Associate Portfolio Director for NTT DATA, Kate Daniels, discusses community and coming together to create change
BY MYGWORK, IMAGE BY MYGWORK
Community is talked about a lot, but few people understand what it means. For Kate Daniels, it has shaped her life in more ways than one. She’s an independent consultant that has worked with NTT DATA for over three years. She’s had a varied career and has a unique perspective, having re-joined the workforce after a career break. Now Associate Portfolio Director at NTT DATA UK, she sits down to talk to myGwork about community and how she strives to create affinity with others in her home life, workplace, and career.
Kate grew up all over the UK, moving around because of her dad’s work. “Originally, my parents are from Yorkshire. We grew up in the home counties and then moved to Worcestershire aged fifteen.” At the time, coming out wasn’t something that felt like a possibility at that young age.
“My first dalliance into a relationship with a woman was at sixteen years old, and we would always say, ‘I wonder if there’s anyone in Birmingham who’s like us.’ That’s what it was like; we really felt like the only ones who were gay anywhere near where we lived.”
As a student at Leeds Polytechnic, Kate found herself in an environment where she felt safe and found a community in which she could authentically be herself. “I still have close friends from that time in my life. At that time, it wasn’t very easy coming out to my family, so you create your own family. I think that is a common story for people that came out in the eighties.”
After her time at Leeds, Kate moved back to Edinburgh and again, found a genuine group of friends and a real affinity for the family she created there. Over the years, it became easier to show up as herself with her family, and she knows they accept her and her partner Ali.
Kate had another opportunity to meet like-minded people when she joined a social group for lesbians and gays in the Peak District. She laughs about the name “Pink Peaks”.
“I lived in Matlock at the time; there were a couple of women in Whaley Bridge who were bored one winter. They set up this group, and very quickly, the group had over 200 members. It was mind-boggling. When you live where I lived, perhaps you only know one or two other gay people. One of the other members was Ali, who lived on the opposite side of the Peak to me, in Buxton, and well, now we have been Civil Partners for 16 years.”
The experience demonstrated how coming together can change people’s lives and be a lifeline. “There was a farmer in his eighties who had never told anybody he was gay his whole life. “
After meeting Ali, other parts of Kate’s life came together in harmony. The pair embarked on a new adventure together triggered by a conversation where Ali asked Kate, ‘If money was no object, what would you do?’
The answer that came was simple. “I told her that I’d walk up to the head gardener at Chatsworth house and ask them to teach me what they know. They have the most amazing vegetable gardens there.”
The themes that emerged from this conversation were around food and self-reliance. So, they did what seemed like the next logical step: “We sold our house, bought a field and went on a pig-keeping course!”
Although that might not have been what many other couples would’ve done, for Kate and Ali, it was a gradual decision to change their lifestyle. “One evening, we were in the pub, and someone overheard us talking about how we wanted pigs, and he offered us his land to keep them on. See – community in action again!”
After buying the land in Worcestershire, the couple moved in with Kate’s parents. “So that was it, in my mid-forties and living back with my parents while I did an agricultural course at college.”
What may have seemed uncomfortable or not ideal to some was something that brought Kate much peace. “That was a seminal moment in my life. My partner and I lived with my family while we built a home for ourselves. Ali and I have been totally accepted; she is very much part of the family.”
Now they are building Willow Farm, and one of Kate’s aspirations is to create a community around it. “Before we started on this adventure, Ali and I went into separate rooms and wrote what we both wanted to get out of it. We then came together, shared that, and came up with a consensus of what we wanted to create.”
They want to connect ordinary people with the land and the food it produces. They’re already achieving that and want to deepen that going forward. “Being with Ali is like being on a doubles team in tennis; we both have our strengths, and we’re on the same side”.
With this new lifestyle underway, and after some time off for the project, Kate also decided she wanted to get back into consulting. Ali had retired from being a nurse and focused fully on their land, so after a career break, Kate came out of retirement.
“I went back to work after fifteen years out of the industry. I rang some old colleagues, and they were very encouraging.”
Kate started at NTT DATA for what was initially meant to be three months, now just over three years later, and she’s still there. “They’ve been incredibly flexible, and I have really enjoyed working there. To anyone that might have had a career break and wants to go back, I’d say do it. I’m not a shrinking violet, but I really doubted whether I would be able to do it. I felt like my thinking had slowed down, and that wasn’t true. Once you start doing it, it is fine. It’s all about finding the right place to be.”
Despite all the changes the industry had seen whilst Kate had taken a break, the challenges businesses face haven’t changed – they are about people, relationships, and the same themes as they ever were, she explains.
“My unique perspective also adds to my skills and has made me better at my job.” Kate is now also co-chair of the NTT Women’s Business Network and manages internal projects, coordinating tech academies and helping the organization to increase the apprenticeships they use.
A variety of life experiences and community around her has made it easier for Kate to flourish both in and out of the workplace.
“I have my colleagues, when I was younger, I was surrounded by dykes, now there’s my family, the farm and all that we are creating there. If we have a party, I’ve always felt it is important to host for everybody and not cater to a specific group. At the same time as that, I’ve always had a commitment to being all of me wherever I am and not compartmentalising parts of who I am.”
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