Women in Digital: Tina Churcher

Tina Churcher, head of digital at DVSA, gives us an insight into her career journey, including how her two children inspire her work in the civil service.

Posted 31 July 2023 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Yes and no. I grew up in Derby and attended a really diverse school. Somehow, I didn’t seem to gel with any of the social groups.

That said, I valued the learning and left school with 5 As 2 Bs, 2 Cs and a cheeky D for German.

Socially, my formative years were influenced outside of the playground. I grew up in a male dominated world. My Dad was chief technical officer for the British Superbikes so most weekends I was at a bike race meeting. Today I am one of few women in the country who operates as a Clerk of the Course for road racing.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a BA (Hons) in Business Administration. Although first in my family to go to college and university, it represented a really challenging time. My Mum was diagnosed with cancer when I was 15.

Unfortunately, my Mum passed away in my final year. Uni always felt like unfinished business. At 43 I went back to uni through an L7 apprenticeship and took a MSc in Strategic Leadership which I completed last year. It was a great experience. The apprenticeship gave me a real opportunity to reflect and hone skills I had learned on the fly through experience over the years, and one I would recommend at any point in your career.

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

I think I would say I’m guilty of coasting. I worked at EON for 19 years starting in operations before moving to IT, then in 2019 took the plunge into the Civil Service.

I never really had a grand design for my career. When I had my second girl, I remember being sat on the floor with her in my arms, considering the world both my girls would be entering. I reminded myself that what they see in me, would shape their thinking as adults and that I needed to do what I wanted them to feel free to be.

I came back from maternity leave and got curious about what the best of me could be and look like. I still don’t have a grand design, but I’m definitely not coasting.

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

Don’t be afraid to experiment or change direction. It’s very rare that a decision you make commits you for life. If you view every decision as an experiment and learning opportunity, I think it makes it easier to change direction or leave an organisation that isn’t working for you.

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

It’s got to be my dad. He had a solid set of ethics and values that underpinned everything he did in life. It’s a grounding that stays with me still.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Another cliche answer I know, but it’s got to be my two girls. If we want the world to be different for the next generation, we need to recognise that we are delivering now the world they will navigate from. I don’t want them dealing with our “technical debt”.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?

Myself. Imposter syndrome doesn’t stop at a given job title. Recently I was part of a team submitting papers for a ministerial box. I’m still not entirely sure how the girl from DE24 got here.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

First and foremost being a good leader isn’t about a job title, or a grade, or even followship. Being a good leader for me is about being able to bring people together. And ensuring an environment where diversity of thought within teams can flourish.

We spend half our waking life at work. I for one don’t want to spend that time wishing I was somewhere else. And I don’t want anyone else to, whoever they are, wherever they have come from, and wherever they are going.

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

I’ve stolen this analogy, but like riding a tea tray down Everest.

I’m involved in things I never envisaged. Every day really is a school day, and a day to challenge the art of the possible. It’s scary but exhilarating.

One of the things I think gets missed, is that working in the Civil Service is like working within your own business, you are your own shareholder. Behind the critical values of the Civil Service code, we are taxpayers and British citizens. It’s a responsibility every Civil Servant I know takes very seriously. I don’t think I would be serving the Government of the day, or my fellow citizens to the best of my ability if I coasted.

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

The speed of change, education, and ethics. Yes, there is a tech talent shortage, but for me we need to look underneath that challenge and not just treat the symptom but take it back to the cause. 

Our society is moving at such a pace that I believe this time will be recognised as the “technological revolution” in the history books not yet written.

What we do now matters, and so does how we do it. Whether it’s the needs of teachers to be able to teach in emerging fields or the impact of social media and news that now lands in the palm of your hands, the ethical responsibilities are vast. Ensuring no one is left behind, has in many use cases, become as important as the technology itself.

Leaders of both tech organisations and those looking to harness the new opportunities tech provides are going to need to get really serious about the Corporate and Social Responsibility that come with it.

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

Myth busting. IT careers are so diverse, and because of the portability of where and when you can do it, are some of the most flexible career options out there.

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

Years ago now I featured in what was Men and Motors… A camera crew followed me round for a day to understand what went on behind the scenes at a British Superbike meeting.