Recently I was approached about the possibility of writing something for International Women’s Day, discussing what I was doing to support the #EachforEqual theme. It all sounded exciting, and something I wanted to take part in. I browsed the IWD website, searching for inspiration, but I’m ashamed to say, was struggling for material. You see, whilst I absolutely understand that gender bias, and inequality exists within society and the workplace, it’s not something that, to my knowledge, I’ve ever directly experienced or let affect me.
So I started to question why. Why have I never felt that, as I often hear, that I’m “a woman, in a man’s world?” I work in a small office in Leeds, and I am one of two women working with twelve men but is this something I’ve never realised until now? No, absolutely not. When I think about who I work with, I don’t judge people by their gender, but by their ability and on merit. Some of the best people in the company are women, and others men, but do I think that’s because they’re a man or a woman? Definitely not.
I understand that for some women their experience in the workplace is very different to mine. For example women being paid less than men for the same job, experiencing inappropriate comments, and most are likely familiar with the “she’s aggressive, but he’s ambitious” mindset. Undoubtedly there are more men than women in senior positions and in the boardroom. With that in mind, I wanted to share my experience and view on how to challenge gender bias in the workplace.
I come from a family of strong women, my mum is a high achiever, fiercely independent, and the same with my grandmother before her. Between the ages of 11-18, attending an all girls’ school I was surrounded by female role models. I was taught by women and learnt alongside women. Don’t get me wrong, school wasn’t without its challenges, I experienced bullying and fall outs, but ultimately I was brought up to believe that I was equal and capable, in all aspects of life. The same applied at home, I had two excellent male role models in my father and stepfather who were both incredibly encouraging with my career ambitions, I never grew up to feel limited by my gender.
At University, I was friends with positive and supportive men and women, and perhaps my bias is seeking out that positivity. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, perhaps not, I’ve worked for both male and female managers over my 10-year career and all have been supportive. At my previous company, and in my current role, whilst being in a male dominated environment in terms of numbers, we have a caring and inclusive culture, flexible working is encouraged, we celebrate each other’s achievements, both men and women’s. I’ve never considered my gender to be a limiting factor. Furthermore, whilst I may well have been unknowingly been on the receiving end of gender stereotyping or bias at some point in my career, my point is, because I don’t allow myself to be affected by it, it doesn’t become an issue. I genuinely believe that by surrounding ourselves with confident and inspiring men and women, and collectively, celebrating our friends, colleagues, and the people around us, gender bias becomes less prevalent.
We are all responsible for how we think and act, and I believe we can actively choose to fight gender bias and stereotypes by refusing to allow ourselves to be influenced by it. For example, when dealing with the school bully, children are often advised to just ignore them and they’ll get bored and go away. Can we apply the same here with gender bias? I’m not saying let’s just ignore it, and hope that it goes away. But if we change our mind-sets, worry less about what other people think, how men, and even other women perceive us, work hard, and be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be, surely this will impact perceptions and behaviours within the workplace and society. How we view ourselves, and portray ourselves in part, often determines how others perceive, treat, and act towards us. We as people must recognise that gender bias exists, but as an individual if we focus more on ability, gender bias becomes less relevant, and by doing this, may help to change attitudes and to promote an #EachforEqual workplace.
My message to men and women is to find your passions, demonstrate your ability, be bold, celebrate your achievements, show kindness and encouragement to everyone around you, and don’t worry what people think!
Happy International Women’s Day.