Women in Tech Excellence Awards: Shona Leavey

Shona Leavey was promoted to Agilisys Guernsey’s Head of IT Services earlier this year, having transferred from the States of Guernsey as Head of IT Change in November 2019. Shona has been nominated for the Team Leader of the Year: Tech Sector category at the Women in Tech Excellence Awards 2020. We asked Shona some questions about her career so far and her advice to women looking to join the Tech industry.

Describe your most significant achievement as Team Leader over the last 12 months?

In August 2019, I was Head of IT Change for the States of Guernsey’s IT Services, gearing up to transfer our operations to Agilisys, who had been appointed the States of Guernsey’s strategic partner to deliver the island’s SMART Guernsey programme. When we officially transferred to Agilisys on 1st November 2019, I was the only transferred member of staff to join the senior leadership team. This was a very exciting time both personally and professionally. I’d started my career with the States of Guernsey straight after high school and I worked my way up, earning the trust and respect of my colleagues, who know that my understanding of Guernsey’s public services together with my technical expertise is what enables me to make informed decisions with our island community at the heart of what I do.

This extensive knowledge has also helped me to lead the senior team in making some critical strategic decisions. This was evident as we responded to the impact of COVID-19 and rolled out what has been described as ‘two years’ work in just two months’. This included:

  • Enabling remote working for the States of Guernsey Government and civil service
  • Setting-up IT solutions to enable remote public services including Health and Social Care
  • Employment and Social Security Benefits, Police, Courts and Law Officers
  • Delivering new services to support the frontline response to COVID-19 including helplines as well as IT for the COVID-19 Hospital ICU and the Emergency Services

In May I became Interim Head of IT Services and on 2nd July, I was appointed to the role permanently, taking on the management of a team of 58 IT specialists. As Head of IT Services, I lead not just BAU IT, but also take into service the transformed IT estate across Guernsey’s public services. I’m passionate about ensuring all my colleagues understand the value they are delivering in enabling these programmes.

My most significant achievement over the last 12 months has been leading the project team that saw the successful transition of IT services and 58 members of staff from the States of Guernsey into Agilisys and then almost immediately pivoting at speed to deliver services in response to COVID-19. In programmes of this size, people must be engaged and informed throughout, and I’m proud to have led an incredible team through these challenges.

What one achievement in your career are you most proud of?

In March, Guernsey was about to go into lockdown, and the IT infrastructure in place within the States of Guernsey was not geared up for remote working: the majority of the service areas within the States are office-based, with civil servants working on desktops and lacking the tools that could enable a more modern way of working.

Over the space of a few short weeks, our team procured and supplied over 700 laptops, 1000 Microsoft Teams licenses, 200 VPNs and a set up a virtual contact centre. We trained over 200 civil servants and politicians to use Microsoft Teams across 15 remote sessions in eight days, and engaged Microsoft to support Guernsey’s parliamentary team – enabling them to facilitate the very first virtual States of Deliberation sitting, complete with roll call and live streaming to the public – the first remote parliamentary sitting in the British Isles.

Beyond this, we set up IT solutions to enable remote public services across the whole of government, from the Revenue Service, Employment and Social Security Benefits, Health and Social Care to Courts and Law Officers.

Finally, we delivered new services for the frontline response to COVID-19, assisting in the creation of hotlines as well as embedding IT infrastructure in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU unit. While supporting the States to adapt to a new way of working, we also adapted our working lives through the implementation of split-team working and remote working, with weekly check-ins and daily checkpoint calls.

None of these accomplishments would have been possible without a fantastic team to work alongside. Every day, the morale and atmosphere were electric, and we took daily calls as an opportunity to not only discuss the serious tasks we had to deliver, but to also laugh and let off steam during times that were, for many, unimaginably stressful and challenging.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

The biggest lesson of my career has been that leading a team with mutual trust and respect will get you through the most difficult of decisions. I never really saw myself as working in IT. I always thought that I was more on the ‘business side’ when working within the States of Guernsey and didn’t see myself managing a ‘technical team’. What I have learned is that it’s not all about technical skills – though some knowledge does help! If you have a team who you trust and who respect you, you don’t need to be a technical expert across all areas. What you do need are the business and leadership skills to be able to guide and lead the team to make the right decisions and deliver the best outcomes.

My team has been through some huge changes over the last four years, and not surprisingly some have experienced change fatigue. I have an ethos of being transparent and admitting when I don’t have all the answers. This may not always be the outcome people are looking for, but by keeping everyone involved and informed, I have earned their respect and the decisions we make together will be accepted.

In my experience, failing to communicate properly leads to unhelpful speculation about what may or may not be the truth, which in turn soon becomes widely accepted across the team as reality. It can then be difficult to remove that fiction and to re-gain their trust.

What is your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?

Go for it! Be your authentic self. Build on your skills and address the things you know you could do better. Act with sincerity, ask questions and use your voice to speak up – and to lead. As individuals, we each bring a different dynamic to the team. During my 24-year career, I have often been the only woman on any given team. At times this can feel daunting, but I’ve found that finding my voice and earning the respect of my colleagues enabled me to lead my team and deliver the outcomes we needed to achieve.

During COVID-19, we have all come to understand the importance of leading with compassion and empathy. The personal anxieties, stresses and concerns of our colleagues require leadership that enables teams to come together as one community. Real team working is about fostering belonging and inclusion, investing in our professional relationships with colleagues. At this time, it is also about refocusing teams away from the crisis to look forward to building back a better future for an organisation people are proud to be a part of. Recent months have demonstrated the immense value of technology. Our response to the crisis has been reliant on technology as an enabler – empowering us to work from home, enabling democracy and supporting the government’s response to a global health crisis.

The need for technology-enabled solutions and digital skills to deliver transformation has never been clearer. Reconciling the gender gap in STEM will be key to addressing the skills gap. If we’re to meet the challenges of tomorrow, having women in tech to both lead and drive change will be crucial.

To any women considering a career in tech, I would say now is the time, trust in your abilities, make sure you take opportunities as they come and challenge the status quo. Technology is part of everyone’s future: let’s ensure women are not just a part of that but leaders too.

This blog is part of a series to celebrate the finalists for the Women in Tech Excellence Awards 2020, keep an eye for the next blog on our Twitter or LinkedIn.