Shortlisted for the TechWomen100 awards last year, Emma Hargreaves has had to balance both her career and motherhood responsibilities – a struggle all too familiar for many women in the tech industry and beyond. Emma talks about her journey, her successes and the importance of female support networks in business.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

I studied maths at the University of Birmingham, and at the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of my career, but I enjoyed the subject and thought it would be a good foundation to start from to explore different career paths.

After university, I began working at BAE Systems, an aerospace engineering company, based just outside of London. I did their graduate training scheme which coupled soft skills and management training, alongside practical experience. Initially, I worked as a systems engineer (similar to a business analyst) and when the software system I had helped to design needed testing, I volunteered to take this on. This began my career in software testing and quality engineering. I stayed at BAE Systems for around 3 and a half years where I progressed and was given more responsibility over my time there.

After being in London for that period, I wanted to locate back up North to be closer to my family. I applied for Accenture, in Leeds, and worked in a variety of test roles for the NHS NPfIT programme. I spent 2 and a half years at Accenture, successfully negotiating the Accenture promotion process. When Accenture exited this programme I chose to transfer to a company called CSC and stay with the NPfIT programme.

Over my 7 and a half years at CSC, I had a variety of roles. These ranged from test lead and test manager to operations manager for the secondary care product specialists. When I took my first maternity leave, I was leading a team of about 80 people.

I returned to work on a part-time basis after this, and I decided to take on a slightly less challenging role in balancing work and family life. In my new role, I led the team to coordinate all the primary care train-the-trainer activities across the different NHS Trusts. I then had another child and returned to test management work for another client.

My next move was to Ten10 and in the 8 years I have been here I have been a programme test manager for several clients, a trainer within Ten10’s Academy (helping to develop the next generation of tech talent) and I am now a Delivery Manager supporting multiple Ten10 teams, projects, programmes and clients.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I had my second child, I was recommended by a friend to work in testing for another client, and I was nervous as I hadn’t worked in testing for 3 or 4 years and was worried about being a bit rusty. On top of that, I would be back to three days a week, and I had the responsibilities of childcare, and making sure I left on time every day for them, but the lady who offered me the role was very supportive. She had also had children who were older and had been through a similar experience of having to juggle being a mother and her career. I slowly began to increase my working hours there, almost getting back to full time, and as my children started going to school I could fit in a 9-3 schedule which suited the school days.

This shows the impact and value of having a professional female network. The lady who had given the role and supported me also ended up at Ten10 down the line, so we got to work together again! Having a female network and colleagues recommending you, or people taking a chance on you, and who know the challenge it can be is so important in helping you – even if you might not initially look ideal for the role on paper, you can be given a chance to prove yourself.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am proud of my contributions to the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), which aimed to make patient records more accessible to healthcare professionals and patients. My work focused on software solutions for primary care settings like GP surgeries, as well as patient administration systems in hospitals.

All software delivery projects are a team effort and I’ve been privileged to work with some fantastic teams to deploy, upgrade and maintain large-scale SaaS solutions, migrate solutions from on-premise to cloud, implement a B2B retail solution, develop bespoke production line management system, implement a global point of sale (POS) solution, implement and upgrade enterprise IT systems for global organisations, and many more.

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

I think one of the areas that hasn’t always had much focus is maternity policies and attitudes towards women when they become mothers in the workplace. As someone who has had children during my career, I can appreciate that the road back to work can have its challenges.

Everyone is different and a mother’s decision to go back to work should be made as easy and comfortable as possible. I feel very passionately that maternity leave should be as accommodating as possible to give women every opportunity to make the most of those precious moments with their new baby whilst also knowing that they can transition back into the working world.

The importance of making sure there are women in tech roles who have been through similar experiences cannot be understated. My experience is one example, where I was supported when I had children, and now I can also do that for other women I work with and help build that network. I am happy to be a mentor for new mothers, and my fellow female colleagues seem to gravitate towards me and see me as a role model of a woman who has had a successful career whilst also having a family.

Women are still in the minority in the tech sector and although this is continuing to change, there are still life events, such as motherhood that can disrupt women’s careers. This aspect of one’s life shouldn’t mean that women are disadvantaged in the workplace.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress of the careers of women working in technology? 

One of the biggest challenges for new mothers is imposter syndrome. Women who take time off work can feel out of place and out of touch with colleagues, tech and industry changes. They can be more likely to doubt their ability after time away from work. The time when women typically have children is often the time when many women hit the mid or senior manager level in their careers. Whilst there is a lot of emphasis on encouraging women into the tech industry, there sometimes is a lack of role models or flexibility for those who are looking to stay. Often, it’s around this stage when some women drop out of the industry as they feel they can’t juggle a family and a career.

One of the things I helped to implement with a colleague at Ten10 was to recommend changes to the maternity leave policy. A few years ago, it was aligned with the statutory maternity leave in the UK however, Ten10 has now enhanced this to be a graduated scale based on length of service.

This has made a massive difference for female employees who have taken maternity leave. It has allowed them to take time away from work without financial concerns or fear of losing their job. This also extends to ‘contact days’ to keep in touch with those on maternity leave so the journey back to work is easier. This includes attending social events should they want to, which is so important in ensuring that women do not feel cut off from their work or colleagues while on leave and helps to minimise any impact on their careers.

When returning to work, we help support women as they decide how they want to balance work and home life.

For those passionate about recognising and celebrating the achievements of women in technology, the TechWomen100 awards provide an excellent platform to do just that. Whether you’re an admirer of the incredible work done by women in this field or you know someone whose contributions deserve recognition, this is your chance to shine a spotlight on their efforts. By nominating someone for the TechWomen100 awards, you not only acknowledge their hard work and dedication but also help inspire the next generation of women in tech. If you’re interested in nominating a deserving candidate or would like to learn more about the awards, don’t miss this opportunity. Click here to get started and make a difference in someone’s professional journey.