Portrait: Kathryn Harrison, Blockchain Offering Leader at IBM

“We need to keep pushing leaders all over to become role models”

Gabriela Motroc
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Kathryn Harrison, Blockchain Offering Leader at IBM.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Kathryn Harrison is a Blockchain Offering Leader at IBM

Kathryn Harrison is a Blockchain Offering Leader at IBM, responsible for bringing IBM Blockchain products to market. She is currently focused on developer tools for the IBM Blockchain Platform, including the IBM Blockchain Solution Framework, a set of capabilities to help developers accelerate the creation of Blockchain applications.

Prior to her current role, Kathryn served as the Payments and Blockchain Leader for IBM Middle East and Africa, responsible for communicating the IBM Point of View on Blockchain and its impact on key industries with clients across Middle East and Africa.

Before joining the IBM Blockchain team, Kathryn was responsible for driving industry solutions sales in financial services (banking and insurance) in Turkey.  In this capacity, she worked with several major banks in Turkey on initiatives to modernize their payments systems. In prior roles at IBM, Kathryn served as a strategy consultant focused on financial services.

Before joining IBM, Kathryn worked at Morgan Stanley on the international equities desk and at financial services firm GLG, based in NY and Hong Kong. With nearly 15 years of experience in FinTech, Kathryn is focused on engaging clients who are looking to explore blockchain use cases to drive operational efficiencies, reduce cost and transform existing business models. Kathryn has a Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University, an MBA from the Wharton School and an MA from the Lauder Institute both at the University of Pennsylvania.


Kathryn Harrison, Blockchain Offering Leader, IBM

I have always been interested in what technology can help
people do. My family first got a computer when I was 6 or 7, and my parents didn’t know exactly what to do with it, so I just took it out of the box and started setting it up. Then, when I went away to school, I set up my parents’ first email address so they could send me emails. This concept- using technology to connect people and ideas- immediately resonated with me, and I’ve been fascinated ever since in a variety of mediums.

I started out in financial services, originally working out of Hong Kong where I helped open my company’s new office. The more time I spent there, however, I could see how technology was changing industry after industry. It clearly changed my previous company- indeed without technology my previous company wouldn’t have been possible- and I listened to all my clients echo similar thoughts. After business school, I knew I wanted to part of that change and so I joined IBM.

A day in the life

As an offering manager for blockchain, my job is to understand what’s happening with the technology, what’s happening in the market, how blockchain can help people and organizations, and who these groups are. From there, I spend time thinking about how my team can make it easier for developers to write blockchain applications. I work to connect the dots between engineering, legal, marketing and sales to get the project to the market and adapt it accordingly for the audiences that will use it.

I try my best to structure my days into meeting days, when I work extensively with others, and quieter working days, when I research, strategize, and plan. Also, I spend a lot of time at conferences or with clients to work on really understanding what they need and how blockchain can help.

Learning to adapt is crucial

I’ve worked in Asian markets and in Turkey. There are cultural differences in those places that impact women in the workplace, which has come up in my experience at times. I’ve had my motives questioned, but believe I have managed to build trust and relationships that moved beyond those initial doubts.

Part of why I’ve loved living in these places has been figuring out how to use the fact that I’m a foreigner to get around some of these differences or challenges and how use it to my advantage to create success and bring value to clients.

Over the years, I’ve managed to adapt and learn in a variety of different cultures. Whether that’s another country, or working with different groups like engineers, sales, or marketing, learning how to navigate across these different viewpoints has been a challenge but one I think I’ve met.

“We need more Katherine Johnsons and Ginni Romettys in the world”

Often when people think about tech, they think about code, bits and bytes, and computers, but not about the bigger stories that tech enables. If you instead focus on how technology improves lives and transforms industries and business processes, it’s very important that we have people who can bridge that gap. I think that is one important way that women can help make the connection.

We should promote women in science and engineering, but we also need to talk about it not just as science and math but as the answers to the key questions about how people live and interact with one another and technology’s role in changing and improving it.

Still, when I walk into a meeting, I confront people who assume that I’m the assistant or meeting coordinator. “Mansplaining” and men taking credit for things can be an issue – I’ve found in some cases there is an expectation that great technological ideas come from men!

We have these role models like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who are held up as the great leaders in technology, but we need more Katherine Johnsons (physicist and mathematician who worked on the United States’ aeronautics and space programs, portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures) or Ginni Romettys (IBM’s CEO and chairperson) in the world. If people can’t picture what a technical leader looks like, then they don’t tend to see it.

If you had more women in STEM you’d have a broader view of how technology would impact these fields. You’d have a lot of new and different applications and approaches for technology.

We’re already seen great progress and momentum in achieving equality, of course, but we’re not there yet. Real, true equality and a fundamental change in everyone’s viewpoint is still a long way from reality. Even women have internalized the traditional roles imposed on themselves. We need to keep pushing leaders all over to become role models.

Advice for young women in tech

Learn to code as soon as possible. Treat it like you’d treat any foreign language. So much of it is about finding the right group of people to work with, the right mission and the right culture – this is for anything, technology or otherwise. In the future every industry will be technology-driven.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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