International Women’s Day 2024: In conversation with Cecilia Harvey

To mark International Women’s Day 2024 and highlight this year’s theme of ‘inspire inclusion’, we interviewed our very own women in STEM champion, City & Guilds’ Chief Operating Officer, Cecilia Harvey, about her career experiences in the largely male-dominated world of IT and technology.

05 March 2024

This year’s theme for IWD 2024 is Inspire Inclusion.

Questions for Cecilia Harvey, Chief Operations Officer, Executive Team, City & Guilds

What inspired you to want to work in the technology sector? Was it your first career choice?

"When I was growing up, if you’d told me that one day I would end up working in technology, I would have said you were completely crazy.  But, as a child, I played Chairman of the board with my Barbie dolls, and I was practically attached to my Commodore 128 computer, so I guess it was inevitable that I would one day work in technology.

“However, I didn’t start my career in the tech sector. After graduating from university, I worked in fixed-income derivatives structuring at Lehman Brothers. While on the trading floor, I discovered that technology was the lifeblood of capital markets. My involvement with the technology team on projects for the trading desk ignited a spark within me, pushing me to think strategically about technology's role in business growth.

“Two defining factors lured me into the tech sector during this transformative phase. Firstly, the sheer excitement that technology delivered ensured I would never grow bored. Secondly, for the first time, I experienced an environment where I was judged solely on my problem-solving capabilities and a diverse way of thinking was encouraged. Here, my unique approach to challenges was not just accepted but celebrated.”

Did you feel intimidated by the sector being so male-dominated initially?

Cecilia Harvey photo“Initially, stepping into a male-dominated industry can feel like entering uncharted territory, filled with uncertainty and perhaps a tinge of intimidation. However, I did not see it as posing a barrier for me, but instead, as an opportunity for growth and empowerment. From my perspective, yes, the landscape may have been predominantly male, but that didn’t diminish the value of my presence or the contributions I was able to make.”

“In my own journey, I found allies and mentors eagerly waiting to offer support and guidance. These individuals saw beyond gender stereotypes and recognised the merit of my skills and aspirations. Their belief in me fuelled my confidence and propelled me forward, even when faced with obstacles.

“Instead of viewing the male-dominated environment as a challenge, I embraced it as a chance to showcase my unique perspective and capabilities. By fostering relationships with men and women in the industry, I cultivated a network of support that bolstered my career progression.

“So, to any woman navigating the waters of a male-dominated field, I say this, ‘Embrace your potential, seek out allies, and never underestimate the impact of your presence. Your journey may have its twists and turns, but remember, within every challenge lies an opportunity for greatness.’ ”

Did you go to college – and if so, what did you study and why?

“My university experience was instrumental in shaping the trajectory of my career journey, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I pursued a degree in political science, drawn to its dynamic exploration of societal structures, human behaviour and leadership.

“After graduating, I ventured into the world of banking, armed not just with financial acumen, but also with critical thinking skills I’d honed through my academic pursuits. My ability to analyse complex issues and devise strategic solutions became invaluable assets in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of finance.

“As I transitioned into the realm of technology, I carried with me a mindset cultivated at university—a commitment to continuous learning and adaptability. Whether deciphering technology or conceptualising innovative solutions, my education instilled in me the confidence to tackle challenges head-on.

“My journey ultimately led me to the role of Chief Operating Officer, where I continue to draw upon the multi-faceted lessons learned both inside and outside the classroom. From crafting business strategies to fostering collaborative environments, my university experience continues to serve as a cornerstone of my professional growth.”

This year’s theme of IWD is ‘inspire inclusion’- what more do you think needs to be done to make skills training and careers in STEM subjects, more diverse and inclusive in the UK?

“The theme of this year's International Women's Day, 'inspire inclusion,' resonates deeply with me. To foster diversity and inclusivity in STEM careers, we must start by addressing systemic barriers and provide equitable access to education and workplace opportunities for women. Mentorship programs, targeted outreach efforts, and creating inclusive work environments are all crucial steps towards achieving this goal.”

In your view, could the tech sector and/or the govt, be doing more to promote and support women’s career development in the sector?

“Absolutely, both the tech sector and government have a vital role to play in promoting and supporting women's career development. This includes implementing policies that address gender disparities in recruitment, retention, and leadership opportunities. Moreover, investing in STEM education initiatives and providing mentorship and sponsorship programs all helps to empower women to thrive in the sector.”

Is there a key figure – e.g. business leader, prominent female politician, public figure, poet, actress, theatre director, journalist, MP, Mayor, entrepreneur, artist, singer/songwriter, scientist, engineer – who has inspired you in your work?

“One figure who has inspired me immensely, particularly in relation to International Women's Day, is Queen Rania of Jordan. Her dedication to humanitarian causes, her advocacy for education and women's empowerment, and her unwavering commitment to fostering positive change in her country and beyond, serves as a powerful example for us all. Queen Rania's grace, intelligence, and tireless efforts to uplift marginalised communities resonates deeply with me, reminding me of the importance of using one's platform for meaningful impact. Her leadership and compassion inspire me to strive for excellence in my own work and to always seek out opportunities to make a positive difference to the lives of others.”

Watch the interview with Cecilia Harvey