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Harmony Murphy: The importance of positive role models and breaking the bias this #IWD2022

Harmony Murphy is GM Advertising UK at eBay and NDA’s monthly columnist

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day on 8 March is #BreakTheBias and ensuring gender equity for women across all spheres of life. With the tech industry traditionally being a male-dominated arena, the presence (or lack thereof) of women is of paramount importance.

Half of the workforce is made up of women, yet a TechNation report reveals that just over a quarter (26%) of tech employees are women. And whilst there has been significant effort towards getting a greater number of women and girls into tech careers, this still isn’t translating into a proportional amount of women in leadership roles. The same report goes on to find only 9% of C-Suite leaders in tech are women.

With the last two years of pandemic having potentially exacerbated inequalities even further – despite progress made – it’s more important than ever that we are helping women to fulfil their potential and become the leaders we want to see. So how can women in tech ensure they #BreakTheBias?

Seeing is believing

Seeing someone like you doing something makes an enormous difference in believing you can do it too. This is particularly important when it comes to the workplace and women’s perceptions of their own career trajectory and professional development ambitions. This is why exposure to female role models can be incredibly powerful for younger women.

I was lucky enough to gain work experience as a teenager with Janie Orr MBE, Chief Executive at EMI Music Sound Foundation. This was my first time being in a corporate setting and experiencing the world of work, and Janie was (and still is) a major role model for me. Seeing a woman leading a corporate environment in this way inspired me to be able to see myself in her shoes one day, so the impact of female role models must not be understated. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with brilliant women daily during my time at eBay, for example Elisabeth Rommel our Global GM of Advertising Growth, whom I’ve been lucky enough to learn a tremendous amount from.

But for women looking to get into tech, or supercharge their career, it’s worth bearing in mind you don’t even need to necessarily know a role model first-hand – there are plenty of successful women in tech (and growing numbers of them!) you can find inspiration from. Including Uber’s ex-SVP of Leadership & Strategy and Professor at Harvard Business School, Frances Frei, and Bumble’s founder and CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd.

And, for those women who are in leadership positions, I’d encourage you to consider how you can give a leg up to young people – including women and people from other diverse backgrounds.

Make the most of mentorship

Career mentors can provide immense value to women in particular, imparting their wisdom to guide women through the myriad challenges and experiences they specifically face in the workplace, helping them see what paths lie open to them, and how to progress along them. But a lot of young women or women new to the workplace firstly might not realise the role of mentors as a resource at their disposal, and secondly might not know how to go about finding one.

Businesses within the tech industry should ensure they have mentor schemes within their teams to help grow their own talent and cultivate company culture. These mentors can be male or female – I have been mentored by eBay SVP, Rob Hattrell, who sets a clear example of how to be a male ally to women in a male-dominated industry, and champions diversity more broadly alongside the HR function.

As well as this, there are specific mentor schemes outside of your company which can be just as useful – for example, Femme Palette or Generation Success, who can partner you with an experienced professional to candidly discuss your career plan and current obstacles.

Think about what kind of leader you want to be

Women are often subject to all sorts of conflicting expectations around what sort of leaders we should be. Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be overbearing – be empathetic, but don’t be too emotional. We’re often trying to fit into so many boxes at once that we’re not really fitting into any at all.

If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that you first need to understand who you are as a person and recognise your own strengths as a leader. Look at leaders you admire, male and female, and think about which aspects of their leadership style resonate with you most – whether that’s empathy, preparedness, pragmatism or another quality.

The main thing is to lean into your strengths, whatever they are, and share them with the next generation so we can #BreakTheBias and ensure future female talent has equal chances to succeed in the industry.