Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Women in Tech: Ruth Bucknell, VP Experience Design, Merkle

The Women in Technology series, in partnership with dentsu, explores the challenges and opportunities facing women working within tech and digital media. First, we chat to Ruth Bucknell, VP Experience Design at Merkle.

As a woman navigating a career in tech and digital media, what key challenges have you faced along the way?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced throughout my career is imposter syndrome. A lot of women can feel this way in both junior and leadership positions and, of course, it preoccupies all industries, not just the tech space. Imposter syndrome is often rooted in situations where women feel like they must keep quiet, even when they have a right to share their opinion. This behaviour can follow you along your career path and be challenging to address further down the line. I spent my entire twenties really looking forward to being thirty because I thought I’d have a greater sense of confidence that is said to come with age. Now in my mid-thirties, I can say I was wrong in thinking this. What has helped me most is pushing myself out of my comfort zone; staying ‘safe’ less and talking about the issue more with the women I work with.

Another key challenge I’ve faced in my career is the lack of representation in senior tech roles which can create loneliness and shrink the spaces in which women can openly talk about challenges they’re facing. There is often a void of women in leadership roles, which can make it challenging to stay enthusiastic about your own ambitions. That being said, we are fortunate to have several inspiring female leaders at dentsu, including Angela Tangas, Anne Stagg, and Jessica Tamsedge (to name just a few). Alongside them, we have established programs aimed at fostering the next generation of female leaders. These initiatives are dedicated to supporting dentsu in achieving its goal of 50% female leadership and working for a company that actively participates in reshaping the narrative is truly empowering.

How can men be better allies in supporting female colleagues at work?

The thing we need to remember about allyship is that it’s applicable to any marginalised group, whether that be gender, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. It’s something I’m very passionate about. As women, we can raise the issue of gender disparity but without men supporting us and advocating for change, we’re never going to see that change become action. I recently delivered a talk on this subject and a quote that stands out to me is: ‘Allyship is a verb, not a noun. You can’t simply be an ally; you need to practise it.’

At dentsu, we’ve just launched our Allyship Code which lays out guidelines advising individuals on how they can become a better ally. One of the principles is ‘empower equity’ which is the idea of men using their voices to amplify women’s. A common scenario that a lot of women most likely have experienced is an idea of theirs being claimed by a man. Empower equity would come into play in this instance if this were picked up on by a male colleague and he then verbally addresses that the idea originated from his female colleague. In this way, you can advocate without causing conflict.

Another key learning on this is that allies should avoid placing the burden of education on the group that they seek to be an ally for. If men want to learn more, why should we as women spend our time educating them? Arguably there’s a lot of unlearning for men to do so that biases and stereotypes can be dismantled, and a more inclusive environment fostered.

Are you optimistic about the future for women working in technology?

The short answer is yes. I am optimistic about the expansion of tech roles to include more women.

There is still much work to be done, however, and breaking down stereotypes is one place to start in my opinion. On a granular level, this even comes down to examples like father figures being the ‘fixers’ of technology in households, which I remember clearly being the case in my own.

Another huge unconscious bias at play is with working mums and new mothers returning to their career. They often feel like they must do more to be seen as ‘working hard’ because your top priority may no longer be your job day-in-day-out. As a mother myself, I’ve at times felt guilty with how I’ve juggled my day and, as a result, worked late to overcompensate.

Although we can’t impact individual households, I do believe we can impact education. I want to see technology become a core subject for children at both primary and secondary school. Technology drives our world today and it’s important that young people learn how it impacts our lives and how to keep tech safe. As well as this, technical skills like coding are becoming more and more relevant with generative AI growing so much.