Katherine’s #ialso Story

What strikes me about the #ialso campaign is actually how unremarkable it is for women to have many different roles – often needing the skills of top notch circus performers to juggle everything and keep all the plates spinning.

In my immediate family, my mother was a parent, diplomatic spouse, business founder, manager, mentor, mature student, property investor and landlady, charity volunteer, choir member and much much more. My sister is also a parent, household manager, independent consultant, community volunteer, campaigner for causes she cares about, budding writer and the caretaker who nursed our mother tirelessly through her last six months of life so she could die, as she wished, at home (even though my sister’s own home was hundreds of miles away).

To be fair, my husband, father and brother are also successful professionals, dedicated parents, and wear a number of other hats – as do many men I know – but the #ialso campaign is about the multiple roles that women play, so I’ll leave their stories for another day.

As for me, I’ve always worn several different hats and changed them frequently over the course of my life. I’ve been self-employed as a translator and teacher, worked at a major newspaper, managed several small businesses, led international business development for major multinational corporations, co-founded a series of international tech companies, and worked for almost 15 years as a Senior Civil Servant.

Professionally, each of those experiences laid the foundations for the next phase of my career – while #ialso worked out how to maintain harmony between my work life and my home life. I can’t pretend that has always been easy, but I like to think I’m getting better at juggling and plate spinning all the time.

Recently, my last two roles in government have led me back to what I loved most about my prior private sector career. As the Director for Enterprise at the Department for Business, and then as Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, I was privileged to meet hundreds of innovators, entrepreneurs, and people growing successful businesses. So, in 2017, I made a change back to the private sector to start a strategic advisory service – helping innovative tech companies start-up and scale-up.

During those last few years in Whitehall, I also moved to Brighton, got married, had a son, then a twin son and daughter (at the age of fifty!), renovated an old house, supported my husband in moving his elderly mother in with us and arranging dementia care for her, and did what I could to care for my own mother on the other side of the Atlantic.

During my tenure at the UK Space Agency, I witnessed first-hand the positive power that space has to engage and inspire children and encourage their interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). So, I also have founded a charity (www.primaryspace.org) to help give children who might never have considered pursuing STEM careers unforgettable experiences – learning about space science and technology and meeting people who use STEM in their jobs.

Its aim is to inspire primary age children, so when they come to make their own choices later in adolescence, they will hopefully keep STEM options open rather than closing them down. Some 85% of both girls and boys enjoy science before they reach secondary school, but only 13% of girls and 33% of boys go on to sit science A-levels. This is, in part, because they may have no frame of reference for what a job involving science could be like – something I hope to change. The Primary Space programme also supports primary school teachers and teacher trainees, to help build their confidence in engaging children with STEM subjects and careers.

The space sector is a great success story for the UK economy, but many parts of the country have untapped growth potential. So, alongside my advisory work, I am also starting an initiative to join-up the space economy throughout the southern region and to stimulate innovation. SpaceSouth aims to raise awareness across the thriving South Coast digital and creative media cluster of the vast potential of satellite data to create new useful applications and services.

Currently, I am also authoring a report for Public.io about the potential for spacetech to address public sector policy priorities – which should help encourage more space entrepreneurs to bring their innovative solutions to the public sector – keep an eye out for that in early 2019!

I also look after my family with our still very young children, manage a portfolio of investments, speak to audiences about space and how vital it is to our lives here on Earth, support charities whose missions are important to me, sing with a community choir, and try to look after my own health and wellbeing. My life is full – and fulfilling – and just as unremarkable as the stories of so many other women I know.

Follow Katherine Courtney on Linked In and Twitter.