Cheryl StevensI have been a proud civil servant for 20 years, undertaking a variety of leadership and transformation roles in both HMRC and DWP.

I have been in my current role as Interim Director for Shared Channels Experience since April 2020.  Shared Channels Experience is an exciting addition to DWP Digital. We aim to lead the transformation of simplified experiences for colleagues and customers driven by life events and other user needs, regardless of channel or service line. This will enable safe, efficient, inclusive and consistent journeys across DWP. What a mission that is!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t plan anything until I came back to work after my first baby, about 10 years ago. Up until that point, I’d had a number of roles within the Civil Service and whilst I enjoyed almost all of them, I couldn’t have said what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be other than I wanted to remain in the Civil Service. When I had that break I think it gave me the opportunity to focus a bit more and I decided that I had 3 passions in a work sense:

I had to truly believe in the mission of the department that I worked for. I believed in lifting children out of poverty in HMRC Tax Credits and now in DWP, the biggest welfare reform in a generation with a compelling mission to support people back into work quickly, improve the quality of people’s lives, and provide a vital safety net through difficult times. I’m proud to be part of that.

Leadership is very important to me. I thrive when I can make a difference to people around me, lifting people up, watching them excel and creating an environment where everyone can be at their best.  Of course you can do this without having a big team of colleagues, but I think you can truly be the difference in a senior leadership role.

Finally, the subject had to be interesting to me. There have been so many times I could have thrown my hat in the ring for a promotion but didn’t because the role just didn’t excite me and I knew that would destroy my soul.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Lots, but not as many as others. I will always be hugely grateful to those women in technology that went before my generation. I was thankfully at the tall end of that real wave of change, though was still tough trying to be heard and listened to sometimes and often being the only young female in the room was a bit daunting. Believing in myself to keep going was probably the first real sense of resilience for me. We have come a long way but we are not quite there yet.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At work, it has to be my MBE. I was awarded it for my work in lifting children out of poverty by redesigning the processes for vulnerable customers and encouraging take-up of tax credits. As a new ‘benefit’ administered by HMRC it wasn’t always clear to those that needed us most that they were entitled.  They were also often our hard to reach customers, so we set up a programme of outreach, literally standing in supermarkets and attending galas and events to make people aware that they were entitled.  It was amazing to see the relief on their faces when we were able to help. That time in my career was really special and the MBE recognising the effort just topped it off for me. I also learned so much about what it’s really like for the most vulnerable in society. Trying to make that better has been a theme throughout my career.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Mentors and sponsors. I have a massive drive and believe I am capable but I know I would not be where I am without those 5 or 6 people that have really guided my career and really championed me – lifting me up when it mattered.  I took opportunities because they gave me the confidence and provided assistance. That kind of help was invaluable and without it I’m not sure I would have taken some of the opportunities.

I mentor and sponsor a number of people, it’s really important to me. Someone described it as ‘not pulling the ladder up behind you’ and I think that’s a brilliant analogy.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Attracting women into tech roles needs much more effort because as a nation we haven’t quite moved away from ‘boy and girl’ jobs. Don’t get me wrong we have come a long way and I know a few female teachers of tech that really encourage that take-up, but there is more to do. I can only speak for where I work but DWP Digital is pretty gender balanced, with more women in senior roles than ever before so those barriers are lowering in some sectors certainly.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Authenticity, empathy and realism will be your most powerful leadership traits.Be yourself always.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge, albeit an exciting one, is delivering the ambitions we have in DWP Digital and Shared Channels Experience. We have so much already that is making a big difference and the plans we have for the coming year or so just excite me. I can’t wait to see what difference we can make to citizens and colleagues; it will be an amazing achievement for all involved.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.