Falling every year on the 8th March, International Women's Day is a global celebration of the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women everywhere. To mark the occasion, we had a chat with CEO, Paul Holland, alongside Emily Plummer, our Marketing Director.
What does International Women's Day mean to you personally?
Paul Holland: To me, it's a way to celebrate everything that has been achieved so far - a chance to appreciate the strong and talented women that surround me in both my professional and personal life (although I try to do that every day!).
I also believe that it serves as a reminder of what is still left to be done, helping to drive further change for creating equality. I work in an industry that is still primarily male-dominated and has a long way to go to fully represent the extraordinary women who work in finance and tech. I want to be at the forefront of this movement, ensuring that women are provided with the opportunities they have earned.
Emily Plummer: Today is about taking stock. Looking at how far we have come and celebrating the wins, and not feeling overwhelmed by the journey ahead. And it starts with kindness. Kindness to others, but also to ourselves- particularly as women. It’s been a tough rollercoaster for all of us in the past 2 years.
I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an organisation that allows me to harmonise my career and young family. I’m hugely grateful to the allies in my life who support change in the here and now, challenging convention and remaining an active part in raising a future generation who deserve change from the outset.
What steps can be taken to ensure equal representation of women in the workplace?
Emily Plummer: Persistence on the small things, even if it’s uncomfortable. These micro-interactions collectively bring about a volume of change towards parity. Start with simpler things, like the wording of job adverts to accommodate more flexible working around family life. Do away with the necessity for formal education where it isn’t relevant for job roles, helping to diversify further. Take the feedback of exit interviews with the gravitas they deserve. You will learn a lot about ways to improve. Finally, create a culture that promotes advocacy for everyone, not just women, will ensure a level of psychological safety where everyone can flourish.
Paul Holland: It is vital that employers remain open-minded about who they are hiring, irrespective of gender. Society has created certain stereotypes within industries and job roles that can leave capable women struggling to secure the positions they deserve.
Businesses must offer consistent encouragement for the women under their employment to reach for the stars, providing opportunities for continuous learning and management openings. At BE, we endlessly strive to be better and do better, creating a safe and supportive environment that caters to all genders. We have built a company culture that operates on trust, maintaining an open dialogue and a strong work-life balance.
How can we continue to break down traditional stereotypes?
Paul Holland: As a man, although I cannot fully understand the struggles women undergo, I can empathise. It is vital for those who are in a position to influence change to advocate for women everywhere, providing allyship in their struggle to gain the prospects they deserve. Continuing to foster the strong female role models who are emerging more and more frequently is a crucial aspect to this, offering younger generations examples of what is possible for them to achieve.
Emily Plummer: Teach your children emotional intelligence. It’s a quality that will forge the path to equality and should be the number one thing you are hiring your management team on. If you’re in a privileged senior role, make it your mission to advocate for the women around you, and nurture them. Be the person that your younger self needed.
Talk to your teams about women doing brilliant things within your sector, and advocate for women across the business. Do it loudly, do it consistently, and even do it behind closed doors. Communication is fundamental to building a community where everyone feels valued.
How can we encourage and inspire younger women to embark on a career in technology?
Emily Plummer: Actively talk to your children about amazing and pioneering women from a young age. Good Night Stories for rebel girls is a brilliant book, as is the Little People, Big Dreams range. These teach children a more encompassing narrative and shows the art of the possible.
It is also important to seek out women in your day to day who have already broken the mould and are doing things differently. I have an incredible network of formidable women who I continue to learn from and be inspired by.
Paul Holland: Start educating at a young age, ensuring that gender bias plays no part in the choices that are offered. From toys to books to the dressing up box, give the children of the future the opportunities to nurture their passions, in whatever form they lie. The school system still has a major part to play in this, ensuring that they do not bias their learning to stereotypical ‘male’ or ‘female’ topics. This will clear the way for women to choose pathways that have previously been flooded with male entrants, such as STEM.
What women inspire you, and why?
Michelle Cracknell- A passionate, empathetic, and incredibly smart individual, I know and admire Michelle through her work with The Pensions Advisory Service and as an advisor to some of the most successful businesses. She understands her sector like no one else and always goes the extra mile to champion consumers.
Amanda Blanc- As current Group CEO of Aviva and 2021’s Women in Finance Champion, Amanda has some incredible achievements under her belt. She has consistently and loudly advocated for gender inclusion within an underrepresented industry, making her a strong role model for younger generations to look up to.
Jackie Boylan- Jackie is the Head of UK Adviser Solutions at Fidelity, standing apart as an approachable and inspirational leader in the investment platform arena.
Samantha Seaton- As the CEO of MoneyHub, Samantha is an innovative leader and spokeswoman in her sector, presenting a great example of someone trailblazing in her field.
Caroline Criado Perez- I saw Caroline speak at an event in Southampton a couple of years ago and her findings are incredible. She is the author of 'Invisible Women – Data bias in a world designed for men'. If you don’t own this book, please go, and buy it, it’s an eye-opener to how our world is constructed.
Mary Portas- Mary has been a hero of mine for some time. Having come from a background in fashion myself, she has really challenged convention and blazed a trail. Her book, 'Work like a Woman: A Manifesto for Change’ is brilliant, as is her podcast. Her thoughts on the kindness economy are so relevant in the current climate.
Cynthia V Davis- I was fortunate enough to meet Cynthia a few years ago regarding an event focused on Diversity and Inclusion. She is a visionary tech leader, mentor and inspiring speaker, openly sharing her expertise in her role as CEO and Founder of BAME Recruitment. She is also involved with Pop Up Projects- an organisation that is transforming the lives of children and young people in predominantly deprived places through nurturing under-represented talent across authors and illustrators.
Emily, what pieces of advice would you pass on to younger women to help them with their careers?
- It’s ok to not know all the answers - the internet is a big place, other people will.
- Empathy is a superpower - use it to understand your customer.
- Push yourself outside of your comfort zone - all the best things happen there.
- Openly talk about your struggles - most of the time, this is where you find commonality with your peers.
- Embrace your quirks - we need more individuals, not carbon copies.
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