“Women Coming Into Their Careers Now Are Already Breaking Perceptions”: AKQA MD Alisia Muscat Reflects On Her Time As A Woman Leading Tech

“Women Coming Into Their Careers Now Are Already Breaking Perceptions”: AKQA MD Alisia Muscat Reflects On Her Time As A Woman Leading Tech
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine
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Alisia Muscat is the managing director of design and innovation company AKQA.

AKQA is one of the sponsors of the B&T  Women Leading Tech Awards, which is returning for its second year in 2021.

Muscat’s career at AKQA has spanned thirteen years and she reflects that at times, she has lacked “a sense of belonging” in the industry.

She explained to B&T that, “when I was appointed as general manager, I had someone say, ‘I just don’t see you in that capacity’. And whilst it did instil quite a lot of doubt, I knew it reflected how I looked compared to the standard model of an agency leader.”

“I was a 32-year-old young mum, behind the scenes people leader, with a little less bravado than one would expect. The industry is not used to seeing young women lead a team or business with the size and impact ours has.”

“It was a couple of years into the role when I stopped worrying about fitting the mould, and started focusing on creating a new one, as we’ve seen Jacinda Ardern do.”

This is why diversity is such a core value for her – indeed, when asked why it is important to her personally, she responded: “I think the question should be, why is it not an important issue for everyone?”

This is essential in a society where gender equality will not be reached for 99.5 years, according to the World Economic Forum.

AKQA has, globally, made important progress when it comes to diversity.

“From the very top, our culture is diverse and inclusive, putting equal effort in initiatives for how we hire, how we educate, how we connect and how we retain our talent to create more opportunities for women in our industry.”

“In my view, as an industry, we were already a long way away from where we should be for gender equality and representation in the workforce, and the pandemic has set us back. All businesses have a growing responsibility to do more.”

As Muscat points out, that diversity must also extend beyond just gender.

“When we hire, we ensure we’re addressing any areas of under-representation in the team…All hiring managers have taken unconscious bias training, conscious inclusion training and recruitment biased training, and we have designed a graduate program to support and nurture emerging talent.”

Fundamentally, the onus is on businesses to create not just a diverse workplace, but one that actively nurtures employees of all backgrounds. AKQA’s initiatives are evidence of a commitment to being agents of positive change.

On the Fortune 500 women, women of colour, women born outside of the United States, and LGBTQI+ women were, again, underrepresented – but their numbers are increasing.

Muscat described how internalised biases left her feeling grateful for opportunities, rather than deserving of them.

Because of that, “the education and inspiration I received from my peers around me, mostly younger women in our team, have been the most enlightening experience for me.”

She listed a handful of those women: Lauren Chibert, Laura McCullagh, Natalie Haslam-Conroy in particular, but emphasised that there were many others.

Brian Vella, APAC Managing Director, has worked with her since she began her career.

“[I] feel truly fortunate to have built my career with his trust and support. The lesson here is the value in advocates, building relationships with people who are committed to the growth and development of people around them. Brian is one of those leaders.”

Strong, supportive leadership is essential as people often feel more isolated when they are the “only” one on a team, whether in the case of gender, race, sexuality, disability status or others.

Having role models from diverse backgrounds also helps to nurture young leaders, who have someone like them to look up to.

“I’m very encouraged to see how well the women coming into their careers now are already breaking perceptions and creating new roles. I loved reading about Yasmin Poole this week, a ‘new look leader’ who already has the wisdom and confidence to path new ways for other women, and minority communities,” Muscat said.

“Yasmin was the youngest member of the Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence and Top 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian Australians. She was also named ANU’s 2020 Undergraduate Volunteer of the Year.”

With these factors in mind, B&T launched the Women Leading Tech Awards in 2020. Now in its second year, we are upping the ante, expanding awards categories and partnering with industry-leading organisations making diversity and inclusion front-and-centre.

Muscat herself will be moderating this year’s Women Leading Tech Awards,

“We want to be a part of something that helps change the industry so we can continue to diversify our environment,” she explained.

“If we can support an initiative that is seeking to positively change the landscape, for our team, that’s something we have a responsibility to be a part of.

“Our purpose is that we exist to create a better future. A better future is one where the leadership and decision makers of not only our businesses, but of brand marketing and experience, better reflect the diversity of our communities.”

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