The biggest challenge Meghan Shields had to overcome as a woman in a leadership role has been the limiting belief that women put on themselves − the subconscious feeling of being inherently incapable of achieving success in a leadership role.
Meghan Shields, head of operations at VAT IT, says two major points greatly impacted the trajectory of her life: the first was qualifying as a CA and being afforded the opportunity to travel with Deloitte to complete a three-month secondment at Deloitte Toronto. ‘This was an amazing experience, and it really opens up your eyes to the world out there – not only travelling but working in a foreign country was a huge stepping stone for me in shaping my idea of what I wanted to achieve,’ says Meghan.
The second highlight for Meghan: after returning from Toronto, she joined VAT IT working as an account director on some key accounts, and within six months of working at the company she was given the opportunity to move into her current role as head of operations for a different branch. It was a huge risk for her, but now she says it is the best thing she could have done for her career, and she has learned so much about herself in the process.
‘I absolutely love my job, and I think what I enjoy most about my job is the fact that it is deadline-based and client-facing. Every day is new, and it is a fast-moving environment that requires a lot of problem-solving. We have annual deadlines that we need to meet that consist of various shorter-term goals that myself and my team works towards, so every month there is a sense of reward when we hit our targets or meet our deadlines and then we quickly move on to a new project or deadline,’ she says.
In addition, Meghan says working with clients allows a constant opportunity for growth as you grow your client baskets − meaning there is always a new challenge and getting bored is not an option, with a real tangible sense of accomplishment when you share success with your clients.
Earlier this year she got involved with FinBiz2030, the task forces made up of young professionals that are working towards ways that the private sector in South Africa can get involved in achieving the UN SDGs by 2030. Meghan is part of the SDG 13 task force for #FinBiz 2030 focusing on climate change.
‘As a group, we have broached the question of which is the most important SDG to us – we are all South Africans and so there are so many SDGs that are very close to our hearts, related to issues that we can see with our own eyes on a regular basis. However, climate change is something that for most of us is not tangible − it is something we hear about but cannot relate to for the most part,’ says Meghan.
‘I think it needs a lot of attention and is a very important SDG to tackle to make sure that we have time on this earth to tackle the rest of them.’
However, another SDG that is close to her heart is SDG 4 – Quality Education. ‘I believe that the most incredible way to empower all people is through education, and I believe that could change the future of South Africa.’
Being involved with #FinBiz2030 has shown her how much South Africans are doing to achieve the SDGs. ‘There are so many individuals and organisations that are doing their part – which is really inspiring. It can often feel like a lost cause, but there is so much happening and so many people are passionate about South Africa and about helping South Africa evolve. I am passionate about this because I want to do my part to contribute to this goal,’ says Meghan.
‘I think the most important thing in achieving these SDGs is for everyone to do their small part – we don’t need a few people perfectly working towards these goals, we need every South African to do their bit. I think another huge factor is people demanding better from the organisations within our communities – if we demand better, they will do better. It is too big of a task for just individuals to face alone, and so we need business and government to fight the fight with us. One of the most important things is to not feel like there is no hope, there is so much out there that is easy to achieve that will go a long way.’
The biggest challenge Meghan had to overcome as a woman in a leadership role has been the limiting belief that women put on themselves − the subconscious feeling of being inherently incapable of achieving success in a leadership role. ‘I am lucky enough that I work in an environment that is filled with strong, capable women, and so it was easy for me to let go of those beliefs. A combination of a strong support system at work, and the intention to discontinue the negative thought process allowed me to quickly move past it.’
How is Meghan navigating the pandemic successfully? ‘I think that we need to avoid the idea of “when this is over…” and need to accept this as our present moment and new normal. Set yourself up in this time to continue to achieve the goals you have for yourself; make sure you have a routine, are managing your stress, are focused on your goals – just as in “normal life”, use your current set of circumstances and resources to continually push to achieve your goals. Don’t let this external, uncontrollable factor impact your drive and motivation.’
She concludes: ‘My family and I have made sure that we have a solid routine and structure during this time; to keep us grounded and working as we need to. This includes regular exercise, healthy eating and all of the other good things that will keep your mood stable. We also make sure that we take advantage of technology – we have stayed connected with our family and friends during this time.’