“Diversity is about building a workforce where anyone, no matter who they are, can come to work, feel they belong, and thrive”. Q&A Ciara Perciavalle, Ireland’s Health Lead, Microsoft

Ciara Perciavalle speaks to us about her current role as Ireland’s Health Lead with Microsoft.

Ciara will be speaking at our “Meet Our Partners & Board” webinar on Tuesday 27th January 2022 at 11am-12:00pm GMT.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your role as Ireland’s Health Lead in Microsoft?

I have been working with Microsoft for almost 2 years. My role as Health Lead is to support our Health Customers in Ireland such as HSE and Health and Social Care Northern Ireland on their digital transformation journey. I orchestrate and coordinate a team of over 30 people, ensuring that the best of Microsoft and our partners is brought to bear to empower our customers to achieve more. When we talk about empowering our customers it means that with the right tools and support, we can help in areas such as enhanced patient engagement, empowering health team collaboration, improving clinical and operational insights and protecting health information. Prior to Microsoft, I worked in IQVIA for 8 years supporting Life Science clients, with analytics and technology solutions.

On a personal level, I’m a busy mum with 3 kids aged 9,7 and 4. With 2 daughters and a son, I’m passionate about being a positive role model for my kids, showing them the importance of hard work, doing what you love, being proud of your career and making a difference.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I always plan my day in advance, so I’m prepared for the day ahead.

A typical day for me involves speaking with health customers and our partners who support them, understanding their pain points and developing solutions that leverage our technology.

Covid has been challenging with the lack of face-to-face contact. As part of my day, it’s important to check in with colleagues and make sure they are doing ok. At the end of the day, its important for me to exercise, whether that’s a walk with my dogs or the gym and I typically use this time for personal reflection, and afterwards I love to spend time with my family.

Covid has been a real catalyst for change and the demands on our Health system and healthcare workers has been incredibly challenging. In the last 2 years, it’s fair to say that people now have a much greater appreciation of the tireless efforts across the health service, and myself and the team’s role at Microsoft is to work with health providers to see where our technology can help them. From the outset of the pandemic, we found there was complete consensus that the use of technology would underpin the overall approach to the COVID-19 response, and we’ve seen that with contact tracing, vaccination management and data and analytics solutions not only in Ireland but internationally.

How important is female leadership & diversity within Microsoft?

At Microsoft, our motto is ‘come as you are, do what you love’ and this motto has helped us to create a vibrant, innovative, and diverse workplace and to grow our team to what it is today – a team of more than 2,700 people made up of over 70 nationalities.

Diversity is about building a workforce where anyone, no matter who they are, can come to work, feel they belong, and thrive.

This requires leaders to ask hard questions within their organisations and ensure that accessibility gaps and inequalities which have emerged are addressed.

While there remains much to do, we at Microsoft believe that we will only be able to address our toughest technology challenges when we embrace diverse perspectives. To build this diversity, it’s critical to have a varied company and partner ecosystem, and one that actively supports female leaders and entrepreneurs.

What do you feel is one of the biggest challenges female entrepreneurs are currently facing?

I don’t think there is any singular challenge, there are a range of challenges that female entrepreneurs continue to face such as funding, responsibilities and social expectations, disruption to family life, a lack of support, and often a lack of role models. But females bring many strengths: communication and critical-thinking skills, diverse life perspectives, and distinctive ways of solving traditional technology challenges.

How important is it for Microsoft to support female entrepreneurs working in digital health and life science?

Microsoft is committed to supporting female entrepreneurs in digital health and life sciences.

But our commitment goes beyond supporting female entrepreneurs, we believe in supporting girls through their entire education cycle and beyond to ensure they have the skills that are required to not only participate in our digital world but be our future leaders.

Through our Pathways for Life education and training programme, which spans Levels 5 – 10, so primary to third level – learners can choose a learning pathway that is aligned to their ability, interests, and goals.

From our Dream Space initiative for primary and post-primary school students, our StepIn2Tech programme for school leavers and those impacted by COVID-19, to third-level programmes developed in conjunction with Trinity College and UCD, Pathways for Life is empowering people with the in-demand skills to succeed in a digital economy.

I’m particularly passionate about Microsoft’s Dream Space initiative, which has engaged more than 80,000 students from primary and post-primary schools since its launch almost four years ago, and is helping to not only shift boys’ and girls’ perceptions about the role technology will play in their future but inspire, particularly girls, to pursue a career in STEM.

This year Dream Space partnered with Maynooth University and Munster TU, to develop an accredited program for girls from disadvantaged areas called STEM Passport for Inclusion. 1000 girls from disadvantaged areas will complete this course, aiding their pathway into STEM degrees in these universities.
Microsoft has further supported this program as an aspect of STEM Passport for Inclusion – mentoring from women in industry and 80 mentors from Microsoft signed up to support these young women across the two years.

Another great example is where Microsoft have funded quantum research at TCD to provide scholarships for women in a new quantum science and technology master’s course. This is really encouraging females into leading edge R&D of STEM, which is hugely exciting.

What involvement has Microsoft had with start-ups and how important do you feel start-ups are in the overall ecosystem?

In Microsoft a few years back, we set out to understand the needs of entrepreneurs and the unique challenges they face. To do that, we interviewed thousands of entrepreneurs around the world across a range of stages and backgrounds. What we heard was consistent — founders want access to advice and coaching. They also want opportunities for funding, help validating their ideas, access to world-class technology to accelerate their time to market, and assistance in winning customers.

With this in mind, we outlined a plan to help make start-ups successful, aiming to make the start-up ecosystem more representative of the world. In October 2021, we launched Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub in limited preview.

In November, we also announced a collaboration with Scale Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation that supports, represents and advocates on behalf of Irish tech start-ups and scale ups. Their first regional Start-up Summit takes place on 28th January and focuses on some of the issues facing start-ups around the country. Currently there are more than 2,000 indigenous tech start-up and scale-up companies, which together employ more than 47,000 people, so they have a very important role in the overall ecosystem.

What are your thoughts on the Grit International Female Accelerator and why did Microsoft sponsor and become a partner?

I am very excited that we are sponsoring the Grit International Female Accelerator programme. This is an important programme and Microsoft is proud to support female entrepreneurs in Ireland and internationally. I strongly believe that Microsoft has an important role to play in supporting women in technology, given our leadership position in the industry. We see it as our responsibility to actively promote more participation by females in tech start-ups, which is why being part of the Grit female accelerator is a programme we are very happy to support.

As part of our partner masterclass, what topic will Microsoft be delivering?

We will cover areas such a Cyber Security and Data and AI through the partner masterclasses.

How has Microsoft positioned itself as a global leader in cyber security?

In recent years, we have witnessed an inflection point for cyber conflict, triggered by the state-sponsored cyberattacks of WannaCry and NotPetya. These attacks represent a larger trend in which citizens, technology users, public entities, civil society, and corporations have all become targets of destructive digital weapons. Bold measures are needed for a safe digital transformation in industry, while also protecting civilians from indiscriminate cyberattacks. It is unquestionable that cybersecurity will continue to be a top priority over the next 5 years.

Microsoft invests more than $1 billion dollars in security every year and analyses over 8 trillion signals each day for potential malicious activity in email, on desktops and laptops, and in the cloud applications that people log into for work and personal life. All of our customers get the benefit of that. Ensuring that the whole environment has the highest level of security is of paramount importance as our business runs on Trust.

We need to ensure our customers trust us with their most precious commodity – their data.

Any final thoughts?

I would like to thank the Grit board members for inviting Microsoft to be a technology partner and sponsor on this important programme. I am personally very grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today.

Social media: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ciaraperciavalle

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