A motivational roadmap for all Women in ERP. Abigail Allman, host of WERP (the only women-in-ERP dedicated podcast) retells the unconventional career journey of Ann Blakely, managing partner of Baker Tilly Digital at Baker Tilly, featured in a recent WERP episode.
The dawn of the digital age has birthed numerous innovations and technological advancements, with ERP technology undoubtedly being one of its crowning jewels. It serves as a linchpin, seamlessly integrating various business processes, ensuring efficiency and optimizing resources. But beyond the allure of these innovations lies an unsettling truth; the vast gender disparity within the tech landscape.
A cursory look at statistics paints a grim picture. While women constitute a quarter of the tech workforce, a mere fraction of these are women of color. Such figures aren’t just cold data points; they are emblematic of the challenges, aspirations and triumphs of numerous women navigating this domain.
My tryst with ERP mirrors many of these experiences. Managing the delicate dance between my professional commitments in ERP, my roles as a doting mother of three and a partner to a husband embroiled in his demanding career is an art of its own. This dynamic becomes even more poignant given that only one in five leadership roles in tech are occupied by women. However, interspersed within these sobering realities are stories that uplift and inspire. Stories like Ann Blakely’s.
Ann’s trajectory is a tapestry woven with determination, challenges and a relentless pursuit of her dreams.
Our conversation on the WERP podcast was akin to embarking on a voyage of discovery. As we delved deeper into our chat, the differences in our geographies and cultures paled in comparison to our shared experiences and aspirations within ERP. Anchored in Milwaukee, USA, Blakely’s trajectory is a tapestry woven with determination, challenges and a relentless pursuit of her dreams.
It started with an unexpected choice
A remarkable facet of Blakely’s journey is its genesis, deeply influenced by family decisions. She reminisces: “My father actually was in seminary for 11 years, studying to be a Catholic priest and decided about a year before he would have been ordained that he wanted to leave the priesthood and it just wasn’t the life for him.”
This pivotal shift in her father’s career, diving headfirst into the world of technology, inadvertently set Blakely on a path that merged the realms of computer science and business, with her academic pursuits taking root at the University of Wisconsin.
ERP, with its multifarious challenges, has always demanded adaptability and a project that Blakely undertook in Alaska is a testament to this tenet. This significant undertaking was aimed at enhancing the prospects for at-risk children. She shares, “I was working as a team lead designing a child welfare information system, so it tracked child abuse, neglect, foster care, adoptions and all the provider payments around that.”
Her candid reflection highlights the emotional and professional tightropes she walked, striking chords with many of us attempting to balance professional obligations with personal life, not to mention a frequent commute of over 3000 miles home to Wisconsin.
After several years, Blakely sought a shorter commute and her career took root in accounting and consulting firm, Baker Tilly, focusing on HCM and ERP and balancing the relationships between customers and vendor partnerships such as the likes of Oracle and IFS.
Balancing professional and personal means pride, not guilt
Our dialogue inevitably touches upon the perpetual challenge of maintaining equilibrium between work and family. Blakely observes, “I think it’s been a really positive experience. My kids are now 13 and 15. So, I feel like I’m maybe on the other side of what my husband and I called ‘the fog’, which was pretty much from newborn to maybe seven years old.”
While juggling professional demands with parenting her kids, Ann has adopted the principle of establishing clear boundaries and refraining from guilt for being a working mom.
“We can be our own worst enemy; we feel like we have to do it all ourselves, we feel we have to have an A+ grade in everything we do. So, for me, it was really an exercise of letting some things go. I had to recognize that I needed more help at home and outsource.
“By setting ground rules pretty early in terms of what I wanted helped to set the stage for how we divided and conquered.”
Blakely notes a specific piece of advice that resonated deeply with her: “I received a piece of advice, actually from a mentor. She said don’t ever apologize to your kids about work. Don’t ever apologize because you’re not actually sorry. You’re choosing this every day.”
This counsel not only influenced Blakely’s personal outlook but underscores a universal truth; our careers, filled with passion and purpose, should be a source of pride, not guilt.
Taking a leading role at Baker Tilly Digital
Today, Blakely leads all digital solutions for Baker Tilly Digital, heading the outward market-facing presence for all Baker Tilly’s technology-related services offered to clients. Just over a year and a half ago, Blakely also oversaw the company acquisition of Vanilla Solutions, a UK IFS partner.
Discussing her responsibilities as managing partner, Blakely shares the transition that comes when rising to these kinds of roles.
“The job has evolved. Being client-facing in market and delivering the technical solutions and being that translation agent – I’m not as hands-on with that anymore,” she explains. “Being managing partner essentially means I’m doing more of the looking out to the next three to five years; where are we going, looking at what new bets we’re going to make, new technologies are coming out, leading all acquisitions – more of those across digital initiatives. We have a big initiative to build additional off-shore capability for our teams; we’re driving a deeper level of technical competency models to all the teams, and all the fun things like budget planning, forecasting, reporting.”
She says, “When I joined Baker Tilly, I was consultant number 25. I think we have 3,000 consultants today and the growth has been so fun, and it’s so fun to be entrepreneurial and think about what our clients need and evolving our services and technologies in accordance with that.”
Blakely’s reflections on her journey with Baker Tilly radiate with enthusiasm and pride. Emphasizing the richness that diversity brings, she champions the cause of varied perspectives and approaches in creating innovative solutions. Talking about the GROW initiative (the growth and retention of women) at Baker Tilly, Blakely expresses the need to give women a voice in the workplace.
“Helping to give a voice and courage and understanding of options and choices is important. We like to be good at what we do, we like to know we can handle what is coming around the corner. We certainly have the capability, but we sometimes just don’t get selfish enough to ask for more or for what’s next.”
The national program has been built to include everything from networking opportunities, book clubs, providing resources and navigation techniques and mentorship matching to learn from varying experiences. It comes down to getting more representation in leadership, but also ensuring flexibility in the workplace for both men and women to stop that dropping out of the workforce, explains Blakely: “It’s about how we elevate to leadership, to show the health of a successful pipeline of successors and candidates moving through the ranks that represent the female population.
“But it’s also about providing flexibility, maybe offering to slow to part-time or internal assignments for a little while to control schedules better, for men and women, while ensuring that doesn’t deter from ramping back up again after you get through whatever transition you’re going through. It’s creating that notion of eliminating the ‘up and out’ progression and removing the stigma from that. Giving the permission to create that space for yourself.”
An anthem for change
Ann Blakely’s narrative isn’t just a singular tale of achievement. It’s an anthem for change, a call to arms for the ERP industry to pave the way for a more equitable and unconventional future. Laden with insights, her experiences offer invaluable lessons on fostering gender diversity in ERP. As we navigate this ever-evolving landscape, tales like Ann’s serve as beacons, illuminating our path toward a more inclusive future. Together, let’s sculpt a corner in technology where gender parity is the norm and every voice is celebrated.
Abigail Allman is the founder of the Women in ERP community, host of WERP podcast and head of strategic partnerships at Resulting IT.