Women in Tech: Emma McGuigan

Accenture’s Group Technology Officer, Emma McGuigan, talks about her career in the tech industry

What does your job involve?

I am the Group Technology Officer for Accenture’s Communications, Media and Technology operating group. In this role, I’m responsible for the group’s technology strategy, overseeing current and future partnerships and positioning around emerging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, to help drive leading-edge technology consulting and innovation to clients.  

What’s your favourite part of the role?

Being able to bring technology innovation to our clients to help them solve for the disruption that is impacting every industry today. 

What bit could be better? What part of your job is frustrating?

Tech innovation on its own is exciting but it’s only when it’s combined with the opportunity to enable people to work and perform more effectively that we can truly start to capitalise on making the world a better place to work and live. I am frustrated that we are held back by our own legacies of behaviour; our habits and our beliefs mean that we can’t always take that leap of faith required to think differently and see the opportunity in front of us. 

What inspired you to do what you do?

Two things: I wanted to change the world for the better and I like solving problems! An engineering degree seemed like the perfect platform to understand more about how the world works and technology provides the modern-day building blocks for any number of solutions. 

What education options did you choose to get your role?

I studied for a Masters in Electronics. It’s been a long time since I tinkered with a circuit board, but the key thing about studying STEM subjects is that they encourage your critical thinking and problem solving skills, important attributes for success in a variety of jobs. 

When you were considering your options, who influenced you? Were there any barriers to STEM in education?

My parents gave me a huge sense of being able to accomplish anything and so opened many doors to me. I never felt there were any barriers, only that world of opportunity.  

Being in a class of engineers with only 10% women simply gave me a motivation to do well – it never felt like you needed permission or were in any way exceptional, it was just the way it was. It wasn’t until I entered the working world that I really started to appreciate how few women there were in technology – but by that point I was hooked on the ability to impact the real world and build tangible outcomes.

What would you say to girls considering their education options?

I always advise girls that a STEM education can open doors to exciting careers across a variety of industries. The options really are endless when it comes to STEM careers and if you are looking for a job that will challenge and excite you in equal measures then a STEM education can set you on the right path.

And, while I would tell young people first and foremost to follow their passion and pursue a career that will make them happy, earning potential is also an important factor. Accenture’s research has found that a STEM subject degree significantly increases a woman’s chances of working in a high paying industry, yet female undergraduates are currently less likely than their male counterparts to choose an area of study that they believe offers high earning potential. So, I would encourage girls to think carefully to ensure they are making smart, well-informed choices about their education and careers.

What might put them off a STEM career? And, how can these barriers be overcome?

Our research shows that stereotypes about STEM careers persist, with young people and girls in particular associating a career in STEM with doing research or working in a lab. There’s a general lack of understanding about what careers STEM subjects support, and a perception that they align more to ‘male’ careers or jobs. We need to find creative ways to expand perceptions and demonstrate what a career or a person who works in STEM looks like beyond the traditional stereotypes.  

It all starts with sparking and sustaining girls’ interest in STEM at an early age, both inside and outside the classroom. Government, educators and businesses all have a role to play

And, of course, it all starts with sparking and sustaining girls’ interest in STEM at an early age, both inside and outside the classroom. Government, educators and businesses all have a role to play here. For example, Accenture’s nationwide Girls in STEM events showcase some of the most exciting and transformative applications of STEM, giving girls the opportunity to participate in hackathons and coding workshops while taking inspiration from a mix of STEM speakers including world leading engineers and scientists. We also run regular ‘STEM in a Day’ sessions and code clubs for schools.

What needs to change to retain more women in STEM careers? 

Businesses must create an environment that ensures talented women want to stay with their current employer or return to the workforce. Flexible working powered by digital technology is key when it comes to helping women and men alike to balance their professional and personal commitments effectively.

In addition, mentorship programmes, lifelong learning and training, and a visible commitment to gender equality in the workforce all exert a strong influence when it comes to retaining women in STEM.