Inspiration from the Shuri Steering Group

Each month one of our Steering Group members will be sharing a blog with us. Please check back each month to read the next blog!

Bringing your culture to work

Nadira Hussain – Shuri Steering Group Member

July 2024

I’m Nadira Hussain, Chief Executive Officer of Socitm; the Society for innovation, technology and modernisation, a UK professional charitable network ​for leaders engaged in the innovation and modernisation of public services​; a force for public good. Being a Muslim woman of Asian heritage, it is a truly uplifting and a genuine privilege to lead a national and international organisation that works with its members, partners and key stakeholders to deliver better outcomes for people and communities in places. It completely breaks the mold of the stereotypical type of individual who would historically and ordinarily lead such an society. This fact in itself should not be applauded as seniority and leadership are not dependent on who you are, and where you come from! Unfortunately though, even now, we experience limitations on the basis of these descriptors and traits rather than be accepted on the basis of our credibility, achievement and track record.

I have always been clear that my identity; my heritage, culture, religious beliefs and values are really important to me. These components make me who I am; they define me. I am precious and proud of my eastern upbringing and the application of a western outlook in practice, having been born and bred in the UK. But, even though these forces should be complementary and advantageous, there are of course tensions on a micro and macro level which mean that both culturally and professionally, it is difficult to manage the implications and outcomes of the interplay of these dynamics.

Culturally and traditionally, Asian women are the homemakers. They have a duty and obligation to look after the young, the elderly and provide the comfort and sustenance of a home. The cohesion and support offered by living in this extended way across a family network definitely has its benefits, but it can also be a distraction from personal ambitions. Throw into this ideal the desire to want to continue with personal development post-education, and then the opportunity to seek a career with the aspirations of progression… it becomes a very difficult and challenging situation to navigate through. It can be a very stressful time for women as they embark upon motherhood and consider how they may also fulfill their professional ambition. It can be even more distressing when culturally the expectation is to only focus on the family and its betterment.

I have personally navigated these unchartered waters; desperately keen to work, to gain professional experiences, explore opportunities where I can excel, improve and strive for greater success, with the backdrop and context of being the homemaker. It’s only sheer determination and grit that enabled me to continue to march forwards in this regard; fighting opposition, entrenched views and feelings of guilt. I have endured these complications whilst my family was growing up, and even now.

Externally and to add to the mix, I have personally experienced prejudice and believe that career progression opportunities have been slower for me through balancing personal and professional responsibilities, and as I haven’t typically fit the traditional model for such leadership roles. Digital, data and technology (DDaT) is a very male dominated environment. As with the majority of professions and sectors, public sector and local government in particular, struggles to attract women into senior positions. I have constantly had to work harder, strive to develop additional skills, invest in personal development, avail as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate the breadth and transferability of my skills and experiences. I can quote examples of where I have been ‘pipped to the post’ by the better male candidate. Really? What if we genuinely concentrated on attitude rather than aptitude? A willingness to learn, grow and develop (with the core competencies and some relevant experiences) puts women in better stead to break the poor confidence and self-limiting beliefs that many can uphold.

In response to my personal experiences there are several recommendations that I would make;

  • I had made a conscious decision very early on that I would openly share my personal challenges, be explicit about the cultural demands and provide an insight into how I have managed to steer through life’s complexities as per my ‘east meets west’ experiences – I’ve been really keen to bring my culture to work, and do so openly.  It is vital that raising awareness with regards to the nuances and uniqueness about ourselves is paramount to increasing understanding, appreciation and gaining support from others. Not doing so creates ambiguity, can foster mistrust and develop differences.
  • It is key to seek sponsorship where possible; proactively identifying individuals to act as your cheer leaders and champions. I have found that it has been my brilliant sponsors (both men and women) that have helped me to secure progressive and novel opportunities, especially as a woman in tech.
  • Equally important, and probably often overlooked, is the benefit associated with creating allies that will act as keen advocates even though they are unfamiliar with the personal details, but feel passionately about the cause. They want to see successful outcomes and will offer the necessary support and commitment. Go seek them out.
  • I believe the recipe of building resilience, focusing on health and wellbeing and remaining steadfast to my mission has been paramount. Keep focused and determined to succeed.

There is no compromise on my personal values and beliefs; I have to be true to myself. I need to be authentic. There is no room for pretence. It’s a fine balancing act – personal and professional lives is a complete compromise; what is absolutely key is managing the competing expectations and demands and ensuring that the people around you understand your motivation and ambition. I have openly had to communicate ‘what good looks like’ for me and will always continue to do so.

Nadira is an established ICT and change management leader, NED and coach with 25+ years’ experience, Nadira has worked primarily in local government; leading the ICT and digital service, managing wider teams including business improvement, transformation and customer services. Nadira has implemented numerous complex change programmes across shared services to deliver new operating models, efficiencies and service improvement. Nadira is currently the Chief Executive of Socitm

Light bulb moments!

Jenny Chong – Shuri Steering Group Member

June 2024

We all get these…… in the car, in the bath, right before we drift off to sleep. The last one is particularly irritating, but research shows we are more creative when we allow our minds to relax and get a dopamine hit.

So, how do we nurture our light bulb moment to grow? How do we turn that idea into action and create something that benefits millions? For many entrepreneurs, that can take years of grit, rounds of disappointment and iterative product improvements. Unicorns (companies with more than $1bn valuation) are not created overnight, but they all start with that light bulb moment to solve a real-life problem.

I spent the last 20 years in Investment Banking Technology – 40 years ago, it was dusty corridors of ticker tape, clicking typewriters and noisy monolithic computers. But lurking in those corridors were pockets of Innovators who have transformed their ideas to slick low-latency operations; predictive algorithms; robotics automation; workforce efficiency.

Deep down, we are all Innovators. Innovation is about doing something differently. We do this everyday, whether it is fixing that wobbly table with a bit of “Blue Peter” DIY, finding a creative solution for your kid’s school project, or just adding your unique flair to a recipe. The challenge is when you decide to take your “light bulb moment” and turn it into something bigger, something that can be scaled up and taken into the market. It is a journey, so having the fundamentals in place is a useful springboard. Some are personality traits, some are environmental, so here are my personal tips.

  • Curiosity: You need a healthy dose of curiosity to have started in the first place. Always asking the why, the what, the how. Always asking how you can improve. Always speaking to your potential customers. Always asking the question no one expects. Always seeing beyond the possible.
  • Courage: Yep, it takes bravery to take the leap, taking your idea into the glare of the public eye.
  • Resilience: No one is a success overnight, there will be nights poring over financial budgets and tight deadlines, there will be last minute rejections, there will be times when you feel all alone. So build a support network or team around you that you can trust and share. Never underestimate the power of what a good team can achieve and solve. Together you are stronger.
  • Learn from Failure: Success comes from repeatedly experimenting and refining. The word “failure” is not negative, it is a valuable learning opportunity. Our children are perfect examples of this, they never see failure, they bounce back and try again. Persistently.
  • Find your tribe: Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Find your community, whether it is in your organisation, an incubator or accelerator, forum, or even this Shuri community. Collaborate and partner; ideate and build; support and champion each other. This is your safe space to experiment, prototype and share learnings.

This is my starter for 10. Innovation and entrepreneurship is too big to squeeze into a blog. But it all starts with you, you having an innovation mindset, you spotting a gap and solution, and you deciding to do something about it.

Jenny Chong is a Non-Executive Director with Medway NHS Foundation Trust. She sits on boards and committees for The Design Museum, Imperial College London’s Venture Mentoring Service, the Egypt Exploration Society; and Orthopaedic Research UK. She is a deputy director and mentor on Imperial College’s Imperial Venture Mentoring Scheme and the Engineering Faculty’s Imperial Technology Experts Service; and an advisor to various start-ups in the FinTech, MedTech and social impact space.