This year's International Women's Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this slogan mean to you in your work life?
This question inherently assumes there is bias, and I think it’s fair to assume that most of us have experienced it at some point, although in my personal experience it’s not something I’ve confronted day in day out.
Personally, I’ve seen two main biased assumptions: Firstly that we all need to conform to the archetypal A-type personalities to be successful and effective, and that anyone who does not will be unable to hold their own. Secondly, I have been astonished at the number of times I’ve heard someone whisper, ‘I know I shouldn’t say this, but what happens if she goes on maternity leave…?’ Until we move past this, women will always have to fight harder than men.
What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?
Despite my response to the first question, absolutely loads. I’ve been working for over 20 years now in a number of different companies and in that time I’ve seen a gradual shift in attitudes and also an increase in the number of women in senior roles. Recently I’ve seen more and more specific requests for gender balanced lists when people are hiring, as well as some companies introducing targets and quotas. In my view the jury is still out on those quotas, but the intention is good.
Which women have supported or inspired you in your career path?
I’ve been lucky with having lots of female role models. Growing up, my mother worked full time. Looking back, I realise how tough it was for her in comparison to my experience. As a working mother in the 1970s and 80s she knew that every time there was a phone call about a sick child at home, it was a black mark and there would be eye rolling behind her back and her next promotion would be that much harder to achieve. There was no technology that enabled her to work at home from time to time, yet she was always there when it counted (at home and at work).
I also had a female CFO for 8 years and worked for her at two different organisations. She had four children and two dogs but was always serene in a crisis. Observing her, I realised that you can always make things work, but you need to be flexible, and you need to want to do it.
How do we encourage more women to join recruitment?
I’ve been at SO for two years but obviously not in a recruitment role. We have a great flexible working policy, but I think that we need to do better at creating an environment in which everyone feels that they can succeed whilst being themselves.
Why do we need more women in leadership?
There is loads of research that shows that mixed leadership teams are the most successful as you need different perspectives and styles on a team. Having seen different teams in action, I would agree that it is true. Also, the reality is that you need to have the right leaders at the right time. Around half the population is female, so logically, a large number of those people are going to be women!
How important is it to have male allies who may support women's progression?
Male allies are essential, not least as men still make up the overwhelming majority of senior leaders. The best male leaders that I’ve seen and worked for have been successful in nurturing all talent.
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