How can we achieve a gender-balanced world? Women leaders from across BAE Systems suggest how to #BalanceforBetter and help the public and private sectors become truly representative of the societies they represent and serve.
The challenges and complexities that adorn today’s horizon demand the best and brightest to be present at decision-making tables. They demand diversity of insights and experiences that can only occur when the public and private sectors are truly representative of the societies they represent and serve.
Diverse teams lead to better decisions and more effective and sustainable solutions – but there remains much to do. The World Economic Forum predicts that it may take another 202 years to close the economic gender gap globally.
That’s why this International Women’s Day we encourage our community, colleagues and friends to #BalanceforBetter and commit to playing your part to help achieve build a gender-balanced world.
Mivy James, Head of Consulting for National Security
Half of the world’s population is female however an alien landing today could easily assume that women are actually only a small percentage of the human race. Just 3 per cent of statues of named real public figures in the UK are of women, and not a single woman made the BBC’s 20th century icons finalists. Conversely, only 3 per cent of UK pre-school teachers are men.
#BalanceforBetter is about the obvious benefit in having all industries having a better gender balance and how we can all play our personal part in making that happen. I’ve been very inspired by the achievements of one individual who is successfully increasing the number of Wikipedia pages about previously forgotten women of science which just shows how much impact one person can have.
Holly Armitage, Lead Data Strategist
For many, International Women’s Day provides a platform to celebrate social, economic, cultural and political achievement for women. Over 24 hours social media is flooded with the incredible achievements of women around the globe and then the clock strikes midnight and back we go to the way it was. And when the next International Women’s Day rolls round we wonder why the World Economic Forum states it will take two centuries to close the economic gender gap globally.
Alongside the hashtags, special events and selfies we need to commit to activities that reinforce and provide unified direction that move from talk to action. For me, this has to mean more than just calling for a more gender-balanced world. It is about how as single individuals we are creating change, reflecting on how our actions can outlive a single day.
The #BalanceforBetter campaign calls for continuous collective action that is amplified all year. If we are serious about accelerating gender parity we have to do more that take an annual selfie and use the hashtag. It’s too easy to dismiss things as being too small to matter. However, the ripple effect is huge and if we each looked for ways to make our actions as loud as our voice I am sure that two century forecast could look a little rosier.
Isabel Van Dooren, Development Manager
One of the main areas which impact gender balance at work and in leadership roles is how we organise gender balance in our personal lives. In western culture, rapid progress has been made in the past 50 years or so.
However, there is still a lot of bias related to the responsibilities men and women have in relation to caregiving and this influences women in their career choices. Choice is an interesting word in this context. I’m convinced that a lot of women deliberately choose parenting or caregiving roles over a (full time) career – which is great. But other times, the choice is a compromise (consciously or not). And in certain other cultures or specific situations, there is just no choice.
For this International Women’s Day, I would like to celebrate all caregivers in the world – men and women – who, voluntarily or not, spend a lot of their time taking care of children, sick or elderly people unpaid. I hope that in the future also in this area we #BalanceforBetter, so that more people in the world have more equal opportunities to pursue a successful and rewarding career.
Kate Edwards, Content Manager
One of my friends has just had a baby. She’s an amazing mum, and she’s also always loved (and excelled at) her work. She’s consistently moved up the ladder during her career, so, when it was time for her to head back to work after maternity leave, it was no surprise to see her hit the ground running with the same ambitious energy as before. But after a few months she shocked me by saying, “I’ve come to accept that for the next few years, promotions are out of the window for me.” Something had clearly happened.
International Women’s Day is doing great work to address the lack of gender balance in the workplace, and across society as a whole. However, hearing my friend say these words has made me realise that we still have a long way to go. She clearly felt that doors had closed for her since becoming a parent – I’ve never heard a man say something like that. Have you?
#BalanceforBetter should be about giving everyone – no matter what their gender – the chance to determine their own experiences. Striking the right balance in life (for example, between work and home) is a very personal thing, and what works well for some, will not work for others. Ultimately, though, it’s important that women, and men, feel empowered to choose the right balance for themselves. When that happens, it’s worth celebrating.
Hannah Green, Lead Data Scientist
Over the last year my thinking on gender balance in the workplace has evolved quite dramatically. As a young woman in tech it has always been important to me, but making the move to management has definitely influenced my thinking.
I used to look upwards, searching for role models who may or may not exist, but now more and more people refer to me as a role model myself. I was previously focused purely on my career, whilst now I find myself increasingly invested in making sure others have the ability to develop their careers too.
For me, gender balance means allowing women to be women in the workplace. Historically there has been a belief that women need to act like men to do well in business. Although this is now generally accepted as not the case, I’m not sure we are quite at the point yet where young women believe they can do well being themselves.
But gender is only one very broad part of diversity – what businesses really want, and what really brings value, is for each person to bring their real self to work every day. Luckily part of my ‘self’ is very stubborn – I refuse to act in a way that goes against my personality, beliefs or ethics (obviously there is always room for tweaking in terms of professional behaviours!).
But the whole point of diversity is that you shouldn’t have to be stubborn or a man to do well if you are capable. If I am delivering to a high standard, meeting all business expectations and behaving professionally, why shouldn’t I be myself in the process? Sometimes it’s harder than it should be – but if by working things through I am making it easier for others, then I will happily do the work. It’s going alright for me so far – it will go alright for you too.
Sugee Bhanoo, Head of Test Services, Malaysia Delivery Centre
I’ve just recently returned to work from maternity leave, this time as a mother of two children – my eldest being a girl and youngest a boy. As a mother, I thought about the messages I send to my kids.
With my daughter, I’m constantly reminding her of her uniqueness, and her beauty regardless of whether she was wearing a dress or trousers. It may seem really trivial to overthink these messages but, to me, what I say to her will help her develop a positive body image over time and, most importantly, for her to be herself. Would I send the same messages to my son? You betcha, I will! Both my children deserve to hear the same messages from both parents.
Gender balance to me is about addressing everyone as individuals rather than by their genders. The messages we send, as parents, as partners, as friends, as family, as colleagues and as leaders have to be consistent and gender neutral. The common themes of trust, integrity and respect apply regardless of your gender, religious or sexual preferences.
As I type this, I ask my three year old daughter what is the difference between her and her brother. And her answer is ‘I don’t know’.
Nicola Eschenburg, Research Lead, Futures
The thing that baffles me most about the lack of gender diversity is that it just doesn’t make economic sense. WHY would you deliberately cut off your nose to spite your face?
Yes, there are countless other arguments that can be made for diversity – from opening up the pool of potential employees to retaining and attracting the company’s best assets to the morality element of ignoring half the earth’s population. They’re all more than valid and correct, and stats abound to back those up. But if we’re dealing with hard-nosed board members whose sole focus is the bottom line, then let’s look at the data that presumably best resonates.
The Women And Work Commission found that unleashing women’s full potential could be worth £23 billion a year to the Exchequer, while according to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41 per cent in terms of return on equity and by 56 per cent in terms of operating results. And venture capital firms that increased their proportion of female partner hires by 10 per cent saw, on average, a 1.5 per cent spike in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7 per cent more profitable exits (an impressive figure given that only 28.8 per cent of all VC investments have a profitable exit). Yet in Deloitte’s analysis of nearly 7,000 companies in 60 countries, women held 15 per cent of all board seats – and we’re celebrating this because it’s gone up by 3 per cent over the course of two years.
This just doesn’t make business sense to me – better gender balance equals better business. This isn’t an argument that we should even need to be making, yet we still live in a world where it’s accepted that having children will impact your career prospects, and that’s just the decision as a woman that you have to make. Perhaps it’s time to think less emotively and a bit more logically?
Carol White, Marketing Operations and Campaigns Director
A number of years ago, as a cash-strapped student, I took a summer job at my Dad’s engineering company. One morning we had an important client visiting and every effort was made to make an outstanding impression – presentations were prepared, desks were tidied and top notch catering was called for. However, of the 10 qualified engineers who worked there, you’ll not be surprised to learn that it was Alison, the only woman, who was chosen to do the catering, serving and cleaning up. I’m convinced that this was not intentionally sexist, it was just the way things were 20 (or so!) years ago.
Similarly, as a woman applying to take a physics degree, eyebrows were raised and if it hadn’t been for a wonderful teacher and great support from my Dad (noted in case you have the wrong impression about him from the previous story!) I would have struggled to see that it was actually ok.
My point is that expectations of what is acceptable have fundamentally changed. Things have moved on an incredible amount since those days and what was acceptable then is unrecognisable to younger generations now.
I’m not saying we haven’t got a long way to go, but the pace of change gives me a sense of optimism. Highlighting issues when we see them, working collectively to make a change and getting involved in campaigns such as #BalanceforBetter really do make a difference.
I’m hopeful that in 10 years the issues we currently have to overcome will be a source of incredulity to the next generation.
Carla Knighton, Defence Marketing Manager
I really enjoy the reaction on people’s faces when I start to explain what I love and what I do. Why is it normally something that surprises them? The regular response I get after I begin to tear down the already formed opinions and explain what I do is “Oh, you aren’t what I expected”. I really enjoy it because I am challenging the norms that are present in society.
I, as many women do, aspire to be a leader one day and with that I feel responsible to ensure that women and men around me have the confidence to speak up and support the vision to reach a gender balance.
There are three key things I would say we can do to promote it right now:
- Call it out – ask people what made them think that? Find the cause to re-educate on misconceptions that could be underpinned by unconscious habits.
- Have confidence in yourself – whatever gender just do want you want to do, create a goal, plan and have a vision. Have the confidence to speak up and to go for it. There are support networks to help you get there.
- Do the research – being in tech doesn’t mean you have to be technical, know what you want and have goals.
Misconceptions are one of the most important topics to cover when we look at gender balance as it means you are already starting on the back foot. I think it is also one of the easiest ones to change.
Let’s ask the questions and encourage women to think about technology, make it accessible and understandable. Let’s not assume they aren’t interested, I know I won’t.
Georgina Simmons, Threat Intelligence Analyst
You know that awkward moment when you’re both waiting for the other to walk through the door first? Am I the only one who finds it especially uncomfortable when the other person is clearly the one who should walk through first, but refuses to out of ‘chivalry’?
This may seem like an insignificant aspect of my day and not something to fuss over, in an office environment where overall I feel respected and treated fairly by my colleagues – but every time, it’s a sharp reminder that in fact gender inequality is an omnipresent, inescapable issue, and it will take a long time before we achieve a truly gender-balanced environment.
More importantly than corridor courtesies, we should all be checking ourselves for unconscious biases in our roles at work. If I’m unsure whether I’ve acted in a biased way, I often think ‘Would I have thought, said or done the same if they were a different gender?’ I’d encourage everyone to try this!
Initiatives such as International Women’s Day, International Men’s Day, Ada Lovelace day, International Women in Engineering Day, and so many other great events our company has recognised, are an effective way to keep the gender balance issue in the front of people’s minds, which is how it will be tackled.
Esme Heywood, Security and Human Factors Consultant
One thing that has really stood out for me as worth reflecting on when it comes to the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is gender balance. With studies showing shortfalls of women in the workplace – only 22 per cent of AI professionals globally are female – there may be a risk that certain biases and stereotypes inform and become a feature of this new technology.
This deficit is potentially further complicated by the fact that a number of studies focus on men vs. women, rather than considering the more diverse modern spectrum of genders. It is important in the development of AI and related technologies to recognise this risk and to consider ways to identify and address it. Therefore, companies should encourage all genders into STEM careers and ultimately #BalanceforBetter.
Jemma Goldstein, Cyber Security Consultant
Did you know that/ according to EU regulatory crash-test requirements for vehicles, no test requires an anthropometrically correct female crash-test dummy?
A recent conversation with a friend highlighted that vehicles have historically been designed using crash-test dummies based on the 'average' male – and this is only one social disparity. We live in a world where it is no secret that the culture, politics and economics underpinning society have been marked by a female absence, and we are celebrating the increasing number of movements that are trying to drive and accelerate this change.
However, the gaps that do exist have consequences – in some cases it might be that women are working in offices that are too cold as the temperature is set to the male metabolic resting rate norm (which might be irritating!), but in other instances it could be crashing a car whose safety tests did not account for female measurements.
To solve the issues prevalent across society today, whether it’s bias in test data or male dominance in C-Level Executives, the best individuals for the job must have a seat at every decision-making table. Gender balance is a key component of these diverse teams – albeit not the only one – and achieving this will enable decisions to be made that accurately represent the businesses, communities and wider societies they serve.
The #BalanceforBetter campaign and International Women’s Day provide a platform to celebrate achievements of women, be they social, political, economic or cultural, and empower individuals to drive and enact change. However this must persist beyond just one day – in order to achieve equal gender representation and at an accelerated pace, it must be a sustained and unified effort by everyone who has a voice.
As an individual within a world that is 50 per cent female, I am conscious that I have a personal role and responsibility that goes beyond just calling out the need for gender balance but proactively acting upon it in order to help create a world that is better for everyone.
Jessica Chapman, Data Analyst
Balance should be something we strive for in all areas of our lives, however it seems along the way we’ve somehow missed gender mark. It wasn’t until I left school that I truly became aware of how being a woman could impact my career; that in order to feel truly deserving of the seat at the table, I would have to prove myself.
For me, #BalanceforBetter is about encouraging talent regardless of gender. We have come a long way in the last century, but this is no time to slow down. Women have achieved so much. Did you know, for example, wireless transmission technology was invented by a woman, Hedy Lamarr?
Just imagine what women will invent and pioneer in the years and decades to come – the potential is breathtaking. But unleashing this powerful force for good will only truly occur if gender balance in the workplace becomes the norm, rather than the exception.
Miriam Howe, Lead Security Consultant
The Christmas holiday is the one time of the year where I get enough space to identify a few resolutions for the next year. There are usually so many I’ve taken to writing them down so I don’t forget them!
Similarly at work, having had a bit of a break we tend to spend the first quarter of the year thinking about annual objectives with a fresh dose of energy and optimism. Part of this reflection is how each individual can contribute to a better gender balance in their work. The opportunities are many and varied, but many people can’t see how to make it relevant to themselves.
I think that shows that the level of consciousness of the need for gender balance varies – with many people knowing it’s important, but not necessarily why. Some people know it’s important, and why – but can’t identify something tangible they can do to improve the situation. I myself became more conscious of the need for gender balance only a few years ago, and it brought home not only what gender balance means for myself, but what it means for others – aspiring females and our business alike. Role modelling by senior or successful women brings an aspiration to life and makes it seem achievable. Role modelling by all of us, including men, helps us illustrate the range of contributions people can make – such as being aware of a female voice being shouted over and stopping it; making an effort to assemble a team which is gender balanced; or encouraging someone to overcome social conditioning and reach their full potential.
There’s no better way to illustrate how people can make a difference to gender balance within their own sphere of influence, than highlighting and celebrating examples in men and women alike.
Let’s see more of recognising those contributions this year!