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Inspirational Woman: Sharon Harris | Chief Marketing Officer, Jellyfish

Sharon HarrisSharon Harris is the Chief Marketing Officer at Jellyfish, a digital partner to some of the world’s leading brands including Uber, eBay, Disney, Spotify, Nestlé, Ford, Aviva and ASOS.

As Jellyfish continues to expand its global footprint, Sharon oversees international marketing strategy across 30 offices. In her role, a key focus area is positioning Jellyfish as a true global partner in digital transformation. Her extensive experience leading teams and pioneering advertising innovation will help to accelerate the company’s global expansion.

Sharon Harris has over 20 years of experience leading teams and making an impact within the digital tech space. Prior to joining Jellyfish, Sharon served as VP, Alliance Relationships at Deloitte where she managed both the Google Cloud Alliance and the Google Marketing Platform Alliance, which comprised over 4,000 practitioners across 40 countries. Prior to Deloitte, Sharon exceeded global mobile advertising business revenue targets, launching advertising on Microsoft Windows 8 including Ads-in-Apps. Sharon has also managed substantial projects for companies including T-Mobile, Reuters, Sirius Satellite Radio, IAC and Discovery Networks.

A passionate champion for diversity, equity and inclusion, Sharon is involved in several professional mentorship organisations and is a frequent speaker on the topics of representation in tech, inclusion and allyship. She served as chair of the advisory board for the Marcus Graham Project where she continues to promote diversity in the industry. She is the board chair for Seattle’s Be Bold Now annual International Women’s Day celebration, and is also the Vice Chair of IGNITE National, a nonpartisan organisation that encourages young women to actively engage in the political process.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m Sharon Harris, I’m the new – and the first - global CMO for Jellyfish. I’ve spent a little over 20 years in the martech and adtech space, helping to build brands, drive sales, and supporting companies on their journeys in digital transformation.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I ever sat down to plan it, but I have always had goals that I wanted to achieve. I knew I wanted to have impact in the marketplace, I wanted to do something that had purpose and meaning, and I always knew it was important to work with great people. But I never sat and thought, I want this job or that job. I believe every experience I’ve had in my 20+ year career has been valuable. I’ve learned great lessons and it’s brought me to this point in my journey.

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

Yes, I’ve faced career challenges, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Being a black woman working in technology, you’re one of the few, if ever any. So, the idea that you’re always this unicorn in the room has been challenging. Not for me to be who I am, but for me to be in those spaces and be heard, be seen and be respected. Everyone is on their own journey around diversity, inclusion and equity, and representation matters so much. It’s had its moments - sometimes teachable, sometimes painful, but always about how we keep pushing forward.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is that I can say I helped launch a product that touches over a billion consumers around the world. I was the global product marketer at Microsoft for Windows 8 and Windows 10. Microsoft is a household name, and I couldn’t think of a better achievement than something a billion people use - that’s pretty remarkable.

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

I always tell people I live by three fundamental rules: be curious, always say thank you, and follow up.

No matter what you do in life, those three things will serve you well. They will earn you respect and offer you new opportunities. Most importantly, they will help you do your best work.

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

Yes, there are still barriers for women working in tech. How we overcome that is by starting earlier. When we look at the education of little girls, starting in primary school, girls are not encouraged to go into the STEM fields. Until we shift our societal norms and perceptions about what girls and women can do, it will be harder for women to be in tech. In order to have the representation and the numbers, we need to build a better bench going in. It’s a difficult culture. Until women can be in a tech driven environment and feel comfortable and be embraced and welcomed, it’s always going to be a struggle. People will opt out. So, we need to shift that culture earlier on, so girls are interested in science, and so that this carries through to secondary school and university – then it will be natural to see those women in meetings, conferences and tech spaces. We’ve got to start earlier.

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

One, be intentional. You have to have a plan and dedicated resources and support. This isn’t something you do as a hobby. Second, you have to develop programmes that allow for mentorship, sponsorship and allyship. Those are three different things. Women coming into these spaces need support, they need someone - a line manager - who can champion for them in rooms that they’re not in.

Sponsorship is someone who will go to bat for you when you’re not around and put you in a position to take on new challenging projects. When people think, ‘oh this person doesn’t have the right skills’, you need someone who can counter that – ‘no, we’re going to give this person a try’. Companies need to have the people who have the audacity to nominate women for those challenges and stick by them.

There is currently only 17% 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?

I would upend the profile of who we hire. We have made tech so utterly complicated and difficult, and we’ve set the bar so high that even if someone has seven of the 10 qualifications, we won’t hire them because they don’t fit the profile. And we’ve forgotten that tech is constantly evolving and changing, and we need people who are willing to embrace change, learn skills, and who are adaptable.  Women often bring amazing skills to jobs that are often overlooked or undervalued but can lead to new innovative ideas that appeal to broader audiences.  That’s a shift in mindset about what success looks like and what an ideal candidate is.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of the events I love and look forward to is Grace Hopper – it’s an annual convention that brings together women in STEM from all over the world. It is such a supportive environment of women just starting out in STEM right up to women who’ve achieved the pinnacle of success in their space. Conferences have all carved out spaces for women in tech, but Grace Hopper is my number one because of its inspiring and empowering focus and support.


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Rebalancing society through the power of tech

Article by Sharon Harris, Global CMO, Jellyfish

woman using tablet, women in tech, CMIThis is often the time of year when we sit back and reflect on the past year - what did we achieve, what have we learned, what could we have done better?

But, what a year this has been. From the global pandemic and economic crisis to social unrest and political upheaval, this year has been unlike any other – it has posed a real tipping point for how we rebalance society going forward.

There have been challenges, but parts of this year have also presented some great opportunities. For one, the tech industry has come to life with the acceleration of the digital era. The emergence of new technologies and innovation is not new to us, but this coupled with the global pandemic has brought about three years worth of much needed change in the space of three months.

The tech industry is fast-moving, it is constantly evolving and changing and when you look at the direction our entire global society is heading, everything is and will be tech-powered. From AI and robotics to many more advanced technologies we haven’t even touched the tip of yet, the opportunities are vast and we, as women, need to be a part of this future.

Without the diversity of opinion, gender, race, and beyond, we cannot drive continued innovation, deliver the best products and services, and we certainly cannot prepare for the future growth of the world.

This industry has the power to change the point of entry for women looking to explore the field. We embrace so many characteristics similar to those which have driven technological innovation and success - women are creators by birth and by nature. We welcome change, are open to learning new skills, and bring a flexible and adaptable mindset. Our input is invaluable in shaping how our world evolves, enhances what we create, and how we innovate.

But there are still far too few women in tech. With only 17% of women working in technology, creating this change is not a sprint but a long distance, uphill run. And, it starts at the beginning - we need to reexamine the education of girls in primary and elementary school. Not only do we need to shift our societal norms and perceptions about what girls and women can do, but we also need to encourage women at younger ages to explore the STEM fields with an inquisitive enthusiasm. And we need to carry this through the years from schooling to mentorship, but also sponsorship.

Sponsorship is this idea where senior leaders and managers create an inclusive space to bring people in and be their ‘champion’ - it’s someone who is willing to go to bat for you when you’re not in the room. It is so important to have these people on board today - these respected and strong team members who have the audacity to put women forward for the right projects and work.

I would encourage anyone thinking of a career in tech to grab it with both hands - there is an abundance of opportunity, it is fun, and there are few other fields that allow you to create something that has the power to touch so many lives.

Of course, it's no easy feat. As I've noted, the tech industry is relentless and moves at a faster pace than most. To succeed, you need to know yourself - who you are, what you stand for, and where you’re going. My biggest piece of advice I give to women I meet and mentor is that when you’re starting your career, you must understand your value because every single person you encounter is going to attempt to tell you what that is. You need to know it for yourself - don’t let someone else define it.

I have a frame on my desk that says, “Show up in every moment as though you were meant to be there.” There have been many, many circumstances where I’ve been the only woman of colour in the room and I’ve been mistaken for many things - the administrative assistant, the cleaner, the caterer - but, not the leader who is driving the meeting. To change this perspective, you have to find resilience and grit. Remember to stay the course and not to crumble.

There will no doubt be many silver linings to this pandemic, but one of the most important for me is that women are now seeing the critical role they play and that they can not only have a seat at the table, but they have the power to make decisions and direct how we move forward.

About the author

Sharon HarrisSharon Harris is the Chief Marketing Officer at Jellyfish, a digital partner to some of the world’s leading brands including Uber, eBay, Disney, Spotify, Nestlé, Ford, Aviva and ASOS. As Jellyfish continues to expand its global footprint, Sharon oversees international marketing strategy across 30 offices. In her role, a key focus area is positioning Jellyfish as a true global partner in digital transformation. Her extensive experience leading teams and pioneering advertising innovation will help to accelerate the company’s global expansion.

 

 


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