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Celebrating International Women's Day - meet Eilidh McLaughlin

Eilidh talks about her career path, her pride in her team's pandemic response, and what International Women’s Day means to her.

Published on 06 April 2021

Eilidh McLaughlin

Eilidh McLaughlin is an Associate Director, Information Security and Governance; she talks about her career path, her pride in her team's pandemic response, and what International Women’s Day means to her.

Tell us a bit about your career path?

I was a lawyer before I joined NHS National Services Scotland (NSS). I was originally in private practice – I trained as a solicitor in the early 2000s then went into one of the top four law firms, working on projects setting up hospitals and schools.

After that, I decided I wanted to work in the public sector, so I joined West Lothian Council as a solicitor and then Queen Margaret University before coming to NSS.

From starting in detailed legal and commercial agreements to moving into the corporate governance sphere and looking at data protection and equalities in particular, I’ve enjoyed a different career path. There aren’t many people with the corporate governance experience I’ve had, and I consider myself lucky to have that.

Tell us about your current role at NSS?

I've been in NSS for about six years now. My previous post was Associate Director of Corporate Affairs and Compliance, where I looked after equalities, corporate governance, internal audit as well as information governance requirements – a varied post.

I’m more specialised in my current role, covering information security and information governance. The post only came into being in January 2020 and it's been some year... a bit of a baptism of fire!

So what do I do? My team and I look after the data that's in NSS – we deal with a lot of data, making sure it's secure and complies with privacy legislation. I’m also Deputy SIRO for the organisation, which stands for Senior Information Risk Owner.

I work closely with our Data Protection Officer, which is a really important role. Often the effect of misusing, losing, or lacking security around data can be as damaging to people as something affecting their health, so we review security and privacy arrangements to make sure that data is kept safe.

What have been your main achievements in your current role?

The first thing I’d say is that it's always a team effort. No matter what I’ve achieved personally at work, there's always been myself and other people involved and that's what makes NSS such a good place to work.

There's been quite a few achievements over the years. Early doors, the Model Complaints Handling Procedure, which Louise MacLennan then had a massive role in taking on and moving forward.

Also, all the work in 2018 around GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) – I’d call out all the work our Data Protection Officer Trish Ruddy put into that.

One area that really stands out is the way the whole information security and information governance team has mobilised around the pandemic response – the amount of work they’ve done has been incredible.

We've been across testing, contact tracing, now vaccinations, we’ve worked on Check In Scotland, and the Protect.scot app – there's little out there in terms of digital solutions that we haven't touched on. It’s an amazing achievement.

There’s also that sense of pride when you see your team succeeding. It could be hearing they’ve been asked to speak at a conference, or the Scottish Government has recognised their expertise by asking them to take on particular work, or they’re looking after their own teams, making sure they're happy and motivated. When you see them really soar – I think that's where you get your sense of achievement from.

How does NSS support women in the workplace?

I believe NSS is a learning organisation when it comes to supporting women in the workplace – we’re good at building up knowledge and using that knowledge to transform what we do and how we do it. There’s going to be a lot of learning on the back of this pandemic.

We need to take stock and understand the impact on our workforce, male and female. And we need to consider what the future will look like in terms of flexibility and people’s circumstances, the types of work we offer and the policies we have in place.

There's a lot of other good work that's been ongoing for a while, particularly around menopause. A very undervalued aspect of a woman's life is when she's in her years of menopause – it's important that the impact it can have on her is recognised as a medical condition, and that it’s a time when women might need more or less support, because every woman is different. We do that for pregnancy, and I have to say that when I was pregnant the support for me was incredible.

I also think that in terms of support, it's really important that we encourage those women that want to really shine and move forward in their careers and rise up through the ranks to have the ability to do so.

There's been a lot of good work going on for that, now and in the past, and I wouldn't want to lose sight of that because of the stress of the last year that we've all been through. So how do we recognise that and capitalise on what we've learned to move forward?

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

I think there are various aspects to this.

Firsly, it made me think about international women. There are some amazing examples, from Michelle Obama and Jacinda Ardern to the entirety of the Finnish Cabinet.

We've got strong examples of leadership right here in Scotland too – Scotland is leading the world with our response to period poverty, and that’s been driven by women in Scotland.

Then I thought about what it means to be a woman in society today. I’m actutely aware that we’ve recently celebrated LGBT+ History Month too, so when it comes to inequalities, we need to recognise that women aren’t the only group of people facing inequality – it’s about people at the heart of it all, and it’s about supporting each other.

And also, what does International Women’s Day mean for me, individually? I realised that actually, you don't have to be the leader on the world stage, you don't have to be the person making all the decisions - what really matters is that you're happy and fulfilled in what you do.

And that means at home, at work, it means having the balance of mental and physical health. It means having time for you to spend time with your loved ones, to do things that you enjoy doing.

So I think for me, it's about being able to celebrate us as women, no matter how big or small our achievements are, and to recognise everybody's achievements are worth something, because they are personal to them.