Emma Murray

Emma is a Product Owner for one of the Department for Work and Pensions’ key enterprise tools that serves the department’s 90,000 users.

She’s passionate about understanding new technologies and working out how they can be used to help manage and deliver services. As a founding member of DWP Digital’s Women in Digital group, she actively seeks to raise the profile of women in digital roles and empower them to take ownership of their careers.

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

I’ve been a civil servant for almost 29 years now. I joined the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 1992 working on the benefit Income Support, and when the department started to embrace new technologies I took the opportunity to get involved. I was supported to complete an NVQ in IT and I went on to study for a degree in the Science of Computing.

Not only did I enjoy learning about and using IT, but I was actually quite good at it. I grabbed every opportunity to progress my career down the technology route. I really enjoy understanding how exploiting new technologies can improve services for both colleagues and customers.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not originally, no. When I left school I wanted to work in a bank, but there were no roles available so I started to look at Civil Service opportunities, as the job security really appealed to me.

As a mum of three, my career took somewhat of a back seat for a number of years. However, as the children grew I wanted to focus more on my career again and so started looking at other opportunities.

After settling into a new role in 2018 on promotion, I started to think about where I wanted to be in the next 5 years and what skills I needed.

So when I heard about the Digital Voices programme, which aims to build confidence and engagement skills for women working in DWP Digital, I knew I had to apply.

It seemed like a great opportunity to develop my confidence and overcome my fear of social media so that I could learn how to create content that would inspire more women into digital roles.

Over the course of the programme I learned how to be confident at presenting, taking the lead role at events and meetings and how to tell my own story and the story of DWP Digital. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from other inspiring women and expand my professional network.

Digital Voices was definitely a turning point for me in terms of my career. It left me feeling more inspired than ever to continue my aspiration to be a role model for DWP Digital, and to use my new found confidence to strive for both the career I want and to support others in reaching theirs.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Working as a female in a technology environment is definitely challenging as it’s still a male-dominated industry. It’s easy to sometimes be blinded with technology terms.

I feel like I suffered quite a lot from trying to progress and being stopped by my manager who had their own idea on whether I was ready to move forward. And I found it quite hard to influence that person. But in the end I decided to take control of my own career and push myself to find new opportunities.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My most significant achievement was supporting the implementation of the flagship welfare reform benefit, Universal Credit. With over 90,000 people currently working in DWP, the scale of this task was huge and required meticulous planning, implementation and testing to ensure success.

Universal Credit is supported by a variety of existing DWP applications as well a brand new software application unfamiliar to our IT administrators. I volunteered to be part of the North West pilot expansion, quickly becoming an expert in the new application. I realised there was a need to provide my IT administration colleagues with suitable guidance and training to ensure they were up speed to deal with the pace of the national implementation.

Over a five month period I went all over the country delivering training to front line colleagues on using the brand new applications. I designed the courses and training material and delivered everything ahead of time. It was a really big achievement.

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

I believe success comes from having a network of people around you. It’s really important to accept that you don’t necessarily have to know everything about everything. However, if you surround yourself with people that support you, that can develop you, that you can develop, it makes a huge difference.

It’s important to have that positivity and belief that you get from a strong network.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology or business?

Reflecting on everything I’ve learned and done over the last few years, some of the key takeaways have been:

  • Experience doesn’t just have to come from a job
  • Networking is about giving as well as receiving
  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Support and promote others
  • You don’t need to be good at everything
  • Leadership is not about a job title or a role
  • Proceed until apprehended
  • Keep learning

I try and encourage everyone to be brave, step forward, take opportunities and believe you can do it.

Another tip is to take a few minutes to visualise where you hope to be in the next 2 to 5 years. Consider creating yourself a postcard from the future. And then think about what the journey might look like to get there, and start to identify any career moves or learning you might need to reach your destination.

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

From my point of view, the main barrier is the lack of understanding of what working in digital is. There’s still a perception that it means coding all day long, when actually there is a wide range of roles in digital, from product owners to business analysts, data analysts, content designers.

It’s also not clear that it can actually be a creative career. If you take a closer look at some of the women working in tech roles, many have actually come from a creative background, because working in Digital can be as creative as it is technical.

For example, a lot of people don’t understand that English language can be a really big part of technology. A content designer focuses on the language used to get the wording to the right level so that digital service users can easily move through their user journey.

So I think that educating young women at an early point in their career decision making process about the diverse range of opportunities in tech will really help.

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.