Inspirational Woman – Dr Mariann Hardey

I first heard Mariann talking with passion and intelligence on BBC Women’s Hour (I think) and we then ‘talked’ on Twitter. Which is very apt as Mariann loves social media and is a lecturer in Marketing at Durham University. In fact, to give her full due Dr Mariann Hardey has just been appointed to University Senate, is Programme Director for PostGraduate Studies at Durham University Business School where she lectures in Marketing, and as of Friday 1st November 2013 co-director of iARC (institute for Advanced Research in Computing) at the university of Durham.

That’s a big deal for two reasons as she is :

  1. Dr Mariann Hardeyfemale co-director of an research institute that is computing based
  2. The youngest co-director of an institute.

Mariann is also a social media professional and academic and the BBC North East commentator for social media and digital networks.

Phew. And Well Done! You might think that would make her a somewhat daunting character but not a bit of it. She is a delight and was great to talk with. Her strong sense of fun seems to pervade everything she does, but I’ll let you be the judge of that as you read the interview with her.

Jane: Mariann, thanks so much for taking time out for this, it’s much appreciated. The purpose of these interviews is to spread the word about fabulous role models and to encourage women to follow their dreams. What was your dream career as a young girl?
Mariann: To answer this, I need to turn to boxes – literal and metaphorical, baby don’t put me in a box, especially in the corner. Last year, I moved house and into my first home, hidden amongst treasured and hidden possessions was a school textbook from 1986, when I was five years young. Before Maggie (Margaret Thatcher) ‘got our milk’, my written response to the class question of the day ‘what do you want to do when you’re grown up’ was (and I hasten to add, rather surprisingly for me, that this was spelt correctly, albeit written across three ruled lines) ‘I’d like to be a sociologist, like my dad’.

So here I am 32 years and with an English Literature degree; Masters in Women’s Studies and Ph.D. in Sociology behind me. Somehow I’ve ended up at a Business School, but like some of the best sociologists we can be found outside of the traditional social science departments and along the corridors of business and consumption.  Communication theory is my bread and butter, which lends itself nicely to creativity and introductions such as ours over various technology as a social medium.

And have you had a role model? Or perhaps a mentor, someone who has encouraged your career and development?
Yes, lots. And also not at all. Women in the ‘tech industry’ seem very few and far between, some would say ‘invisible’, but I would disagree with this – there are plenty of highly visible candidates. See danah boyd (yes lower-case spelling) researcher at Microsoft; Carla Buzasi as editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post UK; Paperless Post co-founder Alexa Hirschfeld and Alexa Von Tobel founder of LearnVest although I disapprove strongly of the press reports who notes that these women are ‘the ‘hottest in tech’. this makes me sad, and angry. They are vibrant, smart entrepreneurs and experts in their own right. Looks should not come into it.

Where did your interest in all things digital come from? You’re clearly an ‘early adopter’ .Is this something your parents encouraged; was your home full of gadgets?
My mother decided to explore her world without my father and I, so from eight months young, Dad and I were a team.  His love of ‘tech toys’ was established early in my life and yes has influenced every single step I’ve taken since. This means that I’ve a history of the binary of Lego, into BBC computer’s, into Sega Mega Drives, into Mac Classics, Palm Pilots, PC 386; more Apple and a love affair with all the interactive elements of technology.  There is a BF (Before Facebook); and what is little known about my research background is that my original exploration was into mediated communication between romantically inclined ‘strangers’ as internet dater’s. Then came the Social Network Sites; with FriendsReunited; MySpace; Bebo, ah, and Facebook and now more…

What was your first (how to put this politely?) gadgety/geek buy?
There was never a time in my life that the gadgetry or ‘geeky’ was not influential. My first solo buy was always going to be a computer game. You won’t remember Chucky Egg or Repton, but I do  – with glee, and pocket money was spent, and these games loved.

How did the technical side morph into marketing?
Have you been on Facebook  lately? This isn’t social networking; this is branding, marketing and advertising ‘in the wild’. NewsFeed should be named as ‘MarketingFeed’ ‘friends’ as ‘consumers’. HG Wells may have mentioned that Advertising is Legalised Lying. The tech side of things is legalised consumer stalking, but in the ‘nicest’ way possible. How else would Amazon know you are the target market for The Meridian 810 Reference Projector or that you always watch MadMen from one of those many ‘shared’ websites…

Why do you think there are so few women in your field? What do you think needs to happen to redress the balance?
Are there ‘so few women?’ Lets be careful here by what we mean by field. I seem to occupy many; from ‘marketing’ (there is an over-representation of women here); to ‘The Academic Academy’ (here, there’s an under-representation of women, especially in my neck of the woods in ‘business’, and at the highest parts of the ivory tower); to ‘social media’ (hear this; apparently ‘anyone’ who is under twenty is ‘in social media’, so says the Keynote at a recent Marketing Conference recently – I would critique this!); to ‘technology’ (women, we’re under-represented again). To reflect on all these areas, I would add this, I have lost count the number of times I have been addressed as ‘someone’s’ secretary/wife/ administrator/partner/lover etc. I am sure that the ‘Someone’ is very nice, and I could not do any aspect of my professional life without quite frankly some amazingly organised and professional (yes all women) support in my life from university administrator’s, to colleagues and beyond, but it is a little bit embarrassing to have to stand full height, shoulder’s back and declare a professional status.

What’s your best tip for advancing your career?
Seriously; visibility and transparency matter. I do not mean in terms of ‘status’ for friends etc. I mean the courtesy that you show others, how you manage your time and presence of mind to respond in a manner that is appropriate in the world around you. I launched my blog in 2005 (ages old in tech terms), and this has been to channel the measure of manners for the modern age. And everyone loves a try-er. I try. Harder than most perhaps, but I am active, and vibrant, and polite, and these characteristics go very far in such a visible and connected field as ‘digital’.

There has been a lot of discussion and criticism (mine included, I confess) of our national broadcaster for its failure to have an equal representation of women. You’re a regular with the BBC. How did that happen and how have you found it? What advice would you give to other women wishing to raise their profile?
In the first instance the BBC approached me. I was doing my Ph.D. at the time on digital and mediated social networks, and running my own consultancy business ‘on the side’ – so two full-time posts essentially. Out of my research the BBC were interested in the impact of ‘social media’, we’ve talked and been more than Facebook friends ever since 2004. They are a constant delight, but like any institution or large corporation there are evolving processes and factors to take into account. I do a lot of radio for the BBC, I deliberately turn down television ‘stuff’, as I the prefer the anonymity of voice, and I do not want to be seen to endorse a presence based on looks or the absence of looks (that should keep your readers guessing).

What or who inspires and motivates you? What keeps you going on the down days?
OK, this is controversial, my father died suddenly, very suddenly just over a year ago. He was my only family. He was my mentor and my favourite person. Those ‘down days’, those ‘mean reds’ as they have been encountered as, do come and go.  More often they go, as I truly believe (perhaps naively) that you can change things, you can inspire, you can invoke all kinds of unexpected delights, and you can and will always move forward.

To anyone who has ever said ‘time will heal all’, they are wrong. Time is simply part of the momentum that changes and makes things different. Different good and different in other ways.  My motivation comes from a strong sense of purpose, isn’t it glorious that things are so fluid, so connected and full of openness – yes this comes with its own ‘risky behaviour’ and associations, and of course I have been on the receiving end of some of these (a topic for another column).

And your best ever moment of inspiration is often in the form of another person. Mine most recently has come from a little coffee shop in the North East of England where not only my closest of friends have emerged from, but the moment that changed my life forever was forged. He knows who he is.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Head down; work hard, it will come. There’s always a new day. Always.

And Networking is not people standing around you saying some only complementary things. This advice was given after I confessed how terribly awkward and clumsy I am around people I’d like to impress or at least impart some semblance of something complimentary on. Factor in the standing up straight, ‘working’ the room (whatever this means), drinks, food, entertainment and conversation elements involved in networking, and you have a real invisible/visible woman situation on your hands. I can see the BuzzFeed headline, like, ‘What Digital Women Look Like In Crowds’ [insert requisite kitten pictures here]

Do you have a personal motto/phrase/saying that you could share with us?
Let me give you one for our digital and connected times inspired by the great futurology and writing of HG Wells; it is inevitable that social media in its many forms will come to us; not to make us sad, nor sober, nor sorry, but through such engagement we might become wise, or at least impart our wisdom to others.

In between such lexicographic duels and loads of writing and research projects, I dole [too much] conversation on Twitter as @thatdrmaz

Mariann, thank you! I will listen out for you on the radio as ever, as you always have something interesting to say and I’m sure your career will continue to flourish. More power to your elbow, darling!

Thinking of expanding your training business? Are you passionate about empowering women? I can help you. To find out how, click here.


Posted on November 18th, 2013 by

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