Overcoming challenges and making an impact
7 March 2023
I’ve always been passionate about issues that affect women. The differences in opportunities for men and women has been evident to me since I was a child. I remember advocating for my right to play on my primary school football team when I was 10 years old. I didn’t even like football, but I wanted to challenge the status quo on what a girl was allowed to do. Spaces that I didn’t think all females were welcome in were where I felt I needed to be.
Acting against the injustice I felt is a privilege not all women and girls have. I come from a supportive family and network. My mum was one of my biggest role models. She studied computer science at university at a time when it was even more uncommon for women to be in technology. She rose through the ranks becoming a senior leader in IT and managed to balance it alongside being an amazing mother. She demonstrated that, despite the challenges I might face, I too could have anything I wanted if I was willing to work hard for it. I was given advice and support that enabled me to break down some of the barriers I faced as a woman. As I began to reflect on the advantages that were offered to me, advocating for others became my passion.
Whilst most of my experiences throughout my career have been incredibly positive, I’ve been at the receiving end of explicit discrimination and unconscious biases. These were often based on the expectations of a “women’s role” so people might not have realised it was discriminatory behaviour. As I work in technology, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only women in the room. I’ve been expected to be the one who does a coffee run, or take the notes, or be the social co-ordinator. I’m not against taking on these tasks, but it did leave me wondering why I was always the person asked to do them. Bias generally isn’t visible to those who don’t experience it.
I’ve also had more difficult experiences that didn’t leave me wondering why I was the one expected to put up with them. As an educated woman with an opinion, I ‘ve been told ‘It’s not attractive to be a know it all.’ Which, I uncomfortably highlighted at the time, is not something that would have ever been said to my male colleagues. I’ve also experienced sexual harassment at work, which left me feeling both vulnerable and angry. I know I’m not alone in my experiences and that others have faced even greater barriers. That’s why I’m compelled to speak up and raise awareness about the real issues women face in the workplace.
The opportunities available to women in education and the workplace has greatly improved. However, I’d challenge anyone who would say there’s not more to do.
And here’s why…
- Despite girls generally getting better grades at school and being 35% more likely to go to university, they are significantly less likely to study STEM subjects.
- Research shows that when women are looking for jobs they’ll typically only apply if they can do about 90% of the advertised role, while a man will apply if he can do 50%.
- Women entering the workplace can experience the gender pay gap which the ONS reported at over 14% for the UK in 2022.
- If she makes it to the top job, studies have shown that 1 in 10 men from G7 nations are ‘not comfortable’ with a woman CEO.
I think it’s great that at Tesco Bank we have some fantastic role models and a leadership team that’s helping drive change in a business that’s working hard to improve gender inequality. We have a 50/50 gender balance on our Executive Committee and the business is building a pipeline of female talent through leadership development, succession planning and talent reviews. This year, we also welcomed our first cohort from Code First Girls, helping us play an active part in reducing the gender diversity gap in technology. But there is still more that needs to be done to give women an equitable opportunity to reach their potential.
Being a woman has its challenges. But we have the power to make a positive impact on the future. We should tell our stories, highlight injustice, champion our successes, and be supportive in times of need because it can make a difference. I strive to improve the world for women and girls, and I hope you do too!