Tech entrepreneur Cecilia Harvey

When she left her job three years ago, for Cecilia Harvey it wasn’t a minor deal. Then a COO at a large financial institution, it was the kind of big-salary, huge-responsibility job that people don’t just leave. But after five years in the role, she found the work environment had become toxic and the work unfulfilling. She’d lost her passion. “Away on holiday that summer I had a lot of time to think and realised ‘I have to get off this hamster wheel, I have no life, never see my friends – I’m just existing’. I knew I wanted to do something different, to use my skills more and focus on how I could help other women in their careers – something I just couldn’t do in the job I had. When I announced I was leaving everyone thought I was crazy and even my boss wouldn’t let me resign, but I just stuck to my guns. And I’m so glad I did”. Since leaving her job, Cecilia has not only found a new job, but launched her own businesses as well as a network for women who work in the technology, Tech Women Today. You could say she hasn’t looked back since. But we got her to take a glance so she could share what she’s learnt about restarts in the process…

A new environment brings fresh ideas
“If you hate your job you need to get out even if what your next move is not your ultimate goal. Once I’d left the toxic environment I found myself able to look into entrepreneurial ideas that I’d never been able to explore before. I had the idea for WalkingRed, a mobile beauty, fitness and wellness company. And suddenly I had the time to meet with people and discuss the whole process of launching a startup and going through the ups and downs and realties of doing it. That’s when I started to enjoy myself. I was meeting new people and joining different groups, I found myself with a different circle and life started to open up. I had to press the restart button, but I’d made the decision to get off the hamster wheel and it was liberating”.

Launching a business does not have to be “all or nothing”.
“I realised I couldn’t just quit my job and immediately become an entrepreneur. I wasn’t sure if Walking Red was going to work or if I could support myself on it. So I still had to look for another full time job and that wasn’t as easy as I thought. First I moved to a FinTech startup and while I didn’t really enjoy it I learnt a lot about specific areas of tech and what it takes to have a successful startup. So that was an invaluable experience because it gave me ideas and lessons to take with me when I launched my own business”.

Some jobs are a bridge
“Then I went to a different financial institution and made friends and contacts that I still have in my network now. I learnt a totally different area of tech and the experience was great, even though it wasn’t my final destination. I realised that some roles are going to be a bridge to get you from one point to another. There are many steps along the way to change and you learn so much. Things I thought were failures were lessons I’m able to apply now, for bigger and better things. So recognise a bridge and take it for what it is, then know when it’s time to get off that bridge. In this case it was a great experience that gave me ideas for the kind of business I wanted to have and things I saw in the industry that I wanted to speak up about”.

It’s important to find your purpose
“In those various roles I saw examples of women not supporting or even undermining each other (Queen Bee Syndrome). It struck me that now I had the experience, I needed a platform where I could speak about this – it’s a controversial subject but sadly it definitely exists! And that’s why I launched Tech Women Today, because I wanted to do something that had purpose and that would support other women and help develop their careers. There are so many lessons I’ve learnt along the way that I now share with young professionals on that journey via my Career Krakatoa work shops. I don’t want people to have as hard a path as I’ve had and it’s fulfilling to have that sense of purpose and bring about positive change.”

We all have a choice
“Everybody has different realities. You may have bills to pay and responsibilities that mean you can’t just walk out of your job. But everyone has a choice too. So if you’re scared of jumping off the hamster wheel my advice is to start creating an action plan for what you want to accomplish. I never saw any value in staying at a job I hated. So if you’re not happy in your role, make a plan and timeline to get out. Develop yourself and use your resources to make sure you have career options, thinking about who in your network you can call, former colleagues who can help and how you can improve your CV and make yourself marketable. Use that time wisely and in a positive way rather than just trucking along in a job you hate”.

Cecilia Harvey is founder and managing partner of WalkingRed, and founder of Tech Women Today.