Bilge Mert, Chief Technology Officer, Brit Insurance

Read the full interview here

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. What were some important early influences that really shaped who you are as a leader today?

    A. I was born in Turkey, in Istanbul, and my mom was a big influence. She worked at the National Health Service as a doctor, and she always believed in the value of education. She really encouraged me to get into math and STEM topics, and to learn English and learn about the world and different cultures. Another big influence was my grandfather. He was also a doctor, and he taught himself English after the age of 60, which showed me it’s never too late to learn something new.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. Were you in leadership roles early on?

    A. Not early in my life. I studied computer engineering; I was the only girl in my class and I had a tough time. I’ve always had a lot of dreams and ambitions around what I wanted to be, but it took me some time to build up my confidence and visibility, and to get my voice heard.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. How did you do that?

    A. I’ve always looked for opportunities where I could really help teams to grow and to help deliver value. Another thing is that I’ve always looked for people who can be sponsors, mentors, role models and allies. When you’re in the right place and you’ve got the capabilities, it really can help you grow. And if you have those sponsors, as well, that helps to build your confidence and give you opportunities that you can grow further and show people what you’re capable of doing.

    So I would recommend to all women that they really take ownership of their careers and understand where they want to be. Develop your vision and think about your capabilities in the growth areas. Then find people who can be good role models and build your network. It all starts with having that vision and having a good understanding of where you want to be and what your current capabilities are.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. Do you feel like you’ve faced any headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?

    A. Yes, they started once I got into mid-level management roles. There are not many women in leadership positions in technology roles, and it tends to be quite difficult to get recognized and get visibility in those groups. I’ve had to develop strategies to get myself known and recognized to be given the same type of opportunities as my male peers.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. Have you ever been in those common situations where you’re in a meeting and a man takes credit for your idea or talks over you? If so, how do you handle those situations?

    A. I have encountered that. I was in my first director role, as head of our enterprise architecture, and I was surprised in a meeting when the suppliers we were talking to wouldn’t look at me. They looked at others on my team, but they didn’t realize that I was the ultimate decision-maker.

    My advice to women is that when they face those headwinds, you have to be direct and clear with people. You don’t have to have an aggressive persona about it. Just be clear and calm and direct with people about your expectations and your role. That makes it clear for people who are engaging with you, as well, because they know that they need to respect you and to treat you as their equal.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. What is a key leadership lesson you’ve learned?

    A. One is about building trust in the team. I’ve been in many circumstances where I’ve taken over a dysfunctional team, and they weren’t working well together because there wasn’t trust in the group. So you have to make sure that you take the time to build trust within the team and also trust with the leaders, so that they believe in me.

    Another lesson is to listen to people. I’ve run a number of restructures, and sometimes you just need to really understand and empathise people’s points of view. When they feel that they’ve been heard, even under those difficult circumstances, it can be an easier path.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. When you give mentoring advice to other women, what are the most common themes?

    A. If you have a vision and purpose for yourself, it makes you stronger, even when you’re facing really difficult challenges. And we will all have them. The other part is really looking for opportunities to constantly stretch yourself and not stay in your comfort zone. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to make mistakes. What is not okay is not to try.

    The third one, which I’ve mentioned, is to carve out time to make sure that you network – build those allies and sponsors, the people who can really support you. What you deliver is very important, but how much people know about your potential and what you can do is also very important.

  • Bilge Mert

    Q. What is your advice to the workhorses of the world who feel uneasy about trying to get credit for their work?

    A. You need to be a little bit of a show pony, as well. Early in my career, I was getting so much done, but I wondered, why am I not getting recognized? You do need to make sure that people know what you’re doing. Not everybody is going to be one way or another, but even if you’re focused 80 percent on delivering, make sure that you carve out 20 percent of your time to building your network. It doesn’t mean that you need to be a marketing specialist for yourself, but you need to be talking out about your achievements. Because if you don’t do it, others probably won’t. So look after yourself.