International Women’s Day 2021 – Theme #ChooseToChallenge

Hannah Cann - July 7th, 2021

Hands up – who’s in?

It was 12 years ago that I first realised something needed to change in my working environment.

When our wider leadership team met, I was the only women in the room not in HR (no criticism HR colleagues as I am in HR now, and I know we’re a feisty bunch, but we are also female-biased).

I’d been part of a feminist organisation all my life and knew the support that network gave me, so I put my hand up and started my first Women’s Network.

Here we encouraged women to choose to challenge themselves.  To look beyond their current role, to believe in themselves and ask for what they wanted, knowing there was an army of supporters who had their back.  It’s still a role that networks play, helping those who need it with advice and growing individual confidence.

As a recent graduate of our Employee Network Development programme said:

“I’m not a quiet person, but my confidence level has grown rapidly…… it confirmed what I do does matter, and I can make a difference.”

But employee networks can be and need to be so much more.  We need to choose to challenge the meritocracy too.

There is a systematic bias in the structures of decision-making and ways of working in many organisations.  Many of our assumptions and processes were built during the “breadwinner man” era and are still perpetuated within senior teams.

Often these teams are not gender-balanced and don’t have the life experiences to “get” why their ways of working or expectations of what good looks like aren’t relevant to everyone anymore.

But those times are no longer!

Women’s Networks, at their best, are the collective voice of a minority who can speak truth to power in a way an individual may not.   They can share their perspectives through reverse mentoring, they can be advocates for change in those ways of working, and they can help shape our new ways of working, which work for everyone.  Leaders of organisations need to “choose to listen”.

So, until our pay is equal, our leadership styles are recognised as strengths, and women have representation in all the places decisions are made. I will keep campaigning and helping Gender Parity Networks have a strong voice and a supportive heart.

Hands up – who’s in?

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