Published date: 18 August 2022

Inspirational Woman: Cher Roberts

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

Cher Roberts, co-chair of the NHSPS’s Women’s Network talks about her successes and challenges to date, shedding light on women working in the field and sharing advice for businesses and those at the start of their careers in an interview with WeAreTechWomen.

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

My name is Cher Roberts and I am a Technology Service and Vendor Delivery 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!

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!

This interview was first published in We Are Tech Women in August.