Kathryn Bishop ’79 has held many titles in her life: program director, university fellow, board chair, published author. This spring, she added a new one to the list: Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an honor that makes her Kathryn Bishop CBE.
At her investiture at Windsor Castle on May 3, Kathryn received her citation, along with a very large, very heavy medal, from the Prince of Wales for “services to diversity and public administration.” She has no idea who recommended her (nominations are confidential), but she was humbled. “It was a great privilege,” she says, from her home in Gloucestershire. “It was lovely.”
Kathryn chairs Britain’s newest tax authority, the Welsh Revenue Service, an organization she helped build “from scratch” beginning in 2017, when Britain devolved some of its authority to collect taxes back to Wales for the first time in more than 800 years. She is also the director of two women’s leadership programs at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, which she helped design more than a decade ago.
“They may or may not consider themselves leaders at the beginning of the program, but they say they certainly consider themselves leaders at the end,” she says of the programs’ more than 3,300 graduates, including women running their own manufacturing businesses in China, bankers in Zimbabwe, IT specialists in Silicon Valley, Calif., and more.
Kathryn’s career has been unusually varied. After earning a master’s in philosophy at Oxford, she worked for decades in finance (including 10 years at Accenture) and has held non-executive positions with the Civil Service Commission, the U.K. Intellectual Property Office, and a border agency dealing with immigration—“One of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done,” she says. And she is explicit about how important her Wellesley education was in preparing her for such a career.
When she arrived on campus in the 1970s, it was uncommon for British students to attend American liberal arts colleges, but the variety of the curriculum appealed to her. “Through the course of my life, I have had to do all sorts of things for which I am not trained,” she says, recalling the many times she has been asked by an interview panel why she is qualified for a position in a field in which she had no obvious prior expertise. “And on those occasions I have said, ‘I went to Wellesley, where my undergraduate degree taught me how to learn to do new things, and that’s an experience I will draw on if you appoint me to this role.’”
While others might regard an appointment to the Order of the British Empire as a fine career capstone, Kathryn is busy mapping out her next move, rebalancing priorities and pivoting into new roles. She will continue as director of the women’s leadership programs and in other volunteer roles, including as chair of a group of independent schools in Britain, but she has turned down a third term with Welsh Revenue, sensing that she is entering a new phase in her professional life.
She knows she wants to find sustainable, meaningful work that will last well into her 70s, like her mother, who surprised her by beginning a new career at 72 as an art teacher on cruise ships. “She did that for the last 10 years of her life and had a marvelous time,” Kathryn says.
She doesn’t see herself taking to the seas, but she is eagerly voyaging into her own uncharted waters. Last year, she published her first book, Make Your Own Map: Career Success Strategy for Women (Kogan Page), which grew out of her work at the Saïd Business School and which she hopes will bring the lessons of those leadership programs to a wider audience. She is currently beginning a second book, about women and board leadership. “Life is saying ‘time for a change,’” she says.