Women in Digital: Erika Lewis

In the second of our series that puts women in the digital arena in the spotlight, we speak with Erika Lewis, director, cyber security and digital identity at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Posted 29 July 2020 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Yes – I loved it. Partly for the learning and partly for spending time with others, inside and outside the classroom. This has definitely remained with me, as I am very sociable. Even now I look forward to Monday morning catch ups with colleagues to find out what people have been up to at the weekend.

What qualifications do you have?

I have an undergraduate degree in Economics and Politics and a masters degree in Social Policy.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both? 

I am not sure I have something that could be recognised as a ‘career path’ in the traditional sense. Rather than focusing on a specific career type, I have taken jobs that match my values in subject areas that I find fascinating. My past roles have included being a housing officer in a Local Authority, an English teacher in Moscow, the strategy director in London’s Regional Development Agency, and an inquiry director at the Competition and Markets Authority. That combination of experiences has led me to my current role in DCMS.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

A job is what you make of it. What you haveto do in a job normally takes no more than 75 percent of your time. Use the remaining time to build; do something that really makes you happy or seek experiences that stretch you and develop your skills for your future.

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

I have had the same work coach since I was first a manager. She finds a great balance between supporting me and challenging me. Some of the most useful lessons that have stuck with me are:

  1. Things may not be as they seem, so don’t jump to conclusions. Instead ask what others perceive to be the problem. Only then can you start to create a solution together.
  2. Listen hard to what people have to say. You will always learn something.
  3. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you are feeling and ask what they feel in return. You will be a better team if you understand each other and can recognise when you are firing on all cylinders, and when you are tired or stressed.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I like to read about new ideas. My bookshelf is full of books on leadership, science and politics. Two easy to read books that have completely transformed my leadership style are ‘Quiet Leadership’ by David Rock and ‘The Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain’ byAndrew Curranand Ian Gilbert. Both books help you to understand how other people think. This has relevance in all fields but particularly in policy and delivery work, which is built on people. It is astounding how often we can mistakenly create work environments that stop people thinking well, so this is something I have always tried to be conscious of as a leader.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

Between 2010 and 2012, I was asked to be the project director for closing down an organisation I’d worked in since its opening 10 years previously. The organisation was a quango that had been abolished and we faced a tough duality of ensuring continued programme delivery until closing, coupled with managing the redeployment or redundancy of all employees. It was a feat of planning but also a huge people and relationship management challenge that brought numerous difficult conversations. I learned more in those two years about people management than in the rest of my career as a manager combined. I learned to give information quickly, even if messages were hard to pass on and to respect people’s choices which are never possible to predict. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that to be honest, is often to be kindest.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

I am rarely afraid, and I am hugely ambitious and optimistic – they all seem to go hand in hand! This can make me a demanding leader, but it also makes me a leader who is willing to take on – and deliver – projects that others feel are impossible. I sometimes fail, but mostly I succeed. I am also a very happy person who enjoys interaction with other people. I genuinely want to know my staff and what motivates them. Because of that, for me, managing people is a pleasure.

From a work viewpoint what has 2020 been like for you so far?

I began my new role as director of cyber security and digital identity at DCMS in January. It’s an incredibly exciting area of work and I have an excellent team so the first couple of months getting to grips with the subject were wonderful.

In March, I moved for three months as part of the Department’s response to COVID-19 where I helped to deliver a funding support package for the voluntary sector. While I was sad to leave my new role to one side for a while, having worked in the voluntary sector myself early in my career it was an amazing opportunity to dive back into an area I am passionate about, and help in a time of clear need. I’m now back in my substantive cybersecurity and digital identity role and I’m back to really loving getting to know more about my policy area. This is a time when we are more reliant on the digital world than ever before and it’s our job to understand what this, and indeed a post-COVID world, might mean for both cybersecurity and digital identity – new thinking and opportunities abound!

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

When I was younger I was a qualified swimming lifesaver.