For International Women’s Day, this year’s theme is equity. Jill Hawkins speaks to influential industry women on their past experiences, present thoughts
and future aspirations
"I don't believe you can have positive wellbeing if you're not experiencing equity. "
Laura Capell-Abra, Stress Matters
Laura Capell-Abra, founder of Stress Matters and career & business coach
The work that I do is focused on creating workplaces that make wellbeing easy and I don't believe you can have positive wellbeing if you're not experiencing equity.
Many of my team members experience mental health challenges and some long-term physical conditions that require them to visit hospital on a regular basis. I don't want to hire robots, I want to hire human beings and as humans we are all different; as a leader, my job is to create an environment where each person thrives.
I have been fortunate through most of my career to have worked with senior men that have seen my potential and have given me the space to step up and show clients and team members what I can do. One thing I have noted though is that they all had daughters!
The majority of my workforce and clients are women and I love working with women. I think it's hugely important to empower people to achieve what they want. It is a fact that more diverse teams make more successful businesses.
I get to work with two ends of our industry; bringing young people in through apprenticeships, with an exceptionally high percentage being women as it's an industry that attracts women. And, raising more awareness of how we can keep women in our workplaces by supporting them if needed through the menopause.
It is a challenge in this industry for women who have children to find working patterns that suit them when so much of this industry revolves around travel. So much more could be done to support these women, we need to be more creative in our approaches.
Equity often requires more thought as it's so often not our natural instinct. We need to be more creative in our approaches, we need to ask ‘why’ a lot more often and look for different, maybe harder ways of doing things, but ways that offer equity.
There are schemes available to support women, focusing on encouraging us to step up, build confidence, and ask for more. I think more needs to be done on educating men to see why we shouldn't need to speak louder, to see skill and opportunity as that and to encourage men to think differently in order to create more equitable futures for women.
"I believe we can get closer to achieving equity by giving a voice, listening, acting on feedback and speaking up against inequity."
Gabby Austen-Browne, Diversity Alliance
Gabby Austen-Browne, founder of Diversity Alliance and co-founder of the Diverse Speaker Bureau
Until I started working in the DE&I space, I hadn't considered what equality versus equity actually meant in real terms. Now, an important piece of the work I do is helping leaders and companies to understand the difference.
Equity recognises that not everyone starts from the same place and that they may have more obstacles placed in front of them - such as a woman trying to get investment or a loan to launch a business versus a man for example - which illustrates that perceived equal opportunities are pointless if not everyone can access those opportunities in the first place.
Diversity Alliance’s mission is to guide the events and MICE industry in moving towards a more diverse, inclusive, accessible and equitable sector through training and consultancy. However, another key part of our mission is to give a voice to those from underrepresented communities to share their stories, lived experiences and recommendations on how we can do better at work and in events.
My personal contribution to equity comes through demonstrating allyship to other communities that aren’t my own (including all the intersections of the female experience), by providing a platform and tools to help them express what they need in order to educate communities around how to level the playing field.
I believe we can get closer to achieving equity by giving a voice, listening, acting on feedback and speaking up against inequity, which very much feeds into the work I do. From 2020 - 2022 I alongside three other amazing women of colour (Priya Narain, Felicia Asiedu and Benedicta Asante) became racial diversity ambassadors for the Fast Forward 15 women in events mentorship programme. Our goal was to encourage more diversity amongst mentees and mentors seeking to join and be accepted on the programme.
We did this via outreach and delivering events to these specific communities, and have increased racial diversity of women on the programme year on year. For me this was an important step to bring about equity for women of colour. This is such an important part of the equity piece, as those who receive mentoring are promoted five times more often than people who do not have mentors, and mentees can benefit from growing their personal network outside of their colleagues. They can also be introduced to inspirational and important people that may have an impact on their careers; this is huge, because many of these opportunities have previously been inaccessible to them since they were underrepresented on programmes like this.
The Future? We need a diverse range of women represented in a variety of roles within all levels of a business- from the boardroom to leadership and beyond. Women need to be given a voice and the ability to contribute in decision making that affects their future.
We also really need more pay transparency in order to reach pay equity. This is still a big sticking point with organisations I work with who seem unwilling to share pay scales; if there is nothing to hide, then why won’t they share? Not only are we paid less, we also have the challenge of women's products costing more AND the average pension pot for a 65-year-old woman in the UK is just £35,800, one-fifth of the average pot held by a man of the same age (Figs from 2021). We are screwed, unless this is addressed with urgency.
"We must ask and address the question - is there a level of intersectionality impacting the starting position of women?"
Felicia Asiedu, Cvent
Felicia Asiedu, senior marketing manager for Europe at Cvent
Equity or equality? That is the question. It’s so important to understand the difference – equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.
Whereas equity acknowledges that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
I am not sure that I have openly and outwardly experienced equity. If I look back at most organisations that I have worked for, from the application process alone the entry requirement was a degree level qualification. This assumes the same starting blocks to life or circumstances.
However, I can say that I have experienced equality (more or less) in my roles. We strive for inclusivity as an organisation. We look for women in leadership, especially around our events like Cvent CONNECT Europe, and invite them to take the main stage.
In recent years we’ve changed our approach to include all women, at all levels. We have also steered towards talking about diverse topics and making sure we recognise women as part of the wider diversity conversation. Women always need uplifting and to be seen, regardless of whether they are in leadership positions.
I’ve seen organisations like MICEbook do some great stuff to bring women together. MICEbook’s networking get togethers are often posted on socials channels and the people that attend them seem to make good connections - the comments, likes and shares support this.
Fast Forward 15 (FF15) champions and supports women in the industry. I love that this year Fay [Sharpe] is being vocal and calling out for women from 50 + who seem to be “invisible” in the industry to join the FF15 programme alongside younger demographics.
I was a mentor on the FF15 programme last year. Although I am no longer a mentor, I continue to have the drive to support and empower other women. Fay really spurs you on to want to help where you can.
Recognising the starting position of women is key for the future. We must ask and address the question - is there a level of intersectionality impacting the starting position of women?
The only way to drive equity is to recognise how women are coming into the industry, and as an organisation what you can provide (specifically to the individual) to level the playing field. With this approach you can drive equality on top of the equity provided.
You can find outstanding talent by embracing and understanding equity - giving people what they need, rather than a purely equal stance with no accounting for individual circumstances
"I haven’t always been a confident leader, I can suffer with imposter syndrome"
Margaret Reeves, RefTech
Margaret Reeves, managing director of RefTech
I didn’t have the best experience of equity, or even equality in my early career; my first roles were in sales (for another company I hasten to add) and were filled with outdated attitudes, sexist comments and behaviour.
The female members of the team were definitely paid less than the men. My early career experiences however have helped us to shape our company; we ensure that we help our team members as much as we can to create a level playing field.
Many of the team have young children and we enable them to work from home when they need to and to be flexible around the inevitable calls from the school when children are sick. I know that women are the primary care givers but we offer this to all our team. I think that's the difference between corporate and privately owned business – we put a lot of emphasis on wellbeing.
The RefTech senior team have always been there for me throughout my career here; they had faith in me and I became a shareholder and promoted to the position of MD. Ken Clayton has been an amazing mentor to me and both him and Simon have always supported me and believed in my ability. I haven’t always been a confident leader, I can suffer with imposter syndrome and so having a supportive board has made all the difference to me and my career.
We are a small company and we can often tell when someone is unhappy, or if family life isn’t going smoothly. Things happening outside of work do impact on a person’s working life and the board has always been wonderful at helping us all by extending the help to our families too; family members in need of work have often been welcomed and taken into the RefTech fold.
As a female MD of a tech company, I do come up against sexist attitudes. At a recent event, I went over to a competitor’s stand and they couldn’t quite believe that I was the MD! I’m not a techie and I do not need to be, but I have an amazing team that does.
Looking to the future, I do think that my confidence and self-belief would greatly be enhanced from finding myself a mentor and being a mentee; I’m really heartened to see industry mentoring schemes such as Fast Forward 15 being promoted to people of my seniority. I believe we should never stop learning and developing ourselves to be the best that we can be, and it is a strength to be able to admit that we don’t know all the answers. Women need to be better at asking for help when it’s needed.
"We tend to think that mentoring is just for younger people starting their careers, but I’m a keen advocate for the benefits it brings to every stage of a woman’s life."
Joanne Barratt, The Venues Collection
Joanne Barratt, managing director of The Venues Collection
Everyone is different, and everyone has personal needs that should be catered for to bring everyone up to the same level playing field.
In the early stages of my career, hospitality was a very male dominated environment. Sexism wasn’t blatant, but I was called ‘sweetie’ by one member of the team, often expected to take the meeting notes, and at one employer, women weren’t even allowed to wear trousers. Thankfully times have moved on and I hope that by being a female MD, the teams I work with are both inspired and also enabled to reach their full potential; they can see we do not have a glass ceiling.
Equity means treating people as individuals and working out what each person specifically needs to achieve their potential. For example, the hospitality industry lost a lot of chefs through the pandemic, and in our bid to attract more chefs to our venues, we found an incredibly talented woman who couldn’t work the traditional shift pattern because she has young children. So with the co-operation with the wider team we changed her working pattern to enable her to work and also be there for her children when she needed to be. We couldn’t do this for everyone, and everyone wouldn’t need or want this arrangement, but for her it made all the difference.
We are part of Compass Group UK and Ireland and we have an initiative called ‘Women in Food’ that was initially created to help bring more women chefs into the business, but now has expanded to represent all our female talent across every sector of our organisation. I’m a great believer in growing our own talent and the Women in Food initiative supports this.
Last year I became a mentor for the 30% Club, it’s a worldwide, multi-industry initiative created to boost female representation in the world’s biggest companies, and it matches mentors and mentees according to their goals and experiences. We tend to think that mentoring is just for younger people starting their careers, but I’m a keen advocate for the benefits that mentoring brings to every stage of a woman’s life and career. This can be especially true for women in their 50s as there can be a tendency to feel invisible and overlooked.
I’m also encouraged by the number of initiatives around bringing more focus and attention on the menopause and I was very pleased to be invited to take part in the M&IT round table to discuss this.