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Management training: From learning to chairing a conference

woman standing at a podium speaking into two microphones. Behind her is a massive video screen

The Lockdown Chapter of my career, writes Meleri Jones

How it started: Training on Top Talent Cardiff 2020

How it ended: Chairing Socitm’s President’s Conference 2022

Being in a room of around 200 people is a scary enough feeling after lockdown – without having all eyes on you waiting for you to speak… My name is Meleri Jones, and I recently chaired Socitm’s President’s Conference in June 2022.  It was a great experience. I want to share my story and what I now call the ‘lockdown chapter’ of my career.

My background

First a bit about me. My background isn’t technical, I studied psychology at Cardiff University. But I didn’t fancy spending another 4 years becoming a psychologist so decided to join the world of work. 

I joined Welsh Government in 2011 on the switchboard. Not knowing anything about the work Welsh Government did or the opportunities that would be available to me. After working in various roles there, including managing the reception in the Cardiff office and answering health enquiries, the turning point for my career was when I moved to a role in the Office of the Chief Digital Officer.

Welsh Government had appointed their first Chief Digital Officer in Caren Fullerton and a team was being brought together to support that work.  I joined them in 2016 to develop a digital training programme for staff. From there, as I developed my knowledge and skills, the role evolved with me. 

The lockdown years

In January 2020, I attended leadership training, Top Talent (Cardiff), following a recommendation from a colleague. The programme was great. The tutors were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and covered a number of different leadership theories.

The key highlights for me were:

  • meeting all the great people of my cohort
  • getting to hear their experiences and challenges
  • having the time to reflect on my own leadership style and what I wanted to achieve.

Promotion

The Top Talent training helped to give me the confidence and the space to focus on myself and setting my goals.  Day to day we don’t often have time to self reflect, consider our own personal goals and how to achieve them. But the management training and the coaching, offered with the course, gave me that space and I was able to take ownership of my own career. 

Within a year of completing the Top Talent management training programme, I had gained a promotion within my division.

Proposal and action

It was in this new role that I had the opportunity to arrange an Empowering Women programme for Welsh Government.  I was excited about bringing together a cohort of women from across digital, data and technology (DDaT) in Welsh Government.  In my role developing the DDaT profession, I saw a real opportunity to get some tangible output from the sessions. To have the cohort influence the way we attracted women to the profession. 

I pitched the idea to Socitm, who were fully supportive and quickly developed a brief for the project. 

The project element was a success in a number of ways. 

  1. The cohort felt that they were able to provide meaningful input into an important piece of work. 
  2. The outputs from the project provided ideas for initiatives. An action plan for the profession was developed using these project outputs.
  3. Finally, the concept of adding a project to the programme was a new one. A programme project is now a permanent feature for future cohorts.
Two women standing at a podium on a stage. Behind them is a massive screen that's displaying their presentation slides.
A proud moment for me was when two members of the cohort presented our work on the project and its benefits at the Presidents Conference, seeing the great reception they had for the work and the confidence boost it gave them to have presented at such an event.

Being asked to chair the conference

Following the Empowering Women programme, Socitm approached me about being chair for their annual Presidents Conference.  I was really pleased and proud that they had thought to ask me and agreed instantly without asking for any detail (typical people pleaser!).  I was still thinking in lockdown mode and assumed the conference would be virtual.  It was about a week later that I realised it wasn’t a virtual conference and that I would actually have to stand in front of a room of people….. what had I signed up for?! It suddenly felt like a bigger beast, but I knew it would be a great experience for me.

Over the coming months I spent time preparing and worrying, as the impostor syndrome took hold. I decided to get advice from someone who had experience talking at events and who had inspired and been a role model to me. My previous boss and previous Chief Digital Officer for Welsh Government, Caren Fullerton.  Caren gave me some great tips for chairing, including advice to wear something bold to stand out (hence the bright blue dress). I decided to “feel the fear and do it anyway” and before I knew it, the conference was upon us!

The big day – President’s Conference 2022

I was very nervous as I watched people fill the room, but I knew that once I’d got started that all would go well. The opening speech was well received, and we were off… the rest of the day passed in a blur. 

The thing I remember most from the conference was how welcoming and supportive the audience was.  I had a number of people come over to speak to me and tell me how well I was doing, or how they had been inspired by what I had said. This all meant the world to me. Those conversations gave me the confidence and boost to continue through the day. It was also great to see some familiar faces again, like the Top Talent and Empowering Women cohorts (some of which I was meeting face to face for the first time).  

Overall, it was a great experience, I would definitely do it again and I look forward to seeing other alumni chairing future events.

What’s next?

The President’s Conference came at a great time for me, as it fell during my last week in my role as the DDaT Workforce Manager in Welsh Government.  It felt like a great ending to my time in that role because the Socitm programmes had been a big part of my development. 

It also felt like a good end to the ‘lockdown chapter’ of my career, which had seen me:

  1. Attend Top Talent (Cardiff) just prior to lockdown in January 2020.
  2. Gain a promotion.
  3. Help arrange and attend Empowering Women 2021.
  4. End on a high by chairing the Socitm President’s Conference 2022.

I am now in a new role in cyber co-ordination and leadership in Welsh Government.  It’s an exciting policy role, something I’ve never tried before. But thanks to the Socitm programmes and the experiences I’ve had as a result of those programmes, I have the confidence to go into something totally new knowing I’ll do a great job.

Over to you

I hope that sharing this chapter of my career has inspired some of you to attend the Top Talent and Empowering Women programmes. And has shown what is possible in a small chapter of our careers when we prioritise ourselves and our development and push ourselves out of our comfort zones.