Promoting female role models in the world of Digital Health, and understanding the benefits of a female perspective on technology
Ming Tang: her name comes up frequently in the interviews we do with women in the world of Digital. A big inspiration for lots of females and very easy-to-talk-to, Ming speaks about her journey to becoming Chief Data and Analytics Officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement.
"My parents had a Chinese takeaway, so I was brought up to help the family business... it builds your confidence in handling people."
She says: “I was born in Hong Kong, and I emigrated to the UK at the age of seven. I’m very proud of my Chinese heritage, my parents had a Chinese takeaway, so I was brought up to help the family business. Being in that environment from a very young age, it helps you to find your voice, learning how to engage with customers and asserting yourself in tricky situations with nosier customers on a Saturday night, and it builds your confidence in handling people.”
Trained as a pharmacist, Ming joined the NHS in 2009, after a number of years as a management consultant. She joined as a Chief Executive for a shared services function supporting 17 Primary Care Trusts, gradually becoming more involved in national work. Now, she leads the world of Data and Analytics work for the NHS, using data to deliver improvements to health and care. Responsible for all the internal products and services associated with data analytics for NHS England and NHS Improvement, she has a large team behind her, ranging from data analysts, economists, product developers, operational researchers and engineers.
Pioneering projects are part and parcel of Ming’s day-to-day. Recently in her leadership role for NHS England and NHS Improvement, she has spearheaded a range of ground-breaking initiatives that include: revolutionising the way the NHS interacts with data by using integrated data schemes in Trusts to reduce waiting lists; creating a machine learning model to forecast the number of beds that could be occupied by people with COVID-19, and using the same technology to predict who will show up at A&E based on certain external factors. During the vaccination programme, Ming and the team were responsible for highlighting vaccination uptake with an aim to highlight inequitable access and uptake by geography, gender, ethnicity, disability and deprivation so that the programme could act quickly to close the gap. This insight informed local decisions such as where to introduce pop-up sites and where closer working with community and faith leaders was required.
"I’m from a very working-class family – I had very few role models encouraging me. I had to find my role models outside of the family."
Ming was the first person in her family to go to university. She recognises the importance of having role models, forging networks and asking questions from a young age: “I’m from a very working-class family – I had very few role models encouraging me. I had to find my role models outside of the family and I built really good networks very early on to better understand my options. When I was thinking about my career, I went and spoke to lots of people, to find out what their roles were and what I found interesting. I was discerning about what I wanted to do,” she explains.
"Men get really excited by the tech. Women get more excited about what tech enables."
Female role models doing successful things in technology are definitely on the up, she says. This is because women innately have a different point of view: “Men get really excited by the tech. Women get more excited about what tech enables. And it's tech enablement, and the vision alongside that which are going to create the transformation and change. I would say to all women, ‘be proud that you look at this through a different lens. Don't try and compete by being more techie.’ Because, actually, a woman’s value is understanding how the technology is going to be adopted, and how that is going to transform someone's life.”
"How many women are you supporting? How many women are you mentoring?"
So, how can we get more women in digital? She’s quick to answer and decisive in that “we need to help each other more.” She reels off a series of questions she would ask to any senior female in the world of digital: “How many women are you supporting? How many women are you mentoring? How many young girls are you encouraging to do science related topics? How often are you doing events like this to showcase that Digital is possible?” Ming affirms: “Digital is exciting! And there are lots of female role models doing it.”
Genevieve Shaw, Editor