Emma Murphy is the co-founder and director of Life Size Media, a sustainable development and environmental communications agency in London. She studied zoology and conservation, but decided to start a firm with her sister, Alisa Murphy, only a year ago – a venture that has already seen remarkable success. Murphy was also involved in the creation of the documentary Out At Lunch, which tells the story of a group of lesbian friends at university who decide to have their last lunch together, with all of their respective parents, prior to graduating.
Of course, as the CEO of her own organisation, Murphy is bound to be powerful, scary and too busy to answer questions from a humble young magazine. Or so we thought. Walking into Life Size Media’s simple, elegant Argyll Street offices, it soon becomes apparent that she is not self-important person you might expect. Upon meeting her, it is clear she’s a friendly woman with no pretensions. She is welcoming, offbeat, engaging and very obviously intelligent. Yes; all of these adjectives. Most importantly, she’s a massive Harry Potter fan. ‘You can only work here if you’re obsessed with Harry Potter. It’s a prerequisite,’ she jokes dryly. Well, that does it. She’s very clearly a gifted woman with taste.
With so few openly lesbian CEOs, So So Gay caught up with Murphy to hear from a positive and successful gay role model, and her thoughts on being a gay woman in business.
SSG: When did you first come out in a corporate environment, or were you always upfront about your homosexuality?
Emma Murphy: I’ve always been upfront about my sexuality. If it comes up, I’ll come out; business or otherwise!
Did you ever encounter obvious prejudice during an interview or in a corporate environment once someone found out you were gay?
I’ve never really experienced any prejudice in a corporate environment. For the people I work with and encounter through my job, it just doesn’t seem to be an issue. There are maybe some people you meet through business that you might feel less comfortable telling or worry how they would react, but usually with those people it’s not going to come up anyway. And, if they did find out and have an issue, in the end it’s their issue.
[pullquote_right]You don’t have to be waving the flag all the time[/pullquote_right]What is the importance, for you, of gay women being out in the workplace? Do you think this would help or hinder prejudices that remain?
I think it is very important for gay people to be out, but that doesn’t mean you have to be waving the flag all the time. Just being proud of who you are can be enough. People’s prejudices come from ignorance; if you are open about who you are those barriers start to come down.
You do some great work at Life Size Media. What inspires you the most?
My favourite moment is when you’re in the early stages with a client and it hits you how what they are doing fits together. So you start to get excited, and then they get excited that someone really understands what they’re doing. Then together you become excited about the possibilities of communicating whatever it is they’re trying to say.
What work were you doing prior to starting Life Size Media?
Before Life Size Media I was working in carbon markets. You can’t conserve natural resources unless you put a value on them; only once valued do you have a chance of protecting them. I saw carbon markets as an example of putting that into practice. My time at Piqqo, now an affiliate partner of ours, confirmed that carbon offsetting produces a number of difficult communications challenges, and it was that challenge that really interested me most. Raising awareness around carbon is work I’ve been able to continue through Life Size Media.
[pullquote_left]Conservation doesn’t need conservationists; it needs people with other skills who care about conservation[/pullquote_left]And what prompted this move from a more scientific and conservation environment to the media?
Someone I really respect said conservation doesn’t need conservationists; it needs people with other skills who care about conservation. I’ve found that rings very true. Scientists, engineers and innovators work tirelessly towards these amazing discoveries, but they are phenomenally bad at communicating to the outside world what those discoveries actually mean. Too often it is assumed that people understand the wider issues. There is a need to make clean technologies relevant to people’s everyday lives, and that’s where Life Size Media comes in.
What has been your favourite project so far (or the one closest to your heart)?
We are just putting the finishing touches onto our first carbon neutral project, for our eco-friendly print partner MCR Print. They have gone out of their way to improve the environmental credentials of their printing technologies and they wanted to put a number on that. We are now looking at working together to help address emissions from their Brighton-based factory and offering a carbon neutral printing service to their clients. This has been a project particularly close to my heart as it bridges the carbon market work I used to do with my current efforts to communicate the broader messages. Life Size Media just produced a new company brochure, printed by MCR Print, which is carbon neutral; it’s a great example of how we can work together in the future.
Do you work with any gay organisations?
Being gay doesn’t define how we do business at Life Size Media; I just happen to be gay. We don’t work for gays, we work for greens! Having said that, if there was a gay organisation looking at sustainability then I’d be delighted to work with them.
[pullquote_right]If you are 100 per cent comfortable in who you are then you are not giving prejudice the opportunity to arise[/pullquote_right]Do you give to the gay community?
I recently picked up a leaflet on gay role models in schools which looked like a great opportunity. It’s so important that young people have gay people to look up to so that ignorance and fear of the unknown is overcome. Just being openly gay always helps the community too as that visibility is really important. And of course there’s Out At Lunch.
Tell us about Out At Lunch. It is an inspiring gift to the gay community. Can you briefly explain some of the issues tackled and why it is important to bring these to light?
Out At Lunch was really a tribute to the friends I had at university, and how lucky I was to be in a safe and accepting environment. The film looks at lots of issues, especially family, relationships and how being gay can affect all aspects of life. The aim was to give an open and honest portrayal of their experiences and I feel we really achieved that. The girls we featured – and their families – were proud of the final piece and that’s what mattered most.
How would you suggest young gay professionals deal with prejudice in the workplace?
My advice is the same as it is to anyone worried about coming or being out: people take things as you present them. If you are 100 per cent comfortable in who you are and you express that, and surround yourself with likeminded people, then you are not giving prejudice the opportunity to arise. I’m not saying you’ll never encounter prejudice as a gay person in the workplace; I really feel for people who are being bullied and unfortunately I don’t know how to fix that. But I would say that the law and the vast majority of society are on your side. My advice to anyone suffering from prejudice is if you feel uncomfortable then confront it or remove yourself from the situation: don’t suffer in silence.
What advice would you give to young gay women looking to start their own business?
Don’t start a business without a website! In all seriousness, get your communications plan in place and make it core to your business plan rather than an after-thought. That’s the business advice I give to everyone, regardless of sexuality.