Inspirational Woman: Cher Roberts | Technology Service & Vendor Delivery Manager, NHS Property Services

Meet Cher Roberts, Technology Service & Vendor Delivery Manager at NHS Property Services

Cher Roberts

Cher Roberts works in the NHSPS Tech Team and is co-chair of the NHSPS’s Women’s Network. In this piece, she talks to us about her career journey, her biggest career achievement and what she believes has been the key to her success.

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

My name is Cher Roberts and I am a Technology Service Delivery and Vendor Manager for NHS Property Services, a government-owned company who manage approximately 10% of the NHS estate (GP surgeries, hospitals, etc). My role is really two roles in one! I first act as a key stakeholder manager, facing off to the business, the execs and the board – they are my customers as an internal technology house. The other part of my role is that I manage our vendors and their service performance. All of our vendors that provide critical services that enable us to conduct our operations, I’m responsible and accountable for ensuring that performance is in line with their contractual obligations, so the SLAs, and KPIs that we have agreed with them. This includes conducting monthly service review meetings, where they present to me on their performance in the month before, critiquing, challenging, calling out, escalating, etc.

In terms of my background, I worked in the insurance industry in various roles for 10 years, before changing to the tech industry at 31 years-old. What I’ll say is that you are certainly never too old to change industry. Don’t let yourself think you’re pigeonholed because you have done something for years.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not, no. I didn’t do A-levels or a degree. After I finished school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I fell into a job at an insurance company, starting in the call centre, and worked there for 10 years. I actually gained a lot of valuable experiences in customer service there that I still use to this day and it is these skills that have been really integral in my career progression over the years. Before my roles in Technology or as a Service Delivery Manager, I worked in many different companies and roles – a team leader, insurance recruiter, estate agents, service management coordinator. This shows that the service skills really are transferable across industries!

Although I didn’t plan my career, I did make sure I took the time to do sideways moves and secondments within all my roles where I could. This was so important for me as I didn’t know what to do so could experience what there was. I also made sure to network and maintain good relationships with all the people I worked with and several of my roles have been through old contacts reaching out to me. I’ve also now completed the PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) certification which have helped to solidify my role, the latter being on best practices in IT service management training.

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

Working in the tech industry has certainly had its challenges with sexism. In some organisations I have felt that I have had to work harder to prove myself when walking into a role within such a male-dominated environment, and really demonstrate much more what I bring to the role. Whilst this can be difficult, it is really important that you remain confident in yourself and your skills. I always tell myself that someone had faith in me to give me the job and therefore I am worthy of being here.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For me, this was when I made the jump from being in an admin role at Kelway, an IT supply company, to a Service Delivery Manager role within British American Tobacco. I had been talking with a client from that company at a Christmas event and expressed my desire for an SDM role. Although I had no formal experience/qualifications for the role, I had proactively observed my SDM colleagues in my admin capacity and had offered to, for example, take minutes at meetings. The knowledge I had gained from these activities and my confidence was sufficient to convince the client, who subsequently asked for my CV on Monday – a huge step up in my career followed!

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

Can I have two things? Having confidence in myself and my abilities and taking opportunities when they come. For the latter, I like to live by this quote from Richard Branson – “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”. You can mostly learn what you need to on the job, but it is important to take advantage of the opportunities you get and say ‘yes’ to as many things as you can.

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

My biggest tip would be not to stress or worry about saying the wrong thing or looking stupid. Usually, whatever you do wrong is reparable and it is through making mistakes that we learn our most valuable lessons.

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

Working in tech as a woman can be challenging, and there is oftentimes a kerb mentality where you feel left out on the periphery of the male-dominated workplace environment. When starting a new job in such an environment, I recommend getting to know each of your colleagues individually, by setting up one-on-one meetings with them. By showing an interest in them personally, you can create a bond and they will be able to learn about you and your experiences.

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

I think that giving women the opportunity to see what different roles in tech are like is really valuable. You don’t need to be ‘techie’ and know how to code, to be employed in technology! For example, I organised a work-share day with a girl who worked on the customer service desk but was interested in other roles in tech. She spent the day shadowing me to learn about what I do and is now interesting in pursuing a career in my role.

Getting the most out of line manager one-to-ones is another great way companies can support women and where women should freely ask about opportunities for their career progression. Many people do not take advantage of these meetings enough. They are dedicated time to discuss your progress and it is through them that you can start to enquire about shadowing other departments.

One thing I would also say is that companies can help women to progress in their career right from when they first start at a new tech role, by emailing colleagues to explain who you are and your credentials. This intro can give you a bit of kudos with your colleagues, which can make the process of settling in much easier. On top of this, when a company pre-arranges individual introduction calls with key team members, I find that really helpful.

There are currently only 21 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?

I think it would be to make companies have more appreciation for the wider qualities and skills that women can bring to the tech table. I’ve noticed that women tend to be more naturally organised and empathetic. This can help to actual deliver better tech customer service, for example, as you are not just solving the problem, but also understanding and really relating to the customer.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I find the most valuable connections are usually made outside of the working day in the tech world. I would encourage women working in tech to attend as many networking events as possible, particularly if they are new to the industry or at entry level, for example through those advertised on LinkedIn. It may not be something you want to go to, but you never know whom you might meet there!


Marcia Pereira

Inspirational Woman: Márcia Pereira | Development Lead, NHS Property Services

Meet Márcia Pereira, Development Lead at NHS Property Services (NHSPS)

Marcia Pereira

Marcia Pereira is the Development Lead at NHSPS. In this interview, she talks to us about her career journey, the challenges she has faced and why women in technology should always push for more.

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

I’m originally from Portugal and moved to England to be with my husband. I have been in IT for over 20 years. I was lucky to have a father who was an engineer, he didn’t care about whether it was right or wrong for girls, or boys, to be doing “techy” things, and so encouraged me from a young age. I started coding when I was 12 and have always been playing with computers and been interested in technology.

I studied English and Portuguese Literature at university and I graduated right when the internet boom was starting, so I decided to make my hobby (which was coding and computers) my career path, and make literature my hobby instead, as I realised there were more career opportunities in this field. I started as a web developer and worked for a big American company called Unisys in Portugal. This was a fantastic opportunity as the company offered a lot of technical training and opportunities to grow.

When I moved to England, I became full stack data developer in financial services. Then I got the opportunity with NHS Property Services (NHSPS) to lead the data team. NHSPS is a government-owned company that brings property and facilities management expertise to thousands of sites across the NHS estate. Our portfolio consists of 3,500 properties which represents around 10% of the entire NHS estate. Most of our sites are used for clinical, local healthcare, such as GP surgeries, health centres and hospitals/hospital-related properties.

I joined six months before COVID-19 hit. I felt it was quite good timing as I got to understand how all the systems worked before the pandemic struck. During that time, we saw a huge demand for data and web development, and so took the opportunity to bring that work in house. The greatest achievement during this time was developing our COVID-19 reporting app, which we developed from proof of concept all the way to it going live in just three days! I did the database myself and worked with NHSPS Power Apps CoE and one of NHSPS Solutions Architect to build this. This app helped support over 5,000 frontline staff – from receptionists, cleaners and security staff to help the NHS tackle the pandemic.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t sit there and think that in 10 years’ time I’m going to be at a certain point. I’m very lucky to have had strong female role models. When I joined Unisys, the deputy CTO for the main project was a woman. My team lead was also a woman. Having women in higher roles to look up to and draw inspiration from really helped pave my career path. I also take a lot of inspiration from the online community. The great thing about what I do is being connected to this wider community where you always come across people who inspire you and encourage you to take the next step. So while I don’t sit there and plot every single step out, I do think about what my immediate next step is, what I need to do to achieve that, then decide from there what the following action is.

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

As I said earlier, I had great role models to look up to throughout my career path. Also, the programmer community has a very strong culture of giving and sharing and so in many ways I have never been made to feel like I didn’t belong in this community because I’m a woman. However, I have faced challenges along the way. When I started out, there weren’t a lot of women working in tech. I have also worked in very male-dominated settings, and faced issues such as gender pay gap and workplace bullying.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

That would be implementing an entire software function delivery at NHSPS. When I joined, we only had a data team. The philosophy before was always to outsource the work, but because we brought value and team expertise and we were able to prove to the business that we could do it in-house. This means that we can deliver things faster, systems are better fitted to our requirements, and we can react to issues or changes faster. We also did all of this while going through a global pandemic!

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

Being angry. I have several female friends in academia or researchers and we all said that our biggest mistake in our early 20s was believing our mothers had won the battle because we had so much more freedom and rights compared to them. Even though our careers worked out better than most, career paths for women generally have not moved as much as it should have. It’s not enough to just settle for things, or accept things because of the status quo, we should always be looking for the next challenge.

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

  • Always be curious. Always ask why – keep going and do not settle
  • Do not just accept the usual ways of doing things.
  • Technology moves at such a pace that we will never be able to keep up with it in one go. Try to be focussed in one specific area that you want to be involved in.
  • Break the boundaries – that’s how change happens. I like to challenge people in the way they think – I have a bright pink laptop and a Disney villains notebook that I use for work, which usually shocks people as they wouldn’t expect that from a woman in tech!

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

It does depend on the industry you work in as some are more progressive than others. Generally, we are still seeing men dominating management and leadership roles. This is because men will just go for jobs, while women can still be insecure in comparison when it comes to applying for job roles because they feel they don’t fulfil all the criteria. I’m quite lucky that NHSPS is an inclusive organisation – I just joined the Women in NHSPS Committee, and our CIO is a woman.

What I feel would help should start at the recruitment stage – in my previous experience I always find equality can be achieved if an equal number of CVs from men and women are presented when it comes to narrowing down candidates – no matter how many people applied. So for instance if 100 men but only four women applied for the job, you should still put forward two CVs each so there is a balance.

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

  • Promote tech events and encourage employees to attend and network
  • Provide learning tools
  • Allow career jumping within the same company. A lot of people are interested in trying different skills and departments but don’t necessarily want to leave do end up joining another company because those opportunities don’t exist
  • Better policies for women – such as maternity, flexible working and pay

There are currently only 21 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?

I would go back in time and change all the “women can’t do this” rules – create the same starting point for women as men, starting with education. I think education is so important, so if I could do one thing I would give every single woman on the planet a good education.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • Reading! I read a lot of blogs, newspapers, online publications like The Register etc (even ones I don’t agree with) because it’s important to have knowledge of different opinions and points of view
  • Conferences and events – organisations like WeAreTech Women and American WIT host great events for networking opportunities and also to expose yourself to a diverse range of women from different backgrounds
  • Form alliances – build strong partnerships with both men and women, and have a network of tech allies – these people will be crucial in helping you progress with your path.