Executive Voice: Durham exec is changing the game for women in tech
Triangle Business Journal
By Lauren Ohnesorge, Senior Staff Writer, Aug 27, 2020
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Ask Jill Munro and she’ll tell you a lifetime of working at major companies – from JPMorgan Chase to Fidelity – has prepared her for her most exciting challenge yet: leading technology for up-and-coming startup Spreedly in Durham.
And she’ll also tell you that she – and women like her – have a responsibility to bring the next generation of female technology leaders to the table.
Munro was born in Toronto, moving as a teenager to just outside New York City. When she was a kid, she wanted to be a zoologist and enjoyed her summers as a lifeguard. But Munro’s life would soon take a different turn, as she was drawn to accounting at Bucknell University.
Graduate school brought her to Washington, D.C., albeit for a very different line of work. Her master’s degree was in East Asian Studies.
“I spent a lot of time at think tanks,” she says.
After Munro graduated, she had to get serious about her future, and her father’s career as a management consultant influenced her trajectory. Munro decided to broaden her horizons and enter the private sector. It was the variety – as well as the impact – that helped guide her toward bigger companies.
“The space I was in, East Asian Studies, it was a very small, very focused area,” she says. “The audience for what I was doing was certainly very small.”
But at what would become Accenture, Munro started to hone her skills in a variety of areas, from the telecom space to broader technology. She helped companies such as Bell Atlantic, now Verizon, and the work was addictive.
“I loved it,” she says.
As the work became increasingly more technical, so did her skillset.
And with each new challenge came satisfaction. Munro brought her new skills back to the finance sector, at places such as Lehman Brothers, Booz & Company and JPMorgan Chase.
The opportunity with Fidelity, initially as senior vice president of enterprise cybersecurity, came in 2015, and brought her to North Carolina. She served as a site executive from 2017 to 2019. And by the time she left, she had also added a chief technology officer title with Fidelity’s Digital Assets business.
With payments technology firm Spreedly, her latest challenge, it’s completely different. And that’s what’s so enticing.
“I come from over 25 years at large companies,” Munro says. “It is the ability to be part of everything that’s going on with the company, being able to really connect on levels you may not be able to connect on in a big firm, and the ability to really move quickly, be flexible and adaptable and just really be a part of the direction of the company.”
She recognizes her story is rare for women in business. Munro remembers at Accenture, being at a meeting with 2,000 technologists, “and there were less than 10 women in the room.”
In technology, “there are very, very few women.” Layer on her financial services experience, “and you exacerbate the problem.”
But being in the minority has actually increased her drive, Munro says.
“I always sort of felt like it was part of the mission-driven part of me that really wanted to be in a space that could help change the game for other women,” she says. “And I have some really amazing mentors who helped me along in the journey and really instilled in me the belief that when you get into a position where you can do something, you bring other women along.”
Being the only woman in the room “has never scared me.”
Instead, it’s pushed her to “try to help move the needle in that space.”
And Munro says other female executives should also take on that challenge.
“Bring other women along with you,” she says. “Along the journey, set the stage, grab their hands.”