By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
Having spent over 25 years delivering IT solutions for the federal government, Kay Kapoor shifted careers, becoming Accenture‘s new U.S. Federal Practice leader. Kapoor is enthusiastic about the importance of self confidence – and why it’s important for career success. She said, “Sometimes, as women, we don’t give credit to our own capabilities. Once I recognized early in my career that I needed to voice what I wanted, I was better able to move forward in my career.”
Kapoor added, “My advice to women is to just take the leap of faith and be courageous. Most of the time it does work out. As the saying goes, ‘if there’s a fork in the road, then take it.’”
Helping Clients Be Successful
“I immigrated to the U.S. when I was only 18 years old. I came here with nothing but a solid early education, and fell in love with this country and decided to stay,” Kapoor began. While she was attending the University of Maryland, she was recruited to provide IT consulting support on a U.S. government contract, and then offered a job – provided she finish her degree. She said, “I agreed – because education is very important to me.” She went on to earn a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Kapoor, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, began working for the federal government in the areas of defense and intelligence, and gained various government clearances. In 1990, she joined Lockheed Martin, and ended up staying with the company for 20 years, working in systems integration and IT consulting, eventually serving as vice president and deputy of the company’s federal civilian business.
Kapoor recalled, how at the beginning of her career, she applied for promotions and was turned down. She said, “I worked in software development, but my heart was always in managing and leading organizations.”
“After three years of going up the hill and not getting anywhere, I started volunteering to do pieces and parts of my boss’s job. He was happy, because it lightened his load. And I was doing the things I wanted to do.”
She explained, “It was only later that I realized what I was doing was called ‘taking the initiative.’ And when he retired, I was the natural choice for his replacement.”
Kapoor began working in project management, then program management, delivering technology solutions to the U.S. government in the areas of defense, civilian, intelligence, health, energy, and public safety programs. Then, she said, she was ready for a change.
“I learned that Accenture was looking for someone to lead its federal business. And the opportunity presented itself to me and the job was a perfect match. I’m honored to have this position,” she said.
“I just started at Accenture at the beginning of this year – and it’s all very exciting, to work at this innovative and leading-edge company. While it is an honor to lead thousands of people, I never forget that it’s also a very serious responsibility. So, I try to keep my actions focused on the impact to the employees and the organization.”
She continued, “I’m working on a strategy to better meet our clients’ needs. This is a time of unprecedented changes and challenges for our clients. They are doing more with less every day, and the issues they face are getting harder.”
“I’m all about ‘how do I make their mission successful?’” she added.
In fact, reflecting on her career so far, Kapoor said that one of her proudest achievements came in the form of an award from a client. She said, “In my line of work, I feel blessed every day. I’ve received many commendations and awards, but the one that is the most special to me came from the commissioner at a large federal agency the Social Security Administration for delivering on a mission-critical project.”
She explained, “It’s because it came from a client – it was not an internal or even an industry award. Client relations is what I have led with throughout my whole life – it’s part of my core fabric and that’s why [the award] is so important to me.”
Importance of Confidence for Women in Technology
“One issue that bothers me,” Kapoor began, “and I’m a little concerned about it, is that there are not enough girls entering the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering.”
She explained, “They shy away from it, thinking it’s too difficult. For a long time, they have had that perspective, and it worries me. In the past, I have been a speaker for high school and middle school girls and I’ve told them that it’s really not that hard. They just need more visible role models.”
“The biggest barrier is sometimes ourselves,” she explained. “Oftentimes, we have the skills, but we don’t project confidence.”
She continued, “I wish that I had known, when I was starting out, that I, and only I, am responsible for my career. For four years I did good work, thinking that someone would notice and my career would move along. But, that doesn’t happen. You need to speak up.”
Advice for Professional Woman
Kapoor advised young women beginning their careers to trust their instincts and have confidence in themselves. She continued, “Always get guidance from others who have walked before you, but it’s your life, and your decisions should be made based on what feels right for you.”
She explained, “Often for women, we are driven by what our gut tells us.”
Women who are more senior should stay true to their values as they move up in their careers, she said. “As we grow through our career, the nature of decision making becomes more complex and can sometimes challenge your value system.”
She advised, “Always do the right thing. Keep ethics and integrity front and center every day. It is important for senior leaders to visibly model that behavior.”
“Since joining Accenture, I’ve recognized that the company is very focused on mentoring and nurturing women,” Kapoor said. She added that she has already shared insights on her career with employees on International Women’s Day and has been asked to serve on the Health & Public Service (her department) Women’s Leadership Council. She will speak at a global women’s leadership forum this summer designed to educate and sensitize leaders on issues related to women’s progression and demonstrate how behaviors and beliefs, such as unconscious bias, create barriers to retaining and promoting high-potential women.
Finally, she said, “Work life balance is very important to me. But it is very hard. There’s no one formula for everybody and, as individuals, we have to create our own rhythm.” She recalled how, when her two boys were younger, she would have to leave work before six to pick them up before the day care center closed, and then pick her work back up once they were in bed. She said, “Women tend to feel guilty all the time – we need to get over that. That emotion tends to draw women down.”
In Her Personal Time
Kapoor said said, “I love to spend time with my family. My family keeps me grounded.” Additionally, she sits on a number of boards and non profits, including one organization that helps women who are victims of abuse and mental illness.