To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 we’ve got a whole series of inspiring and insightful content from clients, colleagues and friends who continue to challenge, shape, and disrupt the status quo, blazing a trail for others. We’re kicking things off with Susan Hallam MBE, who launched her award-winning business, Hallam Internet, one of the UK’s first digital marketing agencies, in Nottingham over 20 years ago. Since then, Susan has carved a reputation as a leading influencer and thought leader in the tech space, inspiring businesses globally to realise their ambitions and thrive in a digital world.

A chartered member of CIM and CILIP, Susan was awarded an MBE for services to entrepreneurship and innovation in the Queen’s Honours 2018 and was also made a Fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing.

An entrepreneur by nature, Susan describes herself as an “early adopter”, resilient and tenacious in her approach. Growing up as one of five children, and one of four daughters, she credits her parents with instilling a confidence in her that permeates today, and the belief that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Having concluded an MBO of the business which she founded back in 1999, Susan has since returned to her roots, working as an independent digital marketing coach, mentor and speaker, based both in the UK and the USA. Here, Susan shares her defining story as a female leader, challenges she faced along the way, what she attributes to her success in the digital world and what International Women’s Day means to her.

“This internet thing isn’t going to last!”

“I was fortunate enough to get started in the data industry before anybody realised where the data industry was headed. My Masters degree was in Information Science, which, back 30 years ago, was known as librarianship. An otherwise traditional profession, the sector bloomed and has since evolved into the data segment as we know it today.”

“I think part of my success, therefore, is down to the fact that I happened to be an early player in what has become a burgeoning field in terms of the internet, digital marketing and data. I entered the field at a critical point when the industry was transforming, and I felt comfortable and relaxed to transform alongside with it, saying yes to any opportunities that came my way.”

When it comes to success in the field, particularly as a female, Susan stresses the importance of confidence, perseverance, and self-belief “When people saying, “This doesn’t really sound like such a good idea!”, my answer was always, “Well, I think it’s right!” I often remember my dad saying, “this internet thing isn’t going to last!”

This too shall pass – so celebrate the wins and be mindful of the moment

Following on from this, we asked Susan ‘if you could give your younger self, or indeed other women striving to realise their own ambitions, any advice, what would it be?’

“The advice I would give to myself is the advice that my Dad gave to me. What he would always say to me is this too shall pass. This too shall pass.”

“And what that means is, is that when things don’t seem like they’re going very well, don’t worry, tomorrow is another day – this too shall pass. But I think we also have to think about it both in terms of when things are not going so well, but also when things are going exceptionally well, when things are good. Don’t forget to celebrate it. Don’t forget to be mindful of the moment. Because you know what, this, this wonderful moment when you’ve won an award or you’ve won a great new client, this moment is only going to be here right now, and this moment too shall pass. So, celebrate it!”

Challenging and overcoming gender stereotypes through education to help women thrive in all sectors

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. But where do we begin when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes and gender biases, and forging a gender equal world?

“International Women’s Day is an essential celebration of what women are contributing to society. And I welcome it warmly. Growing up, I was one of five children and even back in the 1960’s, my Mum and Dad made it clear that we could do anything we wanted. So, on the one hand, I would say, why do we have International Women’s Day? However, I am very aware that not everybody is as fortunate as I was. Not everybody has parents like I have, not everybody gets guidance and support, which is why campaigns like this are absolutely vital in asserting that narrative.”

“International Women’s Day is a really important indicator for what there is still yet to achieve, what still needs to get done. And it also reminds business leaders that this is still an area that we need to be focusing on in terms of equality.”

“Let’s look at gender stereotyping, for example. Here in the UK, only 19% of technical jobs are held by women. So, there’s a huge untapped market of women that could be working in the technology sector.”

“Now, in terms of challenging this stereotype, in the sense that careers in tech are reserved for men, we need to start with education, right from school, encouraging women to do STEM topics, and provide them with the necessary advice, resources and encouragement to enable this.”

“We need to get that number up from 19% of the industry. Women working in technical professions are much represented in start-up and small businesses – like myself for example. But it is vital this continues through the whole career trajectory, through to enterprise level as well.”

Effective strategies for success – Find your “North Star” and focus on your people

“There are two things that have really helped me to succeed as a leader. The first thing is something that I would call my North Star, and the North Star is the overriding vision of what we do and what we value and where we’re going. Define and stick to your North Star”.

“The second bit of advice I would give to any leader is to focus on your people. By implication, what that means is don’t focus on the money. If you focus on your people, success, financial success will follow. So, take good care of your people, and nurture and develop them.”

James Bagley, Managing Partner at Smith Cooper comments “Susan is a true expert in her field and has curated a reputation as one of the leading voices in tech, empowering and inspiring others. Her integrity, self-awareness and leadership helps to foster a sense of community and shared ambition, perfectly encapsulating International Women’s Day and all that it represents.”

Snippets from our interview with Susan Hallam MBE can be viewed below.