Read about the woman who has made the perfect career choice.
Emma McGuigan is the senior MD of technology UK & Ireland for Accenture and the business sponsor for the global technology talent strategy. Her expertise is in large scale systems architecture and delivery management, and during her career she has worked with clients on large financial services programmes. She has a master's degree in electronics from the University of Edinburgh.
As the national winner of our STEM category, we took the time to learn more about her business journey so far.
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
I like problem solving, puzzling and creating new things – technology seemed like the perfect choice.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The people and the people! People are amazing – every day I meet someone who challenges me to do better; think differently; consider a different perspective; who challenges common thinking – everything to make us push ourselves. But people are human; we can all be difficult; be going through difficult times; have different values and emotions – everything that needs to be considered in order to move forward in a situation. It is really important we have work environments that allow us to be ourselves; truly human and express who we are – without that, I believe productive relationships are really tough no matter how much we try and listen and understand.
Can you give us examples of any common stereotypes you come across as a successful female leader?
There are no common stereotypes – I think the only thing I really see as a common trait amongst women leaders is a comfort with always pushing outside their comfort zone – something that could also be said about male leaders. Maybe the female ones are just more familiar with the discomfort!
Who is a person that you considered as a role model early in your life? How and why does this person impact your life?
Both my parents for different reasons – a shared value of no limits for their children – we could achieve anything; my father’s unstinting push for me to fight childhood asthma and never let it stop me doing anything and my mother’s extraordinary ability to turn her had to anything practical long before we had videos to study on YouTube!
How do you maintain your and your team's daily motivation and inspiration despite obstacles, pushback or setbacks?
Firstly you always need to make time for people, take time to listen to people to their individual challenges – it is far more important than working through emails. Secondly, it is about anchoring to the bigger picture. It is difficult when you are working long hours; in the middle of a challenging situation; pushed deep in the detail to keep focus on the outcome you are helping move forward. I’m always inspired by the story of the janitor at NASA in the 60’s who when asked what he did said he was putting man on the moon – we all need to keep that big picture in mind when we are weighed down with actions!
What are the most useful resources that you would recommend to someone looking to gain a better perspective into becoming a better leader?
Two things are important to me: find the activity that gives you inner wellbeing and confidence – for me that is exercise, especially running but it is whatever makes you feel in control of your life; have people in your life who can be your coaches; the ones who you can share your inner doubts with who will listen then push you forward – can be colleagues, partners, parents, children, friends but the few people who do this will be invaluable to you.
What are the most important traits of successful leaders today?
Humility, listener, thinker – with so much disruption no one has the answers – we need to recognise that, listen to others and then thoughtfully move forward.
Which one thing do you wish you’d done differently?
Nothing – learn from your mistakes because we make plenty, look forward, live with no regrets!
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I have just started a cross generation book club with my 13-year-old daughter and my mum and my favourite read so far has been Huckleberry Finn – once you cut through the colloquial language it is a wonderful book and a bold statement of the time. I also loved Animal Farm but it’s about the 5th time I’ve read it so not sure that counts!
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