Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Harmony Murphy – The Women Above The Clouds, Climbing Mount Everest

Harmony Murphy is Retail Head, Advertising UKI at Google. After a short break she is returning as our monthly columnist, with a truly-inspirational story of the lessons learned for women in business from a women-only trek to Everest Base Camp.

Casting my mind back to 2021 emerging from a post Covid lockdown, like many people across the UK I had spent a lot of time indoors, passing my time reading and imagining life pre-lockdown! It was during one of these moments of contemplation and imagination… I had the idea to trek to Mount Everest Base Camp at a staggering 5364 Meters high!! To attempt to conquer this feat I needed to research my epiphany and through this read about (in Conde Nast Traveller) a Nepalese company employing female Guides for female-only treks, but why was this important to me I hear you ask?!

I guess my curiosity was that out of the approximate 6,338 people to have summited Everest since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary raised their flags there in 1953, just 740—around 11%—of climbers have been women.

In need of a personal challenge outside of the office and a year of disciplined training and focus I decided to switch Google meeting rooms for gigantic mountains for a few weeks. A successful trek for me would mean gaining an understanding and shining light on local communities who support tourists from all around the world to climb Everest, the opportunity, equality, teamwork and leadership attributes that create a successful summit. To meet the incredible women along the way who were trail-blazing Everest; whether that be the female CEO’s, guides, or those climbing all the way to the peak! 

To start off my understanding of ‘The Women Above The Clouds’ I met the founder of Icicles Adventure Treks Indira Bhatta. Indira is a phenomenal woman who had worked for a tourism company in Kathmandu prior to having children but after the birth of her second child (with some complications) had decided she needed to start her own business. Indira needed flexibility, consistency and something she could build to support her family with a long-term view.

Through resilience, grit and hard work Icicles was born, a trekking company now hosting clients all around the global, Europe, US, Australia etc and comprising over 20 guides and a large operational support team. During our conversation Indira mentioned that the Government of Nepal supports providing training for females to become tourism guides but what surprised me initially was that out of 100 trained only 20 would actually go into the tourism industry.

A large amount of this resistance is due to families not wanting to break tradition and allowing daughters, wives, females of the family to become guides; many not accepting the change or shifting mindset. Indira continued that it is still widely believed that women cannot have independence outside of the household and must depend on their fathers, husbands to take employment and financial responsibility / control. 

Indira’s knowledge and own path to success means she is passionate about helping to change minds, shift perception and help women with a calling for tourism and adventure to carve out their own careers and future. 

Indira’s leadership shone and elements such as her courage and patience, inspired me, I gained a slight glimpse into all of the stakeholders and complex dynamics she must manage, internally / externally whilst ensuring an optimal customer experience. Indira re-iterated her thoughts on company culture – the foundation of a strong support infrastructure for women looking to join her company; especially as many may not be starting from an equal baseline to their male counterparts and being supported by families in the background. Indira looks to employ 4-6 more female guides across 2023 alone continuing providing opportunities and the progression of her company.  

I was then introduced to my assigned guide from Iccle Adventures for my trek to Everest Base Camp (March 2023) Sarala Nepal, a female guide from the countryside near Kathmandu who had been in the tourism industry for 4 years. Sara had climbed to basecamp 6 times in one season alone, I was taken back by her physical and mental strength – plus aware of all the hurdles she had climbed to secure her career in the tourism industry. 

When I asked her what kept her going, she responded “It is what I love to do and when you love what you are doing it makes it all worth it!”. Sarala’s overarching philosophy and attitude seemed to be, nature, peace and her freedom meant more than anything. Even in harsh elements doing a job that didn’t constrict her, made her feel alive and also aided her to break away from society norms and give her power over her own finances and life choices – made it  all worth it! 

After spending weeks with this team of visionary women, climbing to Base Camp myself as with any expedition at this altitude enduring some life changing circumstances and breakthroughs – I had lots of time to reflect on my own journey within the industry and many of the women around me. I had sometimes felt in my career that I was climbing a mountain and that the conditions were not always certain or steps completely clear; but it’s from those conditions we can gain wisdom, we can lift others up and we get a better self-awareness against our reactions.

The trip also gave me a whole lot of new perspectives of the challenges faced globally and in different societies by women in business. Their stories and actions motivate me to continue the incline! 

I took away so much from these incredible ‘Women Above The Clouds’? Summarising a few key points below- 

Once you understand your own limits you don’t need to seek validation or reassurance from others, it is all within you and you own your aspirations and dreams. 

Resilience and grit go hand in hand; sometimes the journey isn’t easy but each step to the summit no matter how big or small brings you closer. People climb to different heights and with each step it is about also paving the way for others around you.

You can’t do it alone, team and allies are so important, lots of tourists continue to support Icicle adventures due to them being a quality and trusted female run business.

Simply, keep faith, do what you love, and you can weather it all!