Celebrating International Women's Day with Robert Half

By Robert Half on 17th March 2021

International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on 8 March. In support of this year’s theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ Robert Half proudly hosted a series of virtual events across the course of the week recognising the achievements of women and examining how gender bias and inequality affect our workplaces today. We united panels of successful female business leaders who shared their career triumphs and challenges as well as their knowledge and advice on leadership, allyship, and the impact of the future of work for women – all in the wake of COVID-19 and a year of working and interacting remotely.

On Monday 8 March Katy Tanner (Director of Leadership Development – Robert Half) hosted the first of Robert Half’s series of events. Katy was joined by Claire Talbot (EMEA IT Leader – NSF International), Amy Williams (Olympic Gold Medallist and MBE), Elaine Barclay (CHRO – The Fertility Partnership), and Katie Bedborough (CFO – VoCoVo).

Below are some key takeaways from this event. To view the discussion in full click here.

The power of mentoring

Discussing the power of mentoring Katy explained how having a mentor – whether that mentor is male or female – is hugely powerful for women.

When choosing a mentor “it’s down to you to seek out your mentor. Look out for someone you admire and click with on a personal level” said Katy. A mentor needs to understand the profession or industry you’re in but shouldn’t be a direct line manager. “The power of a mentor is that you can be totally transparent while not being worried the person is going to make a decision based on what you’ve said.”

Educating on gender balance

A key element to closing the gap on gender parity is education. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that sufficient, effective education about diversity and inclusion is provided. “This is about creating a coaching culture within our organisations where people can actually be comfortable being uncomfortable around the whole diversity and inclusion agenda,” said Elaine. “It really is down to us as employers to try and really shift away from the stereotyping, the gender bias, the microaggressions that do exist within organisations, and society.”

Flexibility and the future

“I think one of the challenges we have in trying to address diversity in our workforce is quite often we’re limited to a small geographical pool that is very local to us,” said Katie. Remote working has allowed for the dissolution of these geographic barriers, meaning employers have access to a wider talent pool and greater choice regarding the candidates they hire. Hopefully this means we will see a greater balance in the workforce, not just in terms of gender but in all aspects of diversity and inclusion where we know imbalances exist.

On Wednesday 10 March DeLynn Senna (DeLynn Senna, Executive Director - Permanent Placement International Staffing Operations - Robert Half) hosted the second in our series of events. DeLynn was joined by Nicky Ivory-Chapman (Head of Talent Management - Channel 4), Shruti Patel (Head of HR - Downing LLP), Avril Chester (Executive Director of Tech - RIBA), and Lesley Flowerdew (Senior Director, EMEA Tax - Astellas).

You can view the discussion in full here or read some of the highlights from the events below.

Confidence is key

DeLynn recalled advice from earlier in her career that she continues to benefit from. “What brings challenge, brings change, and change brings growth. For every set back you’re setting yourself up for an opportunity to learn something and take that with you for the rest of your career.”

Be Bold, Encourage, Empower

Before you can enact change to effect gender equality, you must first make it known that you’re an agent for change, but equally vital is knowing where you sit on the scale for allyship said Shruti. “I think a continuum – from awareness of gender equality to active engagement and then all the way over to advocacy.” “You need to find and connect with leaders, internally or externally who also champion gender equality and find out how they [themselves] are driving change”, which in turn may present an opportunity to join forces and identify what you can realistically deliver.

The importance of a network

Offering her advice on how you can best champion gender equality, Nicky suggested investigating ways to create a women’s network. “I’ve found over the years in organisations I’ve worked in when networks are formed organically, they’re actually a lot more powerful, and can be a really good force for change.”

On Thursday 11 March Beth Turner (Head of Staff Development UK – Robert Half) hosted the third and final in our series of events celebrating International Women’s Day. Beth was joined by Erica Ingham (Global CFO – Software Resilience at NCC Group), Lisa Oxnard (CFO Europe - JELD-WEN, Inc), and Julia Lewis (Director of Consulting – Ernst & Young).

This event can be viewed in full here where you can hear more insights like the below from our panel of impressive female business leaders.

The importance of continuing discussion

Despite some positive statistics regarding progress towards equality in the workforce, if you look beneath the surface there is still a long way to go said Beth. If businesses, policy, and structures are predominantly led by men, what impact does that have on women? While it’s important that we recognise the progress and cultural changes that have been made so far, ultimately, it’s vital that we continue to be able to focus on gender parity and have discussions like these.

The future of work

The mass shift to remote work necessitated by the pandemic “has supercharged flexible working from where it was headed, pre COVID” said Erica, paving the way for new ways of working as we look to the future. Studies conducted by Julia’s organisation indicate that the shift to more flexible ways of working is here to stay. “What we’re anticipating is a hybrid model which will have a phenomenal impact on women working.” Spending less time physically in the office will allow women to save time on commuting and be closer to home for things like school pick up “will make a massive difference and bring us forward” added Erica.

Lead the change

We all want to see effective change when it comes to gender equality, both within our organisations and broader society, but what is the best way to do this? Our panel agreed that, as the saying goes, ‘you can’t talk the talk unless you walk the walk.’

For Julia, firstly it’s about women leaning in to take on leadership roles. Once in a position of leadership, it’s important to proactively challenge norms, using your experience as women in the workforce to inform and educate. “Challenge those behaviours that are creating biases in the system that’s preventing women from progressing. We can affect the most change if we’re leading the change.”

Watch other Women in Business roundtable discussions on-demand via the Robert Half YouTube channel and blog.

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