A rising star in technology

Hafsa Hersi talks to workingmums.co.uk about how she switched from health and social care to a career in technology and about her everywoman in Technology Rising Star Award.

2024 everywoman in Technology Forum. Park Plaza Westminster. 14th March 2024. Photography by Steve Dunlop www.stevedunlop.com

Hafsa Hersi changed career from healthcare to tech after realising the difference she could make when it comes to the digital transformation of healthcare. That difference is not purely about bringing her experience in the care sector. Hafsa has been the main instigator of a Somali network at her employer, Accenture, and has gone into schools to show kids like her that they can have a career in tech. That work has resulted in her being given the Rising Star  award at the recent everywoman in Technology awards

Hafsa started her career in healthcare at university. She was studying biomedical science with the aim of becoming a doctor and combined that with working in social care initially as a domiciliary carer. After finishing her degree she did an adult care diploma to give her more options and continued to work in the field as a carer. 

During the Covid lockdown, Hafsa was looking for work experience and came across a lot of coding initiatives for women, including those run by Code First Girls and the Bright Network. She did some tech challenges online, including a week’s challenge with Accenture and her team won. It changed her mindset about working in tech. 

Her experiences in the care sector cemented her ideas. She has worked as a care coordinator in an organisation that still printed out reports and filed them. Every time there was a policy change or a care plan changed she would have to update all the files manually. She also visited people in their homes and had to fill in timesheets and complete reports.  “It was very paper-based,” she says. She has also had a more positive experience with a more tech-focused care employer. There she was given a phone with a sim card and an app which had a location tracker. There were templates for filling in information. The work got done more quickly as a result. 

Digital transformation of healthcare

Hafsa had been aware of careers in tech at school, but had never thought they were accessible to her as she didn’t see women in tech or girls studying it. Two years ago she started at Accenture as a Management Consulting Analyst in Health at Accenture working on the digital transformation of the healthcare industry. “I didn’t really know anything about tech, but I knew it worked,” she says. Her role involves interviewing doctors and care workers among others, meaning she has done a 360 degree flip from her previous career.

She says that when she joined she felt some sense of imposter syndrome, but her lived experience of the health and social care sector has proven very valuable. Hafsa has worked on different projects over the last two years, including user research which she feels very passionately about. For this, she was involved in focus groups and workshops with healthcare workers to develop and test a prototype. She describes her role as being ‘like a bridge between the tech developers and users’.

Hafsa said that she didn’t join any employee networks in her first year at Accenture, but being the first in her family to both go to university and have a corporate job, she started looking around for support. Since then she has become more and more passionate about the need to give people like her more help. She says, for instance, that she didn’t really understand what a pension was and suffered a lot from imposter syndrome. “The more I was involved in network groups the more I understood the knowledge I was missing. I saw a lot of people from the same background as me who did not have people back home who could explain what was happening,” she says. 

Somalis in tech

She is the main driving force behind the Accenture Somali group which is aimed at the first generation community and discusses a range of issues, from how to navigate your responsibilities for your parents and community and work to the pressures of being a first generation person in tech. It is also a space for sharing tools and tips to grow your career, including cv advice and how to pitch ideas, and it organises fireside chats with managers and others. The group, which developed from chats on Teams, has grown rapidly since it started in November 2022 and now has over 80 members. Hafsa says: “It’s nice to be that person for others that I did not have or see. It has an older sibling vibe.” 

Hafsa has since handed over responsibility for organising events to a colleague to ensure the network’s longer term sustainability. She says the network is collaborating with external groups such as Somalis in Tech and the Bright Centres and that other nationalities can benefit from what it is doing. Membership is open to anyone so there are a lot of non-Somalis. Hafsa has also volunteered to go into schools to tell her story. She says children are “pleasantly shocked” to see her as she wears a hijab and long dress and doesn’t conform to the usual ideas of who works in tech. She says: “When I joined I was scared about my difference, but people here are very accepting and when I go to schools people are really pleased to see me.”

Hafsa says the everywoman award means a lot to her and has inspired her to continue to do more on social mobility. She says: “I cannot believe it. Every time I walk past the shelf in my room I am shocked. It is so nice to have an opportunity to be recognised. I still feel new to tech. I was very excited to have the opportunity to go on stage to accept the award, but more to show others that this is a career for women who look like me.” 



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