Shilpa Shah

Inspirational Woman: Shilpa Shah | Director in the Human Centred Transformation Practice & Women in Technology Leader, Deloitte

Shilpa Shah

Shilpa Shah is a Director in the Human Centred transformation practice at Deloitte specialising in future operating model design bringing together the best of people, technology and insights to drive transformation.

She is also the leader of the multi-award winning UK Deloitte Women in Technology network, chair of the Consulting Inclusion Think Tank and board member of the Institute of Coding’s Industry Advisory Board. She is also a co-author of the recently published book: Women in Technology: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion.

Shilpa has an MEng in Computer Systems Engineering from UMIST (now University of Manchester) and has over 23 years of experience in Management Consulting, working with a range of clients to design and deliver digital and data enabled business change with a focus on people at the core.

Shilpa is recognised as a role model within and outside of her organisation including on the EMpower ethnic minority role model lists. Shilpa is passionate about increasing all forms of diversity in technology. This includes encouraging more girls and women to consider careers to work in what she considers to be the most exciting and interesting industry in the world.

She also loves mentoring and supporting others already working in technology and helping them to develop and progress their careers. Shilpa has two teenage daughters who have always been tech-curious. She wants to see longer term change for all and has been helping to create a more diverse, inclusive and equal technology skilled workforce to best solve the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Shilpa is also one of our TechWomen100 judges. Nominations for the TechWomen100 Awards are now open until 10 September – don’t miss out, nominate an amazing woman, champion, network or company today!

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TechWomen100

Nominations are now open

The TechWomen100 awards are the first of their kind to focus solely on the female tech talent pipeline and recognise the impact of champions, companies and networks that are leading the way. Nominations are now open until 10 September 2021.

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

My name is Shilpa Shah and I am a Director in Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practice. With over 23 years’ experience in management consulting and solution delivery, I love solving complex business problems and innovating.  I help clients deliver technology enabled transformation across their organisations by bringing together the best of people, technology, data and insights. Working in Consulting has meant I have had a variety of diverse experiences and been able to help a range of clients with their business challenges. I have always been and am driven by new challenges, fixing things, making things better and delivering tangible improvements for others. My roles have ranged from software developer to data architect to project manager and operations and programme director. What has remained throughout my roles is my passion for innovation, data and putting people at the heart of the technology enabled transformation journey.

I am also proud and privileged to lead our multi-award-winning UK Deloitte Women in Technology network which has over 1800 members. I have always been passionate about diversity in technology and worked with many organisations to drive change and increase diversity in technology.  I also chair the Deloitte Consulting Inclusion Think Tank and am a board member of the Institute of Coding’s Industry Advisory Board. Excitingly, I have just co-authored a book which has been published by the BCS. It’s called Women in Technology: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion (available here using discount code SHAH).

Personally, I was fortunate to be raised by two extremely hardworking parents who had both migrated to the UK from East Africa before the expulsion of Asians in 1972 by Idi Amin. Born in the UK, my parents instilled within my siblings and I, ethics of hard work, fairness and respect for others. They also supported and encouraged curiosity. I remember taking apart my speak and spell at the age of seven as I wanted to know how it worked. My dad bought me an electronics kit early on and encouraged me to have programming lessons on the Commodore 64 (anyone remember that?). I also helped him at the age of 10 use SuperCalc2. It was my father who encouraged my love of technology and I still think today, parents and carers have a strong influence on their charges futures.

I studied Computer Systems Engineering at UMIST (Manchester University) where I also met my future husband Bhavin, who is an award winning behavioural optometrist and a technophile! Our love for innovation and technology as well as curiosity is something we have shared and encouraged in our two teenage daughters too (though its often them now teaching us new things!).

I joined the advanced technology practice of Arthur Andersen in 1997 and enjoyed and developed my technology skills across a range of technology and problem-solving disciplines. Arthur Andersen was acquired by Deloitte in 2002 and I transitioned to the then business intelligence function and have worked on a range of data and insight enabled TMT and Public Sector projects and programmers, developing and progressing my career. I also took a slightly different career path by taking on an internal role within Deloitte that gave me an incredible opportunity to be part of and grow our own delivery business. Its been an incredible journey and I often encourage others to explore the unexpected as the experiences and new skills and opportunities can take you a new path and help you develop in new ways.

I love helping, mentoring and connecting others (probably comes from having been a brownie, girl guide and ranger!) and have done this both formally and informally over the years. I have always been an advocate for better diversity in all aspects of society and work, especially in technology where we need creativity and diversity to solve problems and design and build solutions that work for all. My hope remains that by the time my daughters come to the world of work, we will have significantly improved equality, diversity and inclusion and society will be truly more egalitarian.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I was really young, I wanted to be a Lawyer (after watching a TV show called LA Law!) but I was also a huge Knight Rider fan (remember the talking car Kitt?). I knew technology would be the future. When I started my degree, I knew I wanted to work in technology but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do exactly. I explored different options and most people at the time were either looking at working in Investment Banking or Management Consulting. I chose the latter as the variety of work and problem solving sounded really exciting and resonated with me.  When I joined the world of work, I didn’t fully know what to expect and feel my career has developed through the experiences I was able to have. I do think making decisions and checking in with yourself relatively regularly is important and making sure you feel you are on the right path. I also think it’s important to not do this alone and speak to others (your friends, family, line manager, coach). One of the guests at a women in technology panel I co-hosted recently encouraged every one to have a ‘personal strategy day’ at least every year and maybe even once a quarter. Its great advice (alongside making sure you set your own objectives for what you want to achieve). This is something I do and would encourage others to do the same.

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

Challenges come in different forms but I always tend to look at them as opportunities. I was the only girl on my degree course but at the time, never saw it as a challenge. I was often the ‘only’ in teams I worked in. In hindsight, it probably took a lot of energy and resilience to be the ‘only’. Whilst I always felt included and in the early days felt like ‘one of the guys’, one of the motivating factors for me driving our own women in technology agenda was that not every female may be having the same experience and wanted and needed to connect with others. I am glad there is more awareness now and willingness for organisations to discuss and prioritise inclusion and inclusive teams as, if nothing else, the business case and impact of inclusion and diversity are being better understood. The (tech) industry still has a way to go but I am heartened to see that some progress is being made, albeit not fast enough.

In terms of other challenges, when I needed to learn something new for work, whether it was, in the early days of my career, new programming languages or techniques, or latterly, negotiation techniques, managing people, I was always excited to continuously learn. This is why I probably (sometimes stubbornly!) always think there is a solution to a challenge and I will work out how to overcome or solve it. I think there are numerous challenges I have had to navigate, from juggling childcare with travel and work (and when the girls were younger, trying to make it back before the nursery closed!) to deciding how to progress my career when different opportunities arose. Earlier on in my life and career I always thought it was down to me to solve these challenges on my own. I soon realised that you can only succeed and help others by leaning in and trusting others. Two heads are better than one and multiple heads are even better. By investing in relationships with family, friends, work colleagues, mentors and others, I believe you are able to use your tribe to overcome challenges and turn them into opportunities.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

That’s a tricky one. I give my all to everything I set out to achieve. I would have to say achieving promotion to Director in 2015 and leading the multi-award winning Women in Technology network are my biggest career achievements to date. Both have been roller coaster journeys, requiring selling a personal and business case for justifying investment (in me or the network) and to have the recognition of the contribution myself and my teams have made continues to motivate me in both of these spaces. It’s also been great to have been able to share how businesses should drive change for women in technology by becoming a published co-author of a book. And being Industry Advisory Board member for the Institute of Coding is something else I am proud to be a part of.

I always take pride in my work and have helped achieve business transformation for a wide range of clients in both the Technology, Media & Telecommunications and Public Sector.

I do also think the small daily wins should be celebrated. Whether it is helping a colleague learn something new or providing them with guidance and advice, developing a new skill or coming up with a new idea, I think we should take some time out to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements each day. I think the practice of gratitude journaling, each day writing down three things you are grateful or thankful for having achieved is a great way to build and strengthen your positive mindset, something we all need to continue to do, especially in the challenging and uncertain times we find ourselves having to navigate.

And that’s another thing I would encourage everyone to do. Take some time to write down your achievements – it’s a cathartic exercise and your probably don’t realise how much you have achieved until you take the time to write it down!

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

I think for me, it has been staying true to my core values and always being authentic that have helped me to get to where I am today. Whether as a member of a team, as a leader or a parent or friend, I believe in being collaborative, honest and transparent. These traits have helped me navigate challenges, make the most of opportunities and build trusted relationships.  And being authentic attracts authenticity from others. I have been able to build and work with high performing, inclusive teams by being open to learning from and sharing with those I work with, regardless of their experience, grade or background. You can learn something new everyday from those you work with. Trust is critical in delivering excellence and the pandemic has shown just how important it is to be able to build trust, especially with those you have never worked for before in a completely virtual environment. Whilst we have all needed to adapt and remain agile in uncertain times, staying true to core values and building trust will always result in collective success.

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

I would say my top tips are:

Build & leverage your networks and collaborate – you don’t have solve every problem yourself and the power of collective thinking and working will generate better ideas and outcomes for you and your teams.  You need to invest the time in building relationships and this will pay out for you. Join networks inside and outside of your organisation (WeAreTechWomen is of course a great network to join!) and build your tribe and community.

Find Mentors and Sponsors – mentors can be incredibly valuable, whether formal or informal. Most places offer mentoring programmes and formal mentorship or you can find your own mentor within or outside of your organisation. You could even reach out via social media if there is someone you want to connect with.

As you progress your career, a sponsor will be invaluable in guiding and advocating for you. Women (generally) tend to not seek out mentors and sponsors but I would encourage everyone to do this as it will help you develop and progress your career.

Be confident, be bold, be authentic – easy to say but not so easy to ‘be’. And this sometimes comes with time. I look back on times in my early career where I was unsure of whether to go and have that conversation with a senior leader or ask for what I wanted. I think there was a turning point for me a few years ago and whilst I can’t pin point it exactly, I am sure that role models that I worked with encouraged me to just ‘go for it’. I changed my approach and behavior and noticed that this did improve my confidence. Now I sometimes think – what was I worried about? Over-analysing and worrying about what might be are again (generally!) female tendencies so trying to avoid these and just going for it could pay off. Authenticity comes naturally in a trusted environment and I believe as you open yourself to having those trusted relationships, you feel more at ease being yourself. Everyone should feel comfortable being themselves where they work and if we all make a conscious effort to be authentic (sounds counter intuitive) then you will really see cultural change. 

Invest in yourself – to excel in tech, make the time to learn more on areas you are passionate about. Whether its short courses, technology certifications, online learning, there are so many different ways to learn, pick what works for you. And if there isn’t a course within your organisation that meets what you need, do some research and ask if your organisation will support you in attending the course. And there are of course books and other training you would want to do for yourself – make the time to do this.

Make sure you don’t cancel training because you think you are too busy. Training is investment in yourself so you really owe it to yourself and those you work with to take it on. Also, do make use of the great resources and technology available – TED talks, news apps, books, journals whatever your preferred channel – to stay ahead and up to date.

Build your brand – Internally and externally there are so many ways in which you can do this. You could contribute to thought pieces, points of views, interviews, social media, awards nominations, speak at conferences and events. These are just some of the ways in which you can build your brand. An exercise I recommend whatever your role is to make sure you have a ‘one pager’ on what you bring to your work/area/industry – it can be a great conversation starter (you can use this to have conversations with leadership in your organisation). As I said previously, writing it down also helps you to understand your achievements – its something we often take for granted.

At the end of the day, to be able to excel in tech or any other discipline, it is important you do what you love and love what you do. If this isn’t the case, take some time to work out why. Talk to others and take that personal strategy day to work out what you want to do and be open to exploring new opportunities.

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

There have been lots of efforts to impact getting more women into the industry over the last 15 to 20 years. And it definitely feels like more people are on the journey and that incremental change continues. And more and more role models, more and more exposure, through technology platforms and shifting the narrative around the kinds of jobs that you can do if you work in tech has also helped. Organisations like the Institute of Coding,  FutureDotNow, STEMettes and charters like the TechTalentCharter and many others are all helping to drive the cause for more women in tech.

Recent research from the BCS has shown that the proportion of women in tech increased to 20% in 2020. Organisations will need to (continue to) play a key role in removing barriers for more women to work in technology related roles. This means improving inclusion, changing culture, having better policies and processes.  I am hopeful that inclusive hybrid work models and changes to how many organisations will work in the future will also mean more women are (re)attracted to work in tech.

And we also need to encourage more girls at a young age to consider technology as a career. We undertook research with the Institute of Coding in 2019 on the motivating factors that would encourage more girls and women to study in technology. You can read a summary of the findings here which include the need for smarter signposting, rebrading digital and providing flexible learning opportunities as well as technology roles that also serve and contribute to societal purpose.

But progress does need to be faster and continue. And we need much more broader representation across different aspects of visible and non-visible diversity. We still have a long way to go in terms of intersectionality, including ethnicity, sexuality, neurodiversity, disability.   Everyone should have the opportunity and be supported to work in the most exciting industry in the world.

Progress requires ongoing relentless focus and commitment from government, early education onwards and industry all continuing to make changes. We can all drive incremental changes as individuals and organisations but could be even more powerful if we work together. And we shouldn’t stop until we get to parity!

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

There are many things organisations can and should do to support and retain women working in technology.  And thankfully there are many resources available to organisations to help them in this journey. From the fantastic Tech Talent Charter that organisations can sign up to and use open playbooks that share initiatives and projects that organisations can undertake to the Women in Technology book we have published with the BCS including practical tips, case studies and guidance on how to attract and retain more women into tech there is no shortage of information on what can be done.

But organisations must first acknowledge the challenge, why there is a challenge and that they want to do something about it. They will then need to commit to making a change and then put in the effort to make the change.

And it is an iterative and ongoing process, one that takes collective effort, work and requires constant listening to your workforce. Customer experience and engagement are key imperatives to businesses but they are fast learning, often the hard way, that employee experience is critical to an organisation’s productivity and profitability. Paying more attention to and addressing an organisation’s culture along with inclusion should] bring benefits including a more diverse workforce.

There are currently only 17 per cent 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?

Whilst there isn’t a silver bullet or magic wand there is more we all need to do accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry. We need to work together across life stages. At the early stage, education, government, role models parents and carers can join forces and encourage more girls into tech careers. Digital upskilling and the levelling up agenda will also have their part to play in encouraging better diversity in technology.

There also needs to be better signposting for apprenticeships and higher education opportunities in technology for young women.

Barriers to entry, including background and experience need to be examined and compared with potential to increase women wanting to study and then work in technology.

Organisations need to create (more) inclusive cultures, prioritise inclusivity and diversity initiatives until they become business as usual and focus on retaining more women in technology. And they need to look at new ways and sources to bring in (more) women into technology roles whatever stage of their careers they are at from those who want to get into tech to retrainers (who may have left tech a while ago ) to retirees (who may not want to retire after all as the opportunities in tech are too exciting to pass up)!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

There are so many resources you can use to stay up to date on all things tech. Great conferences focussing on raising awareness and inspiring women in technology are both in person and virtual, from local to international including WeAreTechWomen’s own conferences. There are so many great networks to join too like TLA Black Women in Tech, the WiT Network, Women in Data, depending on what you are interested in.

There are lots of great books out there too – Invisible Women: Data Bias in World Designed for Men (Caroline Criado Perez), Female Innovators at Work  (Danielle Newham) and Life in Code A Personal History of Technology (Ellen Ullman) are all recommended reads for Women in Tech.  And of course our recently published Women in Technology: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion. Of course, if you prefer, you can also listen to audio books.

And podcasts remain increasingly popular with 15 million listeners in 2020 in the UK and predicted growth to 20 million listeners by 2024.

I think listening to audio books and podcasts which cover not only technology but a range of other topics you are interested and helps drive innovation. One topic may spark thinking in another. For example, I’m currently listening to an audio book by Chris Voss called ‘Never Split the Difference’ – a great reminder of negotiating approaches applicable in all aspects of your life.