Women in Digital: Em Eldred

Inspirations, challenges and mentors: Em Eldred, former head of delivery of UK public sector at Fujitsu, shares her career journey prior to taking up a new role in digital.

Posted 17 July 2023 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?  

Although I will always be grateful to the teachers and caregivers who spend their days improving the prospects of the children in their care, I didn’t enjoy school. Bullying was rife, and I got a large slice of that pie. I spent much of my time blending into the background, which in hindsight gave me a head start in my ability to quietly listen and observe what is happening in the world.

What qualifications do you have?

I left home as soon as I had completed my GCSEs – so that was the end of full-time education for me. Despite a few tricky distractions in my childhood, I managed to get good results, which I am proud of, and entered the workforce with an unwavering determination to pay my rent, stay out of debt, and forge a safe and independent life for myself.

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

I have been fortunate to work for some amazing organisations, but I owe all of this to my first boss, who saw potential and took a chance on me. I started my tech career as a service desk agent, and over the next three decades, have held a variety of roles. There has always been one common theme: delivery. Whether its designing solutions that are deliverable, consulting with organisations to improve their strategies and operational efficiencies, supporting and building technology solutions, governing deals that bring the right value, coaching teams to deliver exceptionally or delivering on commitments made to customers, the theme is always delivering outcomes. Much of my career has been in defence and public sector, which deliver positive impact on the citizens of the United Kingdom and beyond.

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

Build and intentionally maintain your network – if you support others, and you celebrate their wins, they will support you, and celebrate yours.  

Be brave, and never compare yourself to others – no one will have had the same start in life, nor will they have the same support network in place. Just be you and appreciate your own brilliantness.

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

My grandfather – the kindest, most supportive man anyone could wish to have in their lives. Despite being a highly intelligent and hard working throughout his long and distinguished career as a senior accountant, he taught me that empathy and kindness is the strongest skill a person can have.  An equal blend of competence and warmth is a fantastic recipe for success.

From where do you draw inspiration?

My son – he is the reason I work hard, and the reason I enjoy my weekends. Other than that, I like to be outside, walking in forests with my two very noisy but exceptionally cute miniature dachshunds – its very grounding and helps me process and put into perspectives all the “busy” in my world.  

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?

I’ve had a few, but so far (touch wood), I’ve survived every single one of them. I won’t dwell on telling you about them – no good will come of that. What I do know, is that while a challenge can feel overwhelming and hard to bear at the time, if you can hang in there, if you ask for help, if you breathe through it, and if you stay brave, you will likely come out of it a better, stronger person.

One thing which I think is far more common than it should be, is that we are much meaner to ourselves than we would be to a friend or colleague experiencing the same thoughts or circumstances. If we double up on empathy towards ourselves, our “confidence tank” will be fuller, which gives us more capacity to tackle challenges and find a solution.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

I believe in servant leadership. A combination of knowledge and warmth creates leaders who inspire their teams, because they are see by their team as people who would, have walked in their shoes.  Kindness, honesty, empathy, and creativity are essential… if any of these are lacking, then trust is eroded – anyone can manage a balance sheet, but not everyone can create safe environments and be servants to their teams so that they feel connected to the bigger picture. Finally, you can only be a good leader if you understand what your team are doing, and why they are doing it. If everyone understands the outcomes that the team is there to facilitate, then they will care about the role much more. 

In summary: knowledge, warmth, trust, kindness, empathy, and creativity make a good leader, but adding in UNDERSTANDING and SERVICE makes you an unstoppable leader.

From a work viewpoint what has the last 12 months been like?

In June, I left a role I very much enjoyed as head of delivery for Fujitsu UK public sector.  Over the past year, as a team, we had many wins – not just winning new business, but also improving our access to knowledge that makes us better, creating a sense of community and building trust. I’m taking the summer to reset, recharge and do some gardening before I take on a fabulous new role that I’m beyond excited to be starting in September.

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

Trust. I believe that the tech industry needs to have trust at the forefront of absolutely everything – from the way we treat our customers, the way we design, support, and treat our environment, and the way that we empower our employees and our society. I believe that tech is the answer to so many challenges in society, but without trust, we cannot make the progress that we need at the pace it is needed.

What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?

It starts with inspiring young people to focus on STEM subjects at school. So many companies are investing significant effort in this, and so I am sure that this will continue to help encourage more women into industry – I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of women in the work environment over the past 30 years – we just need to stay focused! 

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

This is such a tricky question – I’m very open about myself and what makes me the person that I am. I can’t think of anything utterly fascinating to share… but if anyone has anything they would like to know, then reach out on LinkedIn and ask away!