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Five things that made me

How Shilpa got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. This time, we speak with Shilpa Shah, a pioneering leader who loves tech and is taking other women along on her journey.

Meet Shilpa

Introducing Shilpa. With a healthy dose of imagination, creativity and grit, she’s gone from being the only woman on her degree to heading up our multi-award-winning Women in Technology network. She listens to stories and she shares her own, convinced that if we move together, change can happen. We think you’ll get some interesting tips from her journey.

1. Early signs

“When I was little, I was convinced I’d be a lawyer/troubleshooter, working in my own high-rise building with a secret lift direct to the top floor. You can blame 80s TV shows like LA Law and Knight Rider for that... Lawyers shone with the equality, justice and hard work ethic my parents had instilled in me.

Mum and Dad moved from Uganda to the UK with nothing, just before Idi Amin expelled East Asians in 1972. Dad had lectured at university in Mumbai, but in Leicester, where I grew up, he first worked in a typewriter factory, then as a tax officer at the Inland Revenue (now HMRC) until he retired.

Mum was initially a packet checker at Walkers crisps. She then retrained as a driving instructor and opened Shilpa School of Motoring. Together, my parents ran that school for 40 years.

To help, I did their data entry in SuperCalc on the driving school’s green-screen computer. I was just ten. A few years before that, I took apart my Speak and Spell because I wanted to know how it worked. Most Asian parents wanted their kids to be doctors or accountants, but Dad saw my passion for technology.”

“My curiosity for technology has always been there – and my parents helped me along that path.“

2. Someone to watch

“I studied computer systems engineering at Manchester University. I was often the only woman on courses, but never really saw that as a challenge. After graduating, I joined the advanced technology practice at Arthur Andersen, which became part of Deloitte a few years later.

I’ve now been with the firm for 25 years in various roles – from software developer and data architect to project manager and programme director. But if I’m honest, in most of those roles, my colleagues didn’t look like me.

I craved a space to meet, talk and share stories about common issues and challenges with other women with tech jobs. What started as a team of passionate volunteers evolved into the Women in Technology network, an active community that wants to make a difference, give back and encourage more girls and women into tech.

I’m convinced the best way to support our clients is with diversity of thinking. That only comes from different genders, orientations and life experiences – only when everyone’s involved do we find creative and innovative solutions.

One of my recent highlights was co-authoring Women in Technology: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion, a book published by the British Computer Society. It shares experiences and practical advice for organisations driving change – one for the reading list if you’re interested!”

“I believe that tech is for everyone, and we have a responsibility to make it accessible to all.“

3. Life’s a jungle

“In my current role, I lead the service design craft and am part of our public sector human-centred transformation practice in consulting. My work is all about bridging the gap between humans, technology, data and the future of work, both for our firm and for our clients.

I’ve especially enjoyed working with healthcare clients over the last few years, exploring how digital transformation can make access to care more equitable. Technology is not the sole answer here, but it’s a powerful enabler. Our team’s motto is “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

I love my job, but it’s been a journey. When I went for my senior manager promotion, I didn’t get it the first time. And I still remember the very first thing I failed (my cycling proficiency test at nine). Both times, I was gutted.

In the moment, you’re just feeling defeated, but looking at things through a different lens and talking with my tribe taught me that it was actually really important to fail and learn from those experiences - it helped drive me forward.”

“Think of your career journey as less ladder, more jungle gym. Something to navigate, to learn from, to fail at, to try again, but above all to enjoy.“

4. One day at a time

“It’s funny how your definition of success changes as you grow and develop. To begin with, it’s about getting that promotion, going for the pay rise, being able to buy something you’ve wanted… Now, being a parent, success is my children being happy, healthy, confident and resilient.

My mantra is to take it each day at a time. With my two teenage girls, it’s been a bit of a journey to constantly juggle and balance everything. They’re very supportive of my extracurriculars, and they come along to events – it helps that they both love tech and are early adopters.

My husband and I have always talked openly and honestly with them. We try to eat dinner together and be around to help with homework if they need it – and we use our weekends to do things as family. We make it work.

It’s important to acknowledge that everyone has good days and struggle days. “Everyone is trying to balance everything – and that’s okay.”

“Life doesn’t need to be ‘perfect’ – imperfect works well, too.“

5. Everybody is a role model

“My final tip? Have a personal strategy day at least once a year. It helps me take a step back from my regular work and dedicate some time to reflect on where I am and what I want to achieve. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to celebrate how far I’ve come and plan my career more deliberately.

I’ve been asked how I feel about being considered a role model, and if I ever get tired of sharing my story. To be honest, I don’t – it’s a privilege. Knowing my story and my journey can help others on their path is enormously humbling.

I truly believe everybody is a role model. You don’t have to have done something grand and amazing. Sure, your story is unique to you, but your career milestones, difficult moments and varied experiences can help others see the world from a different perspective.

Never underestimate how reflecting on the lessons you’ve learnt and sharing those can really help someone else.”

“The world would be a better place if everyone took a bit of time to pay it forward – it would accelerate change.“

Five things we learnt from Emma

1. Do what you love and love what you do = the secret to success.

2. Don’t underestimate how much you can help somebody by sharing your story.

3. Think of your career journey as less ladder, more jungle gym.

4. Take it each day at a time. Perfection is a myth.

5. Everybody is a role model (yes, you reading this too!) so pay it forward.

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