Kay Perkinson: “See the light at the end of the tunnel”

My kids have really helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re beautifully naïve and don’t carry the stress of the situation, which has provided needed perspective. Additionally, when I wake up each morning, I try to think of all the things for which I’m grateful. I suggest others do this […]

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My kids have really helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re beautifully naïve and don’t carry the stress of the situation, which has provided needed perspective.

Additionally, when I wake up each morning, I try to think of all the things for which I’m grateful. I suggest others do this too. It’s a reminder that, more often than not, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kay Perkinson.

Kay Perkinson is the Chief of Staff and Interim VP of Orchestration at Vecna Robotics. She is responsible for organizing and aligning strategic priorities with members of the senior leadership team, designing and facilitating cross-company process and communications, and supporting the CEO on strategic initiatives. Kay has held a variety of non-technical roles across various industries, including solar technology, healthcare, and finance. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Sciences from Northwestern University, where she played center midfield on the Division I Varsity Women’s Soccer team. Kay lives with her husband, Jim, an Engineering Manager at Boeing, and children, Ashton (17), Logan (4), Evan (3), and Benjamin (2), at their family home in Massachusetts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Absolutely! I graduated from Northwestern University in 2010, and since then, have worked in various Program and Project Management roles for both technology and finance companies. After spending two years as a Vice President at State Street, I joined Vecna Robotics, where I currently serve as the Chief of Staff. During the pandemic, I also assumed the role of Interim VP of Human Resources, followed by Interim VP of Advanced Development, a new company division focused on research and development.

I love problem solving and have a strong project management background, so this career path suites me well. I also love being challenged and stepping outside of my comfort zone. As a female leader within a growing robotics company that wears a number of “hats,” I have the opportunity to put these skills to the test every day. What’s even more rewarding, and what ultimately led me to Vecna Robotics, is the opportunity to share my expertise with individuals that have the same drive, vision and commitment to work and community that I do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

That’s a great question. Since we’re talking about me specifically, I don’t know if I have a particular story to share rather than a general theme, but I think it’s something others can relate to: the feeling of impostor syndrome.

As I previously mentioned, I’ve served in a number of different roles since I started at Vecna Robotics, everything from human resource-focused initiatives to deeply technical projects. As someone who doesn’t fit the traditional background of these roles, it’s easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt.

During these times of uncertainty, I’ve grounded myself by focusing on my strengths instead of potential deficiencies. If you’ve ever felt this way too, try turning off the negative inner voice and focus on what you can bring to the table. You’ll be surprised (and proud) at what you accomplish instead of wasting brain power on unhelpful thoughts.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve been fortunate to establish a solid foundation and transition my interim roles to new colleagues, which has helped free up time to focus on supporting the growth of our internal Vecna Robotics team. Our organization has always had a strong foundation of community; however, during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak when employees were working remote, we realized connections were crucial now more than ever. As Chief of Staff, I had the opportunity to help develop and immerse myself in the programs that support our staff, and instituted programs such as virtual social hours, coffee chats, yoga classes, club meetups and more. I also helped conduct trainings designed to help supervisors better support their direct reports from a mental health perspective.

Another exciting project, and something I’m extremely passionate about, is my role in the formation of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Vecna Robotics. The goal of this committee is to improve all aspects of our business — from hiring and onboarding to training, engagement and professional development. Our hope is that it permeates into everything we do, including the way we work with colleagues, partners, customers and other Vecna Robotics stakeholders.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That’s an easy answer: my husband. Having someone who knows me in and out and constantly instills confidence in me has been crucial to my success. I’m so appreciative of all his support and the way he encourages me when I need it; he’s a great partner in life.

From a professional standpoint, though, I developed a relationship with a colleague earlier in my career who had a significant impact on my professional trajectory. At the time, she was the only female on our leadership team and ended up becoming a mentor of mine. I always admired the way she fought for herself, her position, and fair compensation. She was never mean or malicious, but always prepared and confident. One of the biggest lessons she taught me was how to self-advocate. To this day, I keep her memory and leadership in the back of my mind when I need to make a tough decision.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a mom and a business leader comes down to logistics, which is kind of ironic considering I work at a company that automates logistics. Balancing the schedules of four kids while working full time has been an incredibly challenging task — something I think working parents everywhere can agree on.

We’re so lucky to have help during the week, but even with another adult around it’s challenging. Each kid has different schedules. On any given day, some are in school, some are remote and some are running around the house. At times, they can all require our help for different tasks and assignments. Our new way of living can really strain the work-life balance.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Just like in professional settings, I play to my strengths. I’m highly organized, so when I get overwhelmed with the schedules or chaos, I stop and make sure everyone is on the same page. For instance, my husband and I share a Google Calendar and touch base daily to divide and conquer the day’s activities.

Another mantra I cannot stress enough is the importance of taking it all one day at a time. Everything these days is so unpredictable, so when things aren’t going to plan, don’t panic. Be flexible. Stay calm. Take information as it comes and move forward one step at a time. Being organized is huge, but sometimes you can’t plan too far into the future.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

I’ve taken on a number of different roles at Vecna Robotics since March, so balancing those responsibilities during a pandemic has been difficult. I think the biggest challenge, though, has been creating a community of employees that feel informed, heard and respected during a time of unprecedented change. To accomplish this, I’ve been challenged to establish myself as a strong female voice during the early days of COVID-19 and beyond.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

First of all, I’m really fortunate to work at an organization that prioritizes inclusion and listens to what all employees have to say. But to overcome the challenge of establishing myself as a leader, once again, I played to my strengths. I am a strong communicator who is sensitive to the needs of others, and use these skills to think about how people will feel in uncertain times. This has allowed me to implement the necessary programs to foster community, but more importantly helped me establish an emotionally sensitive voice that connects with our employees. By giving respect and thinking of others, we earn respect.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Hands down the best advice I can share is to create a space that only you have access to during the day. For instance, my husband works in the basement while I work in our bedroom. Meanwhile, the kids have free range of the rest of the house. Creating these boundaries helps our kids have the space and time to play that they need, while my husband and I have the space and time to focus on work. For us, this is necessary to be able to focus and not feel like we’re sacrificing family time to work. On the other side of this, it allows us to truly sign off and give our full attention to our kids once our workday is done.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Something that’s really important to me is incorporating movement into my daily routine. For example, I run nearly every day, often go for walks while taking calls, and try to spend at least an hour outside to get fresh air on workdays. When stressed, I focus on my breath to center myself, which has helped me stay calm amongst all the chaos of COVID.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

My kids have really helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re beautifully naïve and don’t carry the stress of the situation, which has provided needed perspective.

Additionally, when I wake up each morning, I try to think of all the things for which I’m grateful. I suggest others do this too. It’s a reminder that, more often than not, the positives outweigh the negatives.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It’s crucial that individuals continually reach out to their network. We all shouldn’t assume that our family, friends and colleagues are doing well. We need to reach out, ask people how they are doing and offer support. During times of isolation, social connections are essential.

Additionally, when feelings of anxiety come on, we should all stop and ask ourselves: “what do I need to focus on to make it through the end of the day?” Stop, get organized and move forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.” — Brene Brown

As a woman, there are a lot of expectations from a young age that lead us to believe we should speak, dress and behave a certain way. At times perfectionism is a helpful tool, enabling high performance and results. However, it’s also a double-edged sword. As a high-performer, you need to be kept in-check. Too much focus on perfection will limit creativity and growth.

At Vecna Robotics, our CEO Daniel Theobald regularly reinforces his belief that humans should be imperfect. It’s his opinion that testing and experiencing failure is a good thing because it means we’re able to learn, move forward, and get one step closer to the next, correct path. Perfection is a hinderance to this goal.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please feel free to visit our website: www.vecnarobotics.com.

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