Lorna Allan, CDIO at Northern Care Alliance, has had a long and varied career in the IT and digital change space.
Her first role, an Infrastructure Development Manager at the British Library, set the digital and operational change trend that would dominate her career and see her move from brands such as Siemens and Hitachi before being recognised in the CIO100 awards for her work at StepChange Debt Charity.
Now CDIO at Northern Care Alliance, Lorna is tackling health and well-being inequalities with technology, people and process. The Northern Care Alliance covers a population of over 1 million with 4 hospitals and a range of community and social care services across Greater Manchester.
We spoke to Lorna about her career, her challenges and her advice for the next generation of leaders in the tech space.
Lorna’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line.
One of the amazing parts of doing a series like this is the sheer range of people I get to talk to daily. Despite the changes in their expertise and experiences, they’re all leading teams at the highest level of the NHS.
With that in mind, I’m always keen to hear what our contributor’s thoughts are on what skills are needed when it comes to leading technical teams – specifically, how important technical knowledge is to the leading and management of technical professionals.
For Lorna, the landscape is constantly changing.
“If you’d have asked me 5 or 10 years ago, it’d be a firm yes – you do need to have a technical background . Now, I’m not convinced it’s as vital.”
Despite being having significant experience in the technical space, Lorna now firmly believes that softer skills like good leadership capabilities, communication, building trust and influence shine through as skills that stand leaders out from the crowd.
Demonstrating resilience and drive across her career, Lorna has worked in many high pressure, technical environments.
Being resilient, in theory, seems sound – but applying it is another story altogether. Elements of doubt begin to creep in as you climb the career ladder. This doubt is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome and it’s something that adversely affects women.
Lorna recalls a time where she worked within a senior leadership environment that was predominantly male. An already difficult room to be heard in, Lorna was also silently dealing with Menopause – which she attributes to times she found imposter symdrome creeping up on her.
“It wasn’t something that was ever discussed – but that didn’t mean it wasn’t happening and it wasn’t making things a lot harder than they already were. Some days it’d completely knock you out of your stride and, at the time, it just wasn’t something you talked openly about.”
Change starts with awareness. When Lorna was experiencing her symptoms, there was little research and little support. Thankfully, that’s changing and it’s revealing that employers cannot ignore the effects of the Menopause.
According to Professor Jo Brewis, co-author Government Report on Menopause, ‘menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic’ and, according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), nearly 8 out of 10 of menopausal women are in work.
With work providing the environment to see women through the Menopause with fulfilment and pride when handled correctly and respectfully, employers must do more to facilitate open discussion where necessary.
The FOM guidelines Guidance on menopause and the workplace also recommend workplace training, raising awareness of menopause at work and introducing an array of workable solutions.
Purpose has always impacted people and business, but the disruption of the last year and a half magnify its importance: When we weren’t able to go out as much, when we were isolated from our people and when our lives were turned upside down, we were reminded of what really mattered to us. Through their absence or discombobulation, we were reminded of what we needed and desired for a full life. Purpose has been brought to the top of mind for people.
Before entering the NHS, Lorna led the IT function at StepChange Debt Charity the UK’s largest free debt advice service. The work she and her team oversaw helped people take back control of their finances and their lives.
“Often people are not in debt because they cannot manage their finances but because there are wider underlying issues that contribute such as battling with their health, homelessness or other issues. “
For those who are looking to follow in Lorna’s footsteps towards a technical leadership position, Lorna has this advice:
“Be as curious as you can be, ask lots of questions and take time to really learn the business you are in. If you are struggling with imposter syndrome, there is nothing wrong with faking your confidence initially. Sometimes we need to believe in ourselves and act confident until we build the skill and experience behind us.”
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