Of all those named in a new list of young female business leaders, Kate Craig-Wood has perhaps the most unusual success story. She was born male, and was able to afford a £50,000 sex change operation after developing a career in technology.
Now the managing director of her own server hosting firm, Memset.com, the 32-year-old has been ranked one of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35.
But as well as championing the role of women in IT, Miss Craig-Wood also acts as a role model to other young transexuals.
“We’re not quite there yet in how to deal with transgendered people,” she said. “I could have gone stealth, my surgery was good enough that people wouldn’t have known, but I decided it was more important than my own bit of comfort to use my experience to help other people.
“Every couple of days now I get emails from people thanking me for being visible and showing the world we’re not freaks.
“They say that it gives them hope and confidence that they can live a normal life.”
Born Robert Hardy Craig-Wood, she knew from an early age she should have been a woman but fear of the unknown meant she did not address the issue until her marriage began to fail.
Eventually she started taking female hormones and three years ago, as an already successful IT professional, she was able to pay for a full surgical transition and was reborn as a diminutive blonde with gentle curves.
Miss Craig-Wood, who lives in Guildford, Surrey, believes her unique position has played a hand in her success.
“Having been one of the guys – or at least doing a good job of pretending I was – I have seen it from both sides. I can see if I’m being closed out of a conversation and can push my way back in, while other women don’t, perhaps because of assertiveness or they don’t recognise what’s happening because they haven’t been in that situation,” she said.
She has also seen how men will assume that “if you’re pretty then you’re dim”.
“People do judge you based on your appearance,” she said. “In the past few years, I have become progressively more attractive. My hips have developed more and I have this blonde hair and it has become more difficult to establish credibility with male colleagues who don’t know me. They will often make the presumption that I don’t know my maths or technology.”
But despite her confidence in business and the decision to undergo surgery, she said that awards recognising her as a businesswoman are still particularly important to her.
“Something like this is very affirming,” she said. “It just shows me that they see my sexuality as something I have had to struggle with and totally recognised me as a woman because I am that – just a woman. What I had is a medical condition and can be treated.”
MT editor’s Matthew Gwyther said that he was delighted with his decision. “We really had no idea until the feature was on the page that Kate used to be male but so what, I’m pleased for her,” he said.