Cecily Motley, Co-founder of Harriet

Hello! My name is Cecily Motley and I’m the CEO & co-founder of Harriet.

Harriet is an AI-powered HR tool which acts as a personal HR assistant for every employee. Harriet links together your knowledge and HR systems and brings them right to where your team are – in slack, GChat and Teams – and is on hand to handle any HR-related queries employees might have.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had a vague idea after I graduated from university that I wanted to do something creative. That instinct took me into the world of fine art. If you’d told me back then that I’d end up in AI, I would have laughed my head off. So safe to say there was never a grand plan – I think that’s the best way of landing on the most exciting roles.

Don’t feel too nervous to lean into a new space. It might seem like everyone else knows more than you or has a more relevant degree, but you can learn. Embrace the new thing, even if it scares you!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Prior to launching Harriet, I ran a bespoke jewellery brand. I loved building and running the business, but commercial challenges and the impact of Covid meant that we took the tough decision to wind it down in 2022. That was a bitterly hard moment, but I came out stronger.

I’m now putting so many of the skills and experiences I learnt running the business into Harriet AI. In fact, it was my frustration at how laborious, repetitive admin tasks were zapping my time from more important work while running Motley, that inspired me to create Harriet as a solution.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Moving into the completely new field of AI and launching this new platform has been a huge achievement and shows that you simply don’t need to stick in your current lane. Transfer those skills to something new and exciting!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think I’m a naturally curious person and that’s hugely useful in a career. It means you nose out new ideas and interesting people, which can often spark innovations and progress. I’m always thinking about the bigger picture and what’s next.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t feel too nervous to lean into a new space. It might seem like everyone else knows more than you or has a more relevant degree, but you can learn. Embrace the new thing, even if it scares you!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

100% – the numbers speak for themselves. It’s a problem that can only be fixed by looking at the top and bottom end of the funnel simultaneously. We need to encourage more women to take STEM degrees and training, and then ensure hiring processes for entry level positions are genuinely de-biased. We also need senior teams and boards to actively recruit, empower and promote female leaders. Meaningful change won’t happen unless we address the whole talent pipeline.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Where to start? Employers need to create working environments which are empowering and inclusive, offer good parental leave and childcare support, de-bias their hiring processes, and promote women when they have the opportunity.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Men recognising that they have a major role to play in redressing this balance. They currently hold the majority of power – they should wield it to create positive change.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The book Messy Middle by Scott Belsky is well worth a read. He includes so many useful nuggets of advice from entrepreneurs and writers about starting new ventures. The oldie, but goldie, “How I Built This” podcast is also great for getting a panoramic view of entrepreneurism, too. Plus, Johannes Sundlo’s podcast, Full Stack HR, is an excellent listen if you’re interested in tech and the future of work.

In terms of communities, I really recommend Female Founders Rise. It’s female-led and promotes all kinds of women-run businesses. Events like Web Summit or Sifted Summit are also great to help build your network and industry knowledge, but you need to be super focused with your time, and do some prep beforehand. Try and hunt out the people you want to meet before you go and set things up ahead of time.

Read more about our inspirational women here.