This year’s International Women’s Day could not be timelier. Taking place against the backdrop of intense geopolitical tumult, as well as the lingering effects of pandemic, if any time demands the best and brightest at key decision-making tables it is now.
 
Diversity of approaches, points of view and voices contribute help deliver better results, not to mention innovation and new ways of problem solving.
 
Unleashing the talent of women increases the likelihood of better outcomes for us all. That’s why this International Women’s Day we encourage our community, colleagues and friends to commit to playing your part to help achieve build a gender-balanced world.
 
Here, we spotlight the perspectives of leaders from across BAE Systems Digital Intelligence about the importance of tackling gender bias and inequity on the ongoing journey towards a gender-balanced world.
#BreaktheBias #IWD2022
 
 

Robyn Sayers, Data Analyst


For me, IWD is a cause for celebration, a chance to shout about the amazing work and achievements of women across the world. When I hear of another woman achieving something incredible I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. A highlight of 2021 for me was when 40-year-old Sabrina Verjee beat THE record for running all of Cumbria’s 214 Wainwright peaks. So what does #BreakTheBias mean for me?
 
As the sole woman in project teams and meetings for much of my career, one of the biggest battles I’ve faced is an internal one. We know teams are better and solutions stronger with a range of skills and experiences. But being the one woman out of five, 10 or even 20 men brings an inward pressure that can sometimes lead to self-doubt and bias in favour of others over myself.
 
We have all been victims of our own inner critic but we need to work hard to break our own internal bias. Never thinking that just because we do or think things differently, we’re wrong. Instead, take solace in the knowledge that diverse thinking is integral to the success of our team, our business, and the world.
 
 

Natasha Hewitt, Event Manager


Gender Gap icon A recent global gender gap report from 2020 predicts it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality based on the current rate of progress.
 
Now this may seem discouraging to some, but I feel positive about how far the conversation has come. There has been a clear shift from discourse surrounding gender diversity towards diversity and inclusion more generally, which is crucial for creating safe, collaborative and productive working environments and a healthier, thriving society.
 
I have worked for BAE systems for six years and in that time I have seen many behavioural changes; it’s clear to me that, as a company, we recognise both the social and economic importance of gender equality.  
I manage our own RISE mentoring programme’s quarterly meet up events which is born out of our Women in Cybersecurity Group. The initiative is designed to retain and grow female talent and works across the industry, connecting mentors and mentees to bring tangible results and opportunities. It has been such a pleasure to listen to many of the women’s stories on how they have or are working on overcoming bias, create change and conquer internalised fears.
 
We can make assumptions on others based upon learnt behaviours, stereotypes and biases that are so entrenched within us that we don’t even realise, the social stigmas become so automatic. That’s why we all have an individual responsibility to contribute to change, as it’s only through self-examination and action we’ll gain collective advantage.
 
Significant change is also rooted in education and companies supporting choice across genders, along with those small every day actions we can call take to #BreakTheBias.
 
 

Chanda Azam, Engineer Apprentice


This year’s theme of #BreakTheBias really resonates with me. After all, I am a 32 year old mother to a (nearly!) two year old and part way through a DevOps Engineering Apprenticeship. Not only am I a woman finding my feet as an engineer in what was once, and in some areas still is, a very male dominated industry, I’m doing so as an older apprentice.
 
Out of a cohort of twelve budding engineers, I’m one of three women. And I do often wonder, is this because the number of women who applied for the role was disproportionate? Were they disinterested in a technical career in defence? Or did my male colleagues simply outperform them throughout the selection and interview process?
 
Studies in the past have shown that boys outperform girls in the STEM subjects at school. Whilst I personally feel that gap has been closing for a number of years, I do feel that a conscious effort should still be made to encourage girls to engage in STEM subjects from a younger age.
 
What may start as an interest or hobby may very well become the baby steps to an extremely rich and rewarding career. If I, who had no prior technical experience before starting my apprenticeship, can learn that a postman isn’t just the person who delivers your letters, it’s also an application used for API testing, then the possibilities for a young girl with an interest in computing, for example, are endless.
 
It is our duty as people, irrespective of what gender we identify with, to support women currently in the technical industry, recruit more women and #BreakTheBias one line of code at a time.
 
 

Ceri Parsons, Engineering Manager


Women in engineering icon I started working at Aerosystems International which later became part of BAE Systems in 1996.
At the time, there were about 250 people working for the company, but only about five of those were women.
 
Even though I’d studied maths, a male-dominated subject at uni, it was still a bit of a culture shock.
Walking into an all-male office for it to fall silent at the surprise of a woman walking in – the assumption still lingered that, as a woman, you couldn’t be an engineer. Although my career progression wasn’t affected, it is intimidating to be so outnumbered.
 
But time moved on. I became a mum and working part time and flexibly became a priority. But while the projects I’ve worked on have been amazing for that, it’s also been a juggling act for sure and there’s been give and take on both sides.
 
As my career has progressed and the number of women is increasing slowly but steadily – for example, in each apprentice cohort, there’s usually at least one woman. To be honest, software will probably always be male dominated and that’s fine, but what has changed over the last 25 years is the pre-conceptions.
 
On my current project I’d say approximately 10 per cent of the engineers are women and a lot of them are part time. It’s also become the norm to have women on the project and also in management roles.
 
But the bottom line for me is that it’s never occurred to me that I can’t be an engineer because I’m a woman and I’m bringing my daughters up with the same attitude.
 
 

Mivy James, Digital Transformation Director


There’s still so much to do to #BreakTheBias in order to close the gender gap in certain careers, and particularly in workplace leadership. I often see well intended initiatives to address sexism that actually reinforce it and, ultimately, will reduce diversity in behaviours and approach.
 
There are two areas to challenge in particular:
  • Communication style. Women are often criticised to using “soft” language such as finishing descriptions or instructions with “if that makes sense” or “I just wanted to check” when chasing up on progress of a task. If we remove these types of differences, what we’re effectively saying is that women need to alter their natural communication style to fit in with workplace rules of engagement that have been driven by the dominance of masculine / alphas ways of working. Is it really so bad to check that one’s audience has understood what they’ve just been told? Maybe it’s something more people should do, not fewer.
  • Confidence gap. Much is made of the apparent confidence gap that women seem to have, the example of how many job criteria a woman needs to feel she matches before applying for a role vs the stereotypical lower male threshold. Perhaps this has less to do with the confidence the woman has in herself, and more to do with a lack of confidence in the system’s willingness to promote or hire women, particularly in to senior roles. 
 
 

Holly Armitage, Principal Data Strategist


Communication style icon I can be in a queue waiting to get lunch, sitting with my team reviewing documents, or even sitting in the ball pit in soft play with my toddler when bam, out of nowhere, I'm hit with that wave of an embarrassing, hand-to-face type memory.
 
Some I can look back on and laugh whilst messaging a friend with a "do you remember when...", whereas others I'm not over. I catch myself relieving every awkward detail, the voices in my head getting whispering louder and louder with "I didn't have enough experience" or "I wasn't good enough."
 
It's taken me a while to realise this internal narrative had morphed into the stereotype and unconscious bias I held about myself. In my professional life, this can show up in myriad ways, such as overly rehearsing presentations, squeezing all the passion and enthusiasm I have for the subject out for fear I may forget a section, stumble over my words and look incompetent.
 
I've found the first step in managing my self-negativity bias – that critical voice that overgeneralises bad experiences, dwells on the 'even better if' of a performance review, and minimises the praise from others is to recognise it for what it is. Bias isn't just about how we perceive and treat others; it's also about how we interact and engage with ourselves.  
 
So, for this year’s IWD, I want to encourage people to be actively aware of the unconscious bias they hold about themselves and challenge themselves to explore whether these beliefs are fair and balanced or self-limiting and destructing.
 
 

Charmian Simmons, Financial Crime & Compliance Expert


Each year I am optimistic we make strides forward towards equality. For women – for children – for race – for job expertise and leadership – for salary – for credit/recognition – for diversity and cultural acceptance.
 
The pandemic made us feel the world was a little smaller and less global for a moment. Perhaps many of us were less judgmental, more forgiving, more willing to try (new) things out and dropped a few boundaries and biases. Maybe we felt we could be more like ourselves, both at home and work (even when it was the same physical space!) and it was okay to do that.
 
This year, I continue my optimism with #BreakTheBias. 
 
I will maintain a gender equal mindset. I will encourage positive visibility of women. I will celebrate the achievements and wins. I will reflect on the near-wins and use it to better skills, empathy and judgement for future opportunities. I encourage you to do the same.
 
 

Lauren Thompson, Deputy Account Manager


International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, in all industries, from all countries and backgrounds. It provides us with a point of reflection to think about how much progress has already been made in the journey to equality but, perhaps more fundamentally, how much is still to be done.

Let’s be inspired by the stories we hear about women’s successes, achievements and breaking down barriers. Let’s use this as motivation to continue to strive for equality in our professional and personal lives.
 
Let’s challenge our own internal thought processes, decision making and self-limiting beliefs. Let’s all – men and women – challenge our unconscious gender biases, without judgement, but with curiosity to continue to make further steps towards equality and to #BreakTheBias. 
 
 

Harriet Barr, Data and Analytics Lead


Workplace environment icon I’ve just finished reading The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Seighart, a book that explores why women are taken less seriously than men and what we can do about it.
 
The key point that surfaces throughout the book is how our biases produce an environment where men in professional or leadership roles are assumed competent until provide otherwise, while women are presumed incompetent until they prove themselves otherwise.
 
As a senior women in our company I found many of the scenarios described in Seighart’s book resonated closely with my own experiences and are very relevant to this year's IWD theme of #BreakTheBias.
 
We all have biases based around gender, both men and women. In the context of authority we still have a strong collective bias for associating leadership with male. We also perceive traditional leadership traits such as assertiveness, as unappealing when displayed by women.
 
Furthermore, we often expect traits such as empathy, kindness and flexibility from women in the workplace, but we don’t reward these traits in how we rate leaders (which is mad because they are exactly the traits that make good leaders). This leaves women in leadership roles walking a narrow tight rope of making sure they are confident, but not overconfident, kind and understanding, but not too nice and always over-prepared to handle any challenges to their authority.
 
We’re more aware of our biases these days but we can’t stop them; it is how our brains are wired, we take shortcuts to make associations. The gender split in leadership positions across politics, government and industry is improving and our biases will eventually reset, but it will be a while at our currently rate of progress towards equality. In the meantime, we all need to challenge our biases, stop and think before making judgments and decisions: would I think this or treat this person in the same way if they were a man or a woman?
 
Seighart ends her book with a helpful list of actions that we can all take as individuals, partners, parents, colleagues and employers, so if you’re short on time perhaps start there.
 
 

Hannah Green, Lead Data Scientist


For me, this year’s IWD theme of #BreakTheBias is first about acknowledging it. I’m discovering it can be relatively straightforward to see when bias is being applied to others, but hard to identify and even harder to admit when it is being directed at you. Added to this, at least for me, there can then be an added sense of guilt for thinking that of a colleague, and a fear of being branded as ‘playing the victim’.
  
Many of us prefer to think the best of people, and assume that bias does not come into it, but in doing so this causes ourselves to question our abilities, which results in losing confidence, stepping back and the cycle continuing.
 
So this year let’s call out bias being directed at others, because they may well find it much harder to identify and raise themselves. Calling out problems can be as much about offering validation and support as confronting.
 
Let those around you know when you see bias directed at them, they may not have noticed or they may be blaming themselves. How many times have you heard ‘they don’t mean it like that’ in defence of biased actions? Let’s stop allowing it as an excuse and start acknowledging it.
 
 

Lorna Rea, New Business Development Lead, Central Government


Becoming more balanced icon Well, I am delighted to report that for the first time in my career I was sat in a meeting last week that had an equal gender split. Another female manager pointed it out in the meeting and it was a truly gratifying moment.
 
Things are clearly changing and becoming more balanced, which points to a reduction in bias, certainly in terms of recruitment, succession plans and promotions. I look forward to all of the benefits that employing more diverse teams will bring, as we shift into our new era as BAE Systems Digital Intelligence.
 
One thing that comes up time and time again is the topic of positive bias. For example, male colleagues have raised how it is ‘unfair’ that there are female only award ceremonies. I find this is often a very sensitive topic. I think it can be helpful to take ourselves back to the core objectives for these activities – it is essentially remove the bias for the smallest populations within the organisation which may face unconscious bias or under-representation at more senior levels.
 
In an organisation where only 20 per cent of our organisation is female, then there is always a risk that by putting select measures in place for this population we risk dis-enfranchising the remaining 80 per cent and we must remain mindful of this. However, until we are truly representative of our societies at large in the workplace and whilst evidence persists that bias does still exist, I do believe more focused support is required.
 
 

Christi Foster, Senior Consultant at Techmodal


#BreakTheBias makes me think about leadership and, in particular, what it takes to be a good leader.
I am lucky enough to have worked with some great leaders in my career so far, male and female. I’ve also been exposed to different styles of leadership.
 
In my experience, men and women do often approach leadership differently. I would personally describe my skillset as traditionally ‘feminine’. There are lots of positives – for example, I am keen to collaborate closely with the people around me, getting the perspective of the right individuals before coming to a decision. I can also clearly identify risks in advance and therefore try to mitigate them. These are not exclusively female traits by any means, but in my experience, are more likely to be exhibited by women than men.
 
On the other hand, I’ve had to temper some aspects of my character. I’m naturally indecisive and I’ve had to work very hard to tackle that, particularly in the face of decisions that feel like a lose-lose. I also tend towards doubting my decisions – not necessarily a negative, but if you’re asking a group of people to do something, the last thing they need to hear is “I have little confidence that this will work out”. Men do generally make more confident, decisive leaders. I have seen women excel at this too, but they’ve often tacitly admitted to me that they’ve had to work on it.
 
The problem for me is that this desire to adapt leadership styles can feel a bit one-sided. On the one hand, I’m willing to accept that there are aspects of more typically male practice that I could learn from. On the other hand, it still feels like the very traits that I identify as positive in my own style are not always recognised as such by others. As an example, I’ve learned to raise risks in a carefully neutral tone, lest I be accused of negativity. Female-targeted leadership training often focuses on how to raise risks in a constructive manner – it never seems to acknowledge that the change in behaviour may actually need to come from across the fence.
 
A good leader should be able to indiscriminately draw upon a range of strategies to succeed. Men and women can learn from each other here because both men and women exhibit excellent leadership strategies. Let’s #BreakTheBias and make sure that we’re all learning from each other.
 
 

Nadia Doughty, Technical Pre-Sales Consultant


Unconscious bias icon My working career started in 2001 and I remember working in a consultancy environment for a massive international manufacturer. There was a lot more women in business in the US and I remember sitting in a meeting of about 18 colleagues and I was told to speak last because of my age, my experience and my gender. We have come a long way since then – I think comments like that would merit a dismissal if someone said that today – but there is still more to do.
 
BAE Systems Digital Intelligence is such a great place – we’re surrounded by so many good and intelligent people – but even here you have to guard against the undercurrent of unconscious bias. It’s the nature of male versus female – we like to be equal but we’re also very different. Men still tend to like their voices and there is a danger of them talking over you at times.
 
This extends to things like promotion as well. Too often, women think they should wait their turn and start to doubt their credentials. It would be wonderful to have an environment where there was no undercurrent at all. I’ve noticed younger consultants reflect the fact they have been told they are equally forceful and powerful – in a way the past has paved the way for younger women to have a fairer and smoother path forwards.
 
This, in turn, will lead to all of us having an equal voice at decision-making tables. Will this mean business turns into a democracy? Absolutely not. You still need a leader to make things happen but what it will do is ensure that everyone feels equally valued and has an equal chance to make an impact.
 
That can only be a good thing.
 
 

Megan Richardson, PMO Officer


I have been working for BAE Systems for just over a year now and I firmly believe that where possible there is equality. I have never felt so respected, appreciated and welcome in a company. But as a young woman in her 20s I can’t help but notice that even though this is how I feel, the company is male dominated.
 
I don’t believe this is down to those individuals or even down to the company but it is down to the lack of options given to girls in schools in so many ways. When I was at school I took child development, textiles, product design and history because I didn’t think that engineering was for a girl as I had only been made to believe that. I was not given the knowledge of what other roles there were outside of the norm.
 
I firmly believe that the school curriculum should change to provide everyone with a better understanding of what jobs there are in the world. I was pushed and pushed to go to university when at college where I took health and social care, but university isn’t the only option after college. However, I knew from the off that I did not want to attend university, so I never applied, stuck to my guns and went on to be an apprentice.
 
Although the engineering world is male dominated and schools don’t tell students much beyond the basic curriculum, I also firmly believe that the positions within the engineering world are not for everyone. You have to have the right mindset and if you don’t you will struggle. That’s why I believe we should #BreakTheBias that men should be engineers without forcing it on everyone. People have their own mindset and their own passions and so they should be pushed to work doing something they love and something they enjoy.
 
Don’t just work to live, live to work. Enjoy your job, work in a role that makes you happy and doesn’t make you break when you get home. In the end, is it all really worth it if you don’t do it for you?
 
 

Sammy VL, Software Engineer


Courage icon I've worked as a software engineer for nearly 10 years and spent the last seven within National Security. I was very lucky to have an upbringing that didn't box me into gender stereotypes, so I never had any concerns about discrimination or bias when I first decided on a career in tech.
 
Working in a predominately male environment sometimes has it challenges. Early on in my career I felt like I had to work twice as hard to prove myself and be taken seriously. This is the only time I ever really experienced direct discrimination and it was difficult for me to stand up for myself.
 
This year’s theme of #BreakTheBias is so important because we need to remember that this isn't okay and we all need to have the courage to call it out. Thankfully I was heavily supported and didn't feel discouraged to continue in the tech sector and managed to find somewhere where my skills and experience are valued.
 
Fortunately things are getting a lot better. It still isn't uncommon for me to be the only technical woman on a team but I feel supported and listened to by my colleagues. Networks and tech meetups have been great to meet likeminded people and have the opportunity to share our experiences. There are also far more women in senior tech roles now and it's great to have them as role models. It would be better to see even more though!
 
 

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