AWARD-WINNING CIO EXPLAINS HOW SHE’S MANAGED A PUZZLING TIME

Featuring at number 14 of the Top 100 UK CIOs was a real achievement for Georgina Owen, and not an accolade she took for granted. Not only did it give her the confidence she needed during a difficult time but also the credibility to stand up and be counted when it mattered most.

She comments: “I featured on the list in 2019 but wasn’t high enough in the table to be given a specific position. This year was different. I was asked to complete the forms, which are really detailed, and I focused on my leadership style.

“I was really shocked when I found out I had made it to number 14. It was a real achievement. What was really lovely was how supportive people have been and how positive about it. It was the recognition I needed during a difficult time.”

Despite having a long-standing position in the tech sector, Georgina explains that she didn’t have the most obvious of starts when it came to her career choices.

She comments: “It’s kind of interesting, as I didn’t really choose my career, it was kind of dictated by the choices my parents made when I was younger. Having moved to Africa when I was six years old, the syllabus was completely different to the UK, so when we came back during my A Level year, I had to start again.

“Thankfully, the college I attended had a computer studies course and I thought, oh ok, let’s give that a go. Falling into a world of computers, it was quite an untraditional way to enter the industry. I did however have quite a traditional trajectory starting as a programmer and then a project manager, before becoming an architect and then into leadership.”

While rising through the ranks has brought its benefits, Georgina explains that it also comes with increased responsibly, which can mean that some difficult decisions have to be made.

She comments: “Like many other people in leadership roles, the impact of the pandemic meant that I had to furlough the majority of my team and that was really tough. Making decisions about who to furlough and balancing that was tricky. It’s not something I would like to repeat anytime soon.

“For many senior leaders, we went from subject matter experts to becoming councillors and coaches, thinking about people’s wellbeing and mental health. It was a complete change and while some people could manage that, others simply couldn’t.

“What it did was showcase people’s personalities, which in turn dictated how people were managed. Some were isolated while others really came forward and put into practice ways of working that brought everyone together, even if that was in a virtual network.”

Despite having to focus on the team, Georgina was very aware of the need to manage her own mental health and to put practices in place that would allow her to take a step back and to unwind.

She comments: “While I was using my skills to help others out, I was also very mindful of the need to consider my own situation. I have a loft full of jigsaw puzzles and so to take my mind off things I would get a 2,000-piece image and concentrate on that. It was a great way to relax and to give myself some head space.

“Doing puzzles is almost like meditation, it lets me clear my brain completely. Thankfully, at home we all have enough space to have some time alone. It also allows us to have places where we work and those where we live, which I think is really important.

“One of the sayings I picked up was are you working from home or living at work? That made a great deal of sense to me and was a harsh reminder that we all need some time away from our desks.”

As businesses continue to navigate these strange and challenging times, with some considering how to change and implement a more flexible working arrangement, Georgina explains how decisions are being made in a vacuum.

She comments: “I know of some companies that have given up their leases as they don’t think that they need the space anymore. The challenge being they are making these decisions in a vacuum. Things haven’t settled yet and there is no new normal.

“What will probably happen is that we will see the whole property market change and companies will look for temporary space. In turn, property companies will be trying to reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the curve.

“At the start of this, people thought that working from home would be really exciting, but now they realise what it is like in practice. People are missing the interaction they had with each other. A Zoom call is one thing but meeting in person is quite another. Things have flipped and colleagues just want to get back to the office.”

As the UK looks ahead to another unsettled year, Georgina shares her advice for those that need some extra support.

She concludes: “What I have learnt is that there is no need to be afraid to ask for help. It should not be considered a weakness to share your concerns about how you are feeling and how your team are coping with other people.

“This is a global pandemic; it’s never been more important to support each other as best as we can.”

For more information about Georgina please visit her LinkedIn page here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgina-owens-0435755/

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