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Shilpa Shah is a finalist in the 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards. She talks to workingmums.co.uk about her work.
Shilpa Shah is passionate about growing the number of women in technology careers. As a mother of two daughters, she says she is driven in part by a desire to make the world a better place for them.
Her work as the Programme Director of Deloitte Delivery and her role as leader of the firm’s Women in Technology network have seen her named a finalist in the Team leader of the year award* at the 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology awards.
The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 19th March. The awards champion the female talent in the sector, whether as scientific innovators, rising stars within technology businesses, founders of tech start-ups or IT leaders in FTSE100 companies.
Shilpa, 39, has been recognised for her role in “creating the underlying ‘infrastructure’ to establish Deloitte Delivery as a significant growth initiative” and for her role in developing, leading and growing the Women in Technology network which to date, has increased the number of women joining technology roles at Deloitte by eight per cent.
Shilpa’s Women in Technology role includes attending STEM-focused recruitment events, promoting the work of the network both internally and publicly, working with role models to share their career stories to inspire the members as well as partnering with other organisations and being a mentor for other women in technology. The network has been going for six years and started as a series of annual dinners to get women in technology together to discuss the challenges they faced.
Shilpa has been leading the network for four years. In that time, she has restructured it, recruited volunteers to build a team and set firm objectives for attracting, supporting and retaining women in technology. She has also focused on building a sense of community and broadening the network’s membership from its original 50 members to over 600. The network now works closely with the firm’s recruitment team and with other partners who are experiencing similar issues.
“We face a multifold challenge,” says Shilpa. “We don’t have enough girls doing STEM subjects at school so we’re working with schools to try and change this. We want to change the perception of technology so when we go into schools or attend recruitment fairs we showcase the innovative things we do and are there to answer questions. We try to show that technology is not just full of stereotypical bearded men coding in sandals. In addition to the roles people typically associate with technology, there are lots of creative roles, business integration roles or ones focused on analytics or user experience design. Technology can be used to help clients solve their business problems so those working on these issues need to understand both the business and technology side.” There are also many non-technology jobs in the sector, including accountancy, strategy, PR, marketing and HR. “We want to showcase the diversity of roles in the technology sector,” says Shilpa.
The network wants to do more external events to raise awareness about careers in technology. “We need the creativity and diversity that girls and women bring,” says Shilpa. To this end, it is attending the Your Future Your Ambition event in March which is aimed at getting more students to study STEM subjects like maths and technology. At last year’s event it held a competition to design the gadget of the future.
The network, which has a space on the Deloitte external website where people can read case studies of women working in technology, has also been working to spread examples of best practice, for instance, it was a finalist for a recent national award related to advancing women in the workplace.
Another issue is retaining women who are already in the sector. Shilpa says Deloitte’s leadership backs initiatives aimed at retaining and advancing women, ranging from mentoring schemes, confidence and resilience training, the promotion of role models to a women and leadership programme. They are also interested in learning from what other organisations are doing.
She adds that technology has helped a lot of women to stay in the workplace, allowing them to do some work remotely or come home in time to put the children to bed before checking emails later. Increasingly, this is also a boon for men who want to balance their work and family life more. However, Shilpa agrees switching off can be a challenge. She works some evenings when her children are in bed, mainly because of the global nature of her job. “Setting rules for yourself is crucial to time management,” says Shilpa.
Her own experience as a working mother has given her an understanding of many issues that women face when they return to work after having children. She took a year’s maternity leave with each of her daughters, now aged eight and six. When she came back after her first daughter was born she went down to a four-day week. She increased to a five-day week last April after her second daughter started school and her work responsibilities increased. “Balancing everything on four days a week was becoming challenging so I spoke to my line Partner and we agreed to go back to five days with some flexibility, such as working from home on Mondays where possible,” says Shilpa, adding that it helps that Deloitte’s culture is more focused on output than presenteeism.
Her advice to other working mums, who she is keen to connect with, is twofold: to take time bedding in a routine after returning to work and not to be afraid to ask for help. “Don’t try to do it all yourself,” she says. “Ask for help. The more people who are aware of the challenges mums face, the more understanding they will have, and together we can drive change.”
*Other finalists in for the team leader of the year award include Diana Kennedy, Head of Strategy & Architecture, Enterprise Systems, from BP Plc; Emma Scott, Managing Director, Freesat; and Lyndsey McDougall, Head of Operational Support Services, Virgin Media. Full details of the awards can be found here.