Features 08.03.19

How women in the workplace should be represented

It's International Women's Day 2019, and to celebrate we spoke to the women of this company to learn how we can strive for a more balanced world.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

Not too long ago, I was stood at the bus stop when an older man opposite me struck up a conversation. He asked, “Are you on your way into work?”

“Yep!” I responded cheerfully.

“Oh dear.” His features took a downturn as he scoffed out, “Awful that. Women shouldn’t be working like they do these days. They should just stay at home, where they belong.”

I will admit, I was a little speechless at this archaic announcement. I just nervously laughed off the comment and shuffled away, knowing that if I responded, I’d launch into a mad rant at a random stranger that wouldn’t do justice to the very complex nuance of this particular subject.

The mere fact that pre-defined thoughts like this one even cross people’s minds demonstrates that there’s still very clearly a bias that exists in this world when it comes to gender. Sure, this man’s comment was a little on the extreme side, but the ethos applies all the same; we’re not yet at an equal point in society.  

This man may think that women shouldn’t work at all. To dispute that point, I’d like to showcase all of the brilliant work that women can do in the workplace, and why it’s vital for our future. So I went to the fellow women of this company to suss out their thoughts and feelings on the topic, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Representing the business

Debut is known for an extremely supportive atmosphere – I immediately noticed this on day one, and it couldn’t apply more than when talking about the women who work here. As Office Manager Jennifer Burroughs puts it, “I have never worked in an office where the women support each other so avidly and organically. We build each other up, never shoot each other down, and provide each other with a safe space to listen/brainstorm/share.”

But it’s not just day-to-day activities that this type of behaviour flourishes in. Many of the women at Debut have taken the lead on some momentous tasks that proved imperative to the business. From leading an entire (and very complex) office move, to representing Debut in front of stakeholders and clients alike, to organising entire events for our students and building relationships for the business.

Head of Account Management Sonal Chauhan discusses her proudest achievement at Debut, speaking at the Women of Silicon Roundabout event about the diversity challenges that the tech sector faces. “I’ve never done a talk before or spoken in front of a large audience and while it was terrifying, it was well worth it. Especially talking about a topic so close to home – being a woman working for a technology company, working with and trying to help companies who face these diversity challenges.”

Balance for better

The theme of this years International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter, examining how we can have a more gender balanced world overall. To create true equality in businesses, we need to address several components; pay, management, opportunities and especially attitudes. Or, as Senior Partnerships Manager Hannah Levy puts it; “never be gendered in your approach or comment on something someone has done and attribute it to their gender.”

It’s not just about ticking boxes to make the company look socially acceptable in a press release. It’s examining the culture of a business, and seeing what can be changed to create an inclusive atmosphere in day-to-day life. One great example is the company Bumble, where founder Whitney Wolfe encourages women to discuss their salary, progression, job satisfaction and incorporates policies like micro-agile working, allowing women to continue to thrive around other commitments.

Daniella Loudon, Senior Partnerships Manager (and representative of the Female Founders network in London) discusses the perceived thoughts on what it means to be a leader, dismissing the typical ‘alpha’ approach. “I have often been told in my career that I need to be more assertive to get ahead. Although I agree that as a leader you need to be able to make decisions, I also think you need to be your natural self and that you don’t need to assert your power.

“I believe that society needs to change their perception of what makes a good leader and that it should not include being gender biased.”

Taking inspiration

Many of the women in this office are inspired to be innovative and driven by other people in the world. From family members – such as mothers who have balanced their family life and careers single-handedly – to political leaders and female CEOs, and even RuPaul (of course).

Olga Kardasi, Partnerships Success Lead at Debut, previously worked for the charity All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, founded by Caryn Franklin, Erin O’Connor and Debra Bourne. For her, the founders’ ethos for the charity is a huge inspiration, as it was made “…to challenge the fashion industry’s dependence on unachievable and limited body and beauty ideals by respecting diversity.”

This lesson can be applied more broadly. When we examine gender equality, we should also be considering the differences for diverse and minority women out there. These can include people of colour, to LGBTQ+ members, to women with disabilities and employees from lower class backgrounds. We should consider how these factors affect their day-to-day lives, look at how we can assist and not fall into the bracket of just supporting the most privileged of women.

Looking to a better future

There’s no doubt that we’ve made steps for gender equality, but we are by no means at the end of the road. Whilst the publishing of pay gap figures certainly drew attention to the issue, it didn’t necessarily change the broader societal attitudes. Many still sneer at the word ‘feminism’, or simply deny that there’s even an issue at all.

Grace Harris, our Content and Community Manager, discussed what she would eventually like to see when it comes to gender inclusivity: “We’re not here to fill a quota, we’re here because we deserve to be and because equality is something that should be morally supported by all, and not seen as ‘political correctness’ or a HR target. Ditto for everyone who falls outside of the cisgendered, white, male ‘norm’.”

We must call out inequality when we see it, and not be complacent, no matter who we are. We should also recognise the concept of judging someone’s ability based on their gender. Kony Perifanou, Partnerships Executive, points out the problem with the phrase, ‘that’s a guy thing’. “There’s no such thing as that. We need to stop assigning abilities, professions and skills to genders. Anyone should have the opportunity to do what they like.”

Women have done some amazing things so far in the workplace, but they can only go so far within the constraints of gender inequality. Let’s strive for a better world, where women are not stereotyped as a ‘housewife’, but recognised for their achievements and successes in their careers.

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