Belfast Telegraph

Shining a light on lead roles for women

The knowledge economy is a key area of economic growth. Nuala Murphy, leader of Lean In Belfast, considers how it's possible to get more women into leadership roles in the sector

How do we encourage more women to lead in the fast growing tech sector and in others which have traditionally been very male dominated?

Recently, I was honoured to be invited to represent Northern Ireland at the Lean In Leaders conference, held at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, and at the prestigious Stanford University.

It was an opportunity to connect and share best practice with 50 women who are part of the global Lean In movement, inspired by the book, Lean In, written by Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

The line-up of speakers was exceptional, each providing a unique and fresh view on how women can help themselves and, importantly, each other, to achieve their potential and reach leadership positions.

At a session hosted by Joanna Barsch, director emeritus at McKinsey & Company, we focused on the four elements of trust leaders should have - openness, reliability, congruence and acceptance - and how they can increase effectiveness.

Joanna's advice included: "To be a great leader we first need to be authentic. To be authentic we need to lean in to ourselves; that being vulnerable is not a weakness, but a huge strength."

Elements required to reach leadership positions include education, training, and mentoring and, of course, hard work, but we shouldn't underestimate the importance of our peers in getting there. This was the message from speaker Terra Terwilliger, from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

Terra focused on the role of the moderator, encouraging meaningful conversations, key core values and better communication skills.

For me, one of the conference highlights was meeting Sheryl Sandberg.

She is a genuine, smart and inspirational leader. Sheryl focused on the importance of the individual in making societal changes, reminding us that: "The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person - and you bring us closer with each step that you take."

The level of empowerment and confidence that comes from engaging with a diverse range of women and cultures is phenomenal, whether in the technology hub of Silicon Valley, or here in Belfast, and so I was proud to tell fellow delegates how Lean In Belfast has grown to more than 400 members in just over a year.

Through a range of events, Lean In members have been able to network and connect, to share workplace issues and find solutions for the benefit of all.

After all, anything is possible when you have the right people around you.

*You can find out more at and follow @LeanInBelfast on Twitter.

Belfast Telegraph