uncertainty and extremely difficult home circumstances. We developed a guiding principle throughout this time; ‘good enough’ which ensured we focused on what we could do and this wasn’t a time to strive for perfection.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

To me a good leader is someone that creates a sense of safety in a team and allows a team to try new things, fail and learn. A good leader is approachable, supportive and challenges people to be the best they can be.

From a work viewpoint, what has 2023 been like for you so far?

I returned from maternity leave in February 2023 into a new role with TPXimpact and it’s been fantastic. Moving into consultancy has been a learning experience for sure, but I’ve felt reinvigorated, challenged and passionate about the work we do.

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

Tough one. I’m incredibly accident prone and once ended up being treated for concussion after falling down a glacier in New Zealand…