That’s been some great stories shared on twitter today, and it really got me thinking about why I joined the Civil Service, and why I’ve stayed in the public sector.
Homeless till I was almost 4, I grew up on a council estate, daughter of a single mum, and like many others seemed to do, I joined as a temp.
A friend of my Mums worked at the Defense Vetting Agency (part of the MoD) and suggested I take a summer job there between college and university.
Seemed simple enough, but I failed the test the temp agency set. I have Dyspraxia, and my typing accuracy wasn’t high enough. But the MoD (or more accurately my family friend) agreed to give me a trial anyway (as long as I didn’t tell anyone else about my Dyspraxia in case they thought I couldn’t do the job). I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.
I was asked if I wanted to stay on at the MoD and build a career in the Civil Service, but I was the first in my family to get into university and I was determined to make the most of it; with dreams of becoming an anthropologist in my mind. So, I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.
3 years, a 2:1 degree and a load of student debt later I returned to the DVA. I’d decided anthropology wasn’t for me, ended up with a degree in politics I didn’t know what to do with, and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life now, so the DVA seemed a good place to work while I came up with a plan.
I was welcomed back with open arms and asked if I was aware of the Fast Stream graduate scheme. I wasn’t, but figured why not give it a shot. I spent three years on the Fast Stream with the MoD in London, working on various policy areas (if we’re ever in the pub together ask me about the most common FoI requests the MoD gets) and doing a stint in project management, before a relationship breakdown forced a move back home to the North.
I spent a year on loan to the Department of Health working on policy consultations and legislation changes before I was offered a role in the Department for Works and Pensions.
The DWP quickly became home, and I had the chance to work in the commercial strategy team and within benefit centre operations before being asked to join the newly forming digital team as a Product Owner.
If DWP was my home, the Product Owners were my tribe, and it was this role that really sparked my career and made me feel like I finally belonged. I spent over a year working in that team before I got a promotion to G7 within the relatively newly formed Government Digital Service where I spent 18 months learning that I had a lot to learn when it came to agile development!
I returned to DWP again as a Product Owner with a spring in my step and new tools in my digital arsenal, a year later I got my G6 as a Digital Service Manager, and 18 months later I was asked to take the Head of Product role on TDA to SCS, and here I am.
So 12 years, 4 Departments and 5 grades later what have I learned?
1. Not to be ashamed of my disability. Its part of who I am. The same as my gender. My sexuality. My religion. My love of Harry Potter. They are the things that make me ‘Me’.
2. That I couldn’t have got where I am without help and support to grow and develop. That my job is to help and support others to grow and develop themselves.
3. That nobody is perfect. Imposter Syndrome is a thing, but even those people you think have it all together, don’t. We all need to be more honest in owning our strengths and weaknesses.
And why have I stayed?
Because this is where I belong. I passionately believe in what we as Civil Servants do. We want to make things better. We want to solve problems for people. We’re not here for the money but for the purpose. And I’m so proud of all I’ve achieved, of the people’s lives I’ve positively affected.
I believe you have to enjoy what you do, you have to be passionate about it if you want to do more than simply work to live, and for me the Civil Service gives me that sense of purpose. The people are the things that make any job bearable, and the people here are the very best.
They are my tribe.
Originally published at digileaders.com on November 3, 2017.
Last month we delivered a breakout session at the Women into Leadership conference in Leeds.
The conference is about managing the challenges of modern leadership, recognising and rewarding female leaders, and enhancing leadership opportunities for women so they can build skills to become the leader they aspire to be.
Redressing the gender balance
In DWP Digital we’re changing lives by transforming the services we deliver, using new technologies and modern approaches to improve things for our users. DWP is huge — we’re the biggest government department — we support 22 million customers and release over £168 billion in payments each year. We’re working to solve important issues, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable; in order to transform our services we currently work on 50 million lines of code and have around ten thousand IT system changes per year.
However, there is gender imbalance in DWP Digital as we have a shortage of female specialists and leaders — a challenge we share with many large digital organisations where less than 25% of digital roles are filled by women.
We want to change this and improve the gender balance.
The size and scale of our work offers up a lot of scope for a career in digital technology — so how can we change perceptions to help women develop in a digital career?
Well, in DWP Digital, we’re making progress.
We have our Women in Technology group, with a pretty active core membership of people who are keen to maximise the value of being part of this community. People who want to improve gender equality and help members reach their full potential by encouraging personal and professional development. We’re working hard to avoid having all male panels at events, and we’ve developed a list of more than 350 women who work within digital and are able to speak at events.
We’re also developing a ‘Digital Voices’ programme initiative to build confidence and engagement skills in women in DWP Digital.
And in June we ran a Women in Digital event, which was open to delegates from across the sector, including cross-government and external private sector representatives.
Normalising, not diversifying
In DWP Digital we’re driving an ethos where a diverse organisation is seen as the norm; where it’s possible for women to be leaders and have our skills valued. One of the biggest hurdles isn’t the technology — its culture.
We’re aspiring to be an inclusive organisation where the outcome is the focus, and to get there we collaborate and develop together regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.
Being open and talking about the changes we need to make and why, is the first step, so we’re vocal on social media and through our blogposts. Taking action is the next step, so we’ve set up diversity groups and we have a diversity charter. We’re making sure our recruitment process is fair and that we have mixed panels at interview. We’re engaging our communities by telling our story.
But we know there is still work to do on breaking down the perceptions of digital and technology. We know the words themselves sometimes put women off from considering careers or roles within this area, and now we need to consider what we can do and how we help break down those perceptions. We need to talk more about the non-technology specialist roles, about the skills and characteristics we need within digital. We need to look hard at the language we use and consider how we be more inclusive with the words we use.
Why not check out Digital Leaders’ 2017 Attitudes Survey Results to see the key takeaways about view on Women in Tech.