By Katharina Schulenburg
International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, while recognising the obstacles that still hinder their progression.
The 25x25 Campaign called for an aim of 25% of FTSE100 companies to be headed by women by 2025. There is a business case for supporting equity. Companies do better when women do better. Indeed, McKinsey and Company’s 2020 study emphasised that ‘the business case for inclusion and diversity (I&D) is stronger than ever’ as ‘companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the fourth quartile.’ Promoting equity therefore doesn’t just matter on a human level; it makes genuine financial sense.
The IWD theme this year is #EmbraceEquity, in recognition that real inclusion requires an acknowledgement of the different starting points and circumstances of individuals and groups. In honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke to several of our female colleagues at GTI to learn more about who inspires them; the advice that has most impacted their career progression; what businesses still need to do to #EmbraceEquity; and what their hopes are for women and work in the future.
Which woman has inspired you the most and why?
Sylwia Wolos, GTI’s Head of Product Strategy, stated that she is ‘constantly impressed by numerous female colleagues and my girlfriends and how they approach certain aspects of life - whether it is work-life balance, working-mum balancing act, an optimistic outlook on life or an approach to change.’
Praising the mutually beneficial effects of mentorship programs, Sylwia highlighted a junior ex-colleague who had been assigned as her mentee and who ‘had a lasting impact on my own approach to self-development’. ‘Her hunger for growth and the ability to prioritise learning in her busy working mum schedule was amazing! She has also inspired me with her courage to “go for it” even if she was scared or felt not ready’.
Sal Remtulla, Head of Marketing, has been inspired by Michelle Obama’s ‘no nonsense approach to careers, marriage and parenting’.
Our Commercial Director, Silvia Blake, outlined her mother’s inspirational strength through suffering, as she ‘battled cancer throughout my childhood but never once complained; a positive force for good who oozed life.’
Helena Bonham Carter was Africa Leigh-Watts’s top pick, as her ‘unapologetic approach to life’ taught her that ‘the best person to be is yourself’ as ‘the only people who will criticise your authentic choices, are people who are uncomfortable in doing so themselves.’
What three things do you think have improved for women in the sector in the past 10 years based on your experience?
What piece of advice has most impacted your career progress to this point?
‘Someone once said to be “Be authentic, even at work” and this has really stuck with me’, said Sal. ‘It’s easy sometimes to go along with things but I often stop myself and ask: is this really me or do I want something different?’
Testament to the importance of creating a positive workplace culture, Silvia’s piece of career advice was ‘people won’t remember what you said, but how you made them feel.’
As a woman working in her second language, Sylwia struggled with imposter syndrome for years, which became particularly pronounced during public speaking engagements. ‘When I learnt that studies had shown that most people fear public speaking more than death (!) - I was able to accept my emotions and move on.’
‘Not advice so much as a realisation that no one necessarily KNOWS what to do next/what decision to make’, Africa said. ‘Everyone is sort of improvising through life, including work, so why should your ideas or plans be any worse than anyone else's? Once you realise that and start taking a "why not me?" approach, that imposter syndrome goes right out the window. Things won't always go as planned and mistakes will always occur, and that's okay.’
What advice would you give women wanting to join the industry?
What do businesses need to do to #EmbraceEquity?
Delphine Legat, Client Experience Assistant Manager, called for a restructuring of the workday so as to ‘accommodate mothers and families’. This is particularly important following a large backstep for women in British homes during and following lockdown. Women were statistically more likely to take on the brunt of the housework and childcare, regardless of who was the main breadwinner. By embracing equity in this way, businesses can level out the playing field somewhat for single parents, women, and those struggling with childcare costs within their organisations.
‘According to a report published by the UN in September 2022, at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality. Businesses have a lot to do, but also plenty of tools to make that progress - such as closing the still prevailing gender pay gap’, stated Sylwia. ‘I strongly believe, however, that the change needs to start way before a woman starts work. We all have a lot to do at home and in schools to ensure our daughters and sons have great role models to follow and observe and experience equity as they grow, so that it becomes a natural thing for them, not something they have to fight for.’
Praising GTI’s culture of openness, Sal reflected positively on the progress that had been made during her professional life. Whilst ‘massive steps forward have been made’, ‘there is still a long way to go till we are truly inclusive. Openness is such a big part of this and creating a work environment that has this at the centre is key. Here at GTI it's one of our 5 core values and everyone in the team works hard to create a truly open culture where we can all freely speak up.’
How does #embracingequity benefit the GRC industry specifically?
What are your hopes for women and work in the future?
Rounding off on a positive note, all our interviewees expressed positive outlooks for the future. ‘I'm feeling confident about the future for women in the workplace’, said Sal. ‘I'd like to see more representation at board level and more opportunities for the younger generation's view to be heard.’
Delphine looked forward to a time when ‘the conversation about women in the workforce just becomes people in the workforce.’ Sylwia shared a similar hope that ‘we can all contribute with our own choices and behaviours to create working environments where people are appreciated and paid for their work, not for their gender, background or skin colour.’
Reflecting on her personal experience of the limiting impact of roles being deemed innately feminine or masculine, Africa hopes this will be eradicated. ‘You shouldn't have to feel like you're taking a massive risk if you want to study or go into a career that has been historically male-dominated.’
There are still more CEOs named Peter leading top U.K. companies than female CEOs. As Africa says, ‘We have a lot of work to do still, but if anyone can keep pushing the balance then it's us women!’
By choosing to #EmbraceEquity, reflecting on the past and putting appropriate measures in place for the future, businesses can achieve Silvia Blake’s hope: ‘an even playing field.’
We wish you a happy International Women’s Day and hope you too can take some time to celebrate the achievements of other women, to reflect upon the women who have inspired you, and to #EmbraceEquity.