1. Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
Because “the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall”. In the UK and around the world, women and non-binary people are not treated the same as men. There is also a plethora of issues, at home and away, that affect women in ways men aren’t affected.
Women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash, 9% of menstruators have struggled to afford period products in the last five years, and women’s pain is routinely underestimated. And discrimination is always compounded if you’re a woman of colour, trans or non-binary, or a person with a disability. According to the World Economic Forum, “on a range of social and economic indicators, LGBT people, especially lesbians and transgender people, tend to fare poorly compared with the general population.” In the US we’ve seen Roe vs Wade repealed, in the UK we’ve seen an increase in anti-trans rhetoric in the media, and in Afghanistan women and girls are not allowed to attend secondary school and higher education.
There are some steps forward, like in Scotland where period products are now free to all menstruators, or in Spain where a law has been passed entitling those with especially painful periods to menstrual leave, and there are companies in the UK introducing menopause leave schemes and policies. But there’s still much to be done.
2. Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
I have worked for companies with a serious problem with sexism, and companies that do all they can to challenge it and stamp it out. I’ve worked for companies where I’ve experienced overtly misogynistic behaviour and it’s been dealt with swiftly and companies where I’ve experienced sexual harassment and been made to feel unwelcome in the company once I’ve reported it. Women will struggle to have a fair chance in the workplace for as long as they are made to feel as though they are in the wrong for reporting inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour.
3. What is the most important piece of advice you have been given?
“You should always follow wonderful people that you want to learn from” – Molly Graham
4. How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their career?
The first part of this comes down to building an environment where women have the freedom to go beyond their job description and excel. Practical tools like offering genuinely flexible working or protecting time in a work week for learning and development can assist in this. And, although it should go without saying, a robust sexual harassment policy that protects whistleblowers and takes allegations seriously.
The second part is leaders identifying talent and knowing how to listen to the best idea in the room, not the loudest voice, and thirdly, building personal development plans that have clear goals and support from managers to achieve those goals. Whilst not a perfect book, The Confidence Code has plenty of practical tips on how to build confidence, my favourite being that confidence comes through doing.
5. What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
- Stay true to yourself, whether that means pursuing a subject or role that your friends and peers don’t find interesting or calling out dodgy behaviour.
- Even if they don’t affect you, ask to see a company’s gender pay gap report, their maternity policy and any other policies (e.g. menopause, menstrual, or childcare policies) that tend to relate to women. It can give you a good steer on what a company really does rather than just what they say they do.
- Apply for jobs where you don’t meet all the criteria but still think you’d be good at it (but be honest about it in the interview!)
- Ask for more money in a role than you would settle for; they can always haggle you down, but they’ll never offer you more than you suggest.
- You improve by working on the things you’re worst at, not the things you find easy.
- People don’t remember your missteps, mistakes, and embarrassing suggestions for as long as you do.
6. Is there anyone that inspires you in your career?
My sister, who led the charge for an improved maternity policy at her old company, worked all hours to school herself in Salesforce and now runs the Salesforce Admin User Group meet-ups in Nottingham. And my mum, who “took early retirement” at 21 and is the happiest person I know.
7. Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?
Diversity for diversity’s sake is no good, but evidence proves that when you have a range of people with different backgrounds in a meeting room, you build a better product, better solutions, and it benefits the bottom line. For example, when Apple first launched their Health app, they didn’t include a period tracker in there; I don’t think that would’ve happened if there were women in the room.
8. If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Caroline Criado-Perez – author of Invisible Women, a book detailing how women are impacted by a world where male is viewed as the default. Some of her work is referenced in this article; I’d be keen to learn more from her and what we can do about challenging a male-centric way of thinking and shifting to a mindset that includes all people.
Blair Imani – an educator, advocate and author known for her social media series “Smarter In Seconds” where she works with field experts to break down myths, stigma and social biases across a huge range of topics. There’s so much I could learn from her as a communicator and as a critical thinker.
Steph Beane – a woman I used to work with who had a fantastic eye for detail, could make anyone feel comfortable in conversation and always made sure everything got done. She could enforce boundaries and bring her own perspective to projects, was ambitious and open-minded and excelled in everything she worked on. In my first interview, she asked me, “what is it about this job that will get you out of bed in the morning?” which has always stuck with me. I think she’d manage to tease a lot out of Blair and Caroline – plus it’s always nice to catch up.