Women in technology consulting: How one leader drives positive change and innovation – even amid a pandemic

Ahead of the KPMG Ideation Challenge, a hackathon-style competition for STEM and business students, and this year a virtual event on 24-25 August, we spoke to Lisa Heneghan, Chief Digital Officer, KPMG in the UK. Lisa shares her views on the importance of loving what you do and trusting your abilities, and how critical these qualities are in a technology leadership role, especially during a crisis.

To start, tell us a little bit about your current role at KPMG?

Lisa: I am currently the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) for KPMG in the UK, where I’m responsible for leading the digital transformation of the firm’s 150-year-old business. I work closely with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) to help ensure we’re implementing transformation correctly – not only from a business perspective but also from an IT one.

The role of the CDO is relatively new. We’ve seen a rapid adoption of the CDO position over the last five years. While some organizations question if the CIO role should be replaced by the CDO, I believe organizations that use both are more successful.

How did you become interested in this field? What was your path to get to where you are today?

My professional career started with a management training course at a British department store, but I quickly realized that route wasn’t for me. My father’s work in the British computer industry is what really sparked my interest in technology at an early age. Ultimately, I left the department store to begin working in my father’s business and initially in the factory. After that, I moved to a major technology company where one of my clients was a professional services firm. This opened my eyes to the possibilities of a consulting career. I quickly learned how to combine my passion for consulting with technology and joined KPMG in 2011 to lead the CIO Advisory business, and eventually, became CDO. It really is my dream job.

Like most others, your role changed dramatically when COVID-19 struck the world and the industry in March 2020. How did it impact you and what challenges did you face as a result?

I became more of a project manager than ever before. My role was about making quick decisions, helping my team prioritize and enable them to do what they needed to do by removing any hurdles.

The biggest challenge was simply the scope of work that we had to cover. Technology seemed to be the answer to almost every problem, so everyone was coming to my team for help and solutions. We had to be clear about priorities and communicate them over and over.

What have you learned about managing through a crisis? What skills did you hone?

There are three key things that I learned through all of this:

  1. Resilience: As exhausting as it is managing through a crisis, it’s imperative to maintain productivity and keep a positive attitude. Negative energy will not only hurt you, but it will trickle down to your team.
  2. Keep calm: Show confidence in your ability to deliver, so others don’t lose their own belief in what you’re working to achieve.
  3. Laugh: Laughter is so important. Even when tasks seem daunting, laughing as a team can bring you closer and help achieve better results. 

The biggest skill that I worked on during the pandemic was courage. I had to project confidence while dealing with significant ambiguity. In some instances, I had to make decisions that I felt ill-equipped to make, but I did so with an amazing team around me. 

Switching gears now. As the CDO, how do you handle talent attraction? Specifically, how do you encourage more women to enter technology careers?

Lisa: In light of recent events, I believe it’s more important than ever to encourage more women to enter technology careers as we enter the new reality, and it’s a personal goal of mine to make that happen. I sponsor a program at KPMG in the UK called IT’s Her Future, which empowers more women to pursue technology and engineering careers and helps them see the opportunities that a career at KPMG can give them.

Since the program started, we’ve seen significant growth, not only in recruitment, but also in women continuing to progress within the UK firm. We’ve even won six industry awards for our efforts.

One of my favorite things about KPMG is that you can truly do anything here. Regardless of gender or background, KPMG is fantastic at encouraging its employees to keep learning and to pursue different roles within the company. You can grow your career horizontally as well as vertically.

It’s no secret that women in technology are a minority and that it’s still a male-dominated area. What kind of challenges have you personally faced and how have you overcome them?

Lisa: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my career is that self-confidence goes a long way. Too often women – especially in technology – will question themselves, possibly causing others to doubt them and their abilities.

The first time I hit adversity in my career was when I didn’t get promoted to a director position in consulting. I felt like a failure, until I connected with a mentor who helped me understand that the reason I didn’t get promoted wasn’t because I wasn’t capable. It was because I still had aspects to develop further and it helped me to identify those and positively respond. I became confident in my abilities and realized I could be so much more than I ever was. I’ve carried this lesson throughout the rest of my career: Never stop learning.

I try to share this confidence with my two daughters. The biggest advice I can give them is that if you believe in yourself and you set your mind to it, you can do just about anything.

More about Lisa Heneghan

As Chief Digital Officer for KPMG UK, Lisa leads a high-end technology capability focused on delivering best-in-class solutions across an extensive range of specializations. Having worked across a broad range of industries, in recent years she has spent the majority of her time working within Financial Services. Lisa has extensive experience in driving wide scale technology transformation programs and improving internal capability in order to more effectively navigate an increasingly complex digital landscape. Lisa is a leading voice in the global technology community and is a global advocate for encouraging more women into technology careers.

Unless otherwise indicated, throughout this blog, “we”, “KPMG”, “us” and “our” refer to the network of independent member firms operating under the KPMG name and affiliated with KPMG International or to one or more of these firms or to KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

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