Tara McGeehan CGIAs President of CGI’s UK operations, Tara leads a team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants who bring all of CGI’s end-to-end capabilities and industry and technology expertise to clients across these regions.

A CGI member for more than 17 years, Tara previously served as Senior Vice-President responsible for the North and Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Business Unit where she developed business across commercial and government industries, including high-profile digital engagements such as the UK smart metering programme. With 20 years’ industry experience, Tara has a detailed understanding of these markets and their implications and opportunities for CGI’s clients.

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

I have been President at CGI UK since January 2018, leading a team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants. I have been a CGI member for over 17 years and have over 20 years’ industry experience, including working at the National Grid, where I built up a detailed understanding of energy, utilities and telecoms. I am passionate about encouraging young people and women to enter the technology industry and enabling women and girls to pursue their careers in STEM.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m not the sort of person to sit down and plan their career out, so I never have. Like many people, once I got my degree, I applied for various jobs.  The first role I took was fantastic at letting me try my hand at a variety of different things which is how I drifted into IT.  I would have limited myself if I sat down and planned it all out. Afterall there’s no one career formula, and by not having a plan I’ve been able to be a part of some incredible projects I might not have otherwise.

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

Looking back, I can see that the biggest challenge I faced was coming out of technical and moving into management, as I struggled to let go of the detail. The move required a massive shift in thought processes. While you might be able to do something quicker or someone might do something in a way you wouldn’t, you have to learn that you no longer have the time to do it and you need to let your direct reports develop and grow their skills. The challenge was learning to offer an end position and let people get there themselves and in their way. I’m sure if you asked them though they’d say I still haven’t let go of the details, so maybe I’m just kidding myself!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

On a personal level, I’d probably say the work I did in the energy and utilities team.  We doubled our team and had an annual 10% growth for the five years I was leading, which has continued to grow. I take a lot of pride in having expanded the team to take on not just utilities but also telecoms, and the smart metering programme they launched a few years ago was the biggest win the team had ever had.

I’m also very proud of the human impact that CGI has as a company. We recently announced that CGI won the DBS appointment, a big win for the government team but it’s also really important safeguarding software which will go a long way in protecting vulnerable people. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of a company that values human impact to such an extent and actively strives to make sure it’s doing good.

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

Luck! I’m quite lucky as a person. I’ve always been the one you don’t want to sit next to at a raffle because I’ll have the winning ticket. Therefore, because of this, I don’t pretend for a second I’ve earned everything, but I suppose I’ve always valued detail. Making sure you know all the details – no matter how small – increases your chances to get things across the line and notice mistakes before they snowball into failings. I know it’s difficult when you’re inundated, but it’s so worth it because dealing with major mistakes when your busy is even worse.

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

My top piece of advice would be to embrace your curiosity and commit to lifelong learning. In tech, the skills and tools we need to work effectively are changing and developing constantly. It’s vital to stay on top of these advancements by adapting and keeping your skills current.

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

One hurdle that women can encounter is returning to work after maternity leave or a career break. If employees are offered support before, during and after parental leave in the form of remote training, they are able to return to the office confident and on the ball with recent developments in their space, rather than feeling that they have fallen out of the loop. Providing training courses for women whilst they are on maternity leave is a key part of our diversity and inclusion strategy at CGI UK.

A common misconception is that there is only one path to a career in tech, and that it follows a traditional route. Tech companies can work to encourage more people, including women, to follow the best path for them, whether that be through pursuing a degree or choosing an apprenticeship. Our apprenticeships have no upper age limit, meaning that men and women can join straight after school or later in life to gain the necessary experience for a career change.

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

Companies need to support women to advance their careers no matter what pathway they have followed, whether it is traditional or not. Companies should also encourage women to consider more senior roles by offering opportunities to shadow colleagues, so that they are able to find out more about what different roles within the business entails. It is important to support women before, during and after they have been on maternity leave by providing remote training opportunities. This will enable them to return to work feeling that they are still in the loop and confident to resume their roles.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would make sure that anyone considering a career in tech, including women and those thinking about a career change or deciding what to do when they leave school/university, is given full information about the options out there in tech. Tech is a broad ranging sector, with lots of varied roles suitable for problem-solvers and the naturally curious. Companies should empower existing staff to consider aiming for more senior roles or even horizontal moves within companies, as well as encourage young people to consider a pathway that leads to a career in STEM.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Staying current is so important, so I always make sure I’m reading a book relevant to my field, listening to a podcast, or following websites. Although these are valuable, the most significant resource is networking. Women are notoriously poor at networking, so getting better at that would benefit us all. After all, knowing people means you’re more likely to get better opportunities. When I was first starting my career, I made sure to join local women’s networks. There are some great ones out there, either near you or relevant to your role that is worth joining.

I’m also delighted to be on the board with Tech UK, which offers some amazing training courses and networking opportunities, so I would recommend checking out their website.