International Women’s Day 2022 (part 1)
28 February 2022
Imagine a gender equal world, the International Women’s Day organisers ask of us. ‘A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.’
The five Change Makers podcast interviewees below not only believe that gender parity is possible but they are also making changes that ensures this ambition remains in sight, and is coming ever closer.
How to ensure women are taken as seriously as men
Her latest book has been described as “a credible roadmap capable of taking women from the margins to the centre”. For political journalist, broadcast and author Mary Ann Sieghart, breaking the bias is front and centre of the work that she does. The Authority Gap sets out to demonstrate that no matter the person or profile, the gender gap is perpetuated by systemic perceptions of women’s authoritative ability. Mary Ann talked to host Michael Hayman not only about a diagnosis of the problem but also a prescription of the change we need to see, as part of the Change Makers collaboration with University of London’s School of Advanced Study which explores the ways in which Covid-19 has changed us as a society.
Today, Mary Ann makes programmes for BBC Radio 4, is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and is a trustee of a portfolio of organisations and charities. She was a senior editor and columnist at The Times for 20 years and has extensive TV and radio experience, both in presenting and in appearing as a guest.
How to be the first
“In every job I’ve done, I’ve been the first woman ever to do it… You’ve got to be courageous; not only embracing the trailblazing but also bringing your own take on it.” In 2016 Leena Nair was appointed the first female, first Asian and youngest ever Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever and had been at the company for 30 years until December 2021 when she announced her move to Chanel. At Unilever, her work sat at the heart of a team of 150,000 people, serving two and a half billion customers – she has always believed in “igniting the human spark for a better business and better world”. How does she do it? Thanks to a unique combination of “head and heart”, as she explained in her Change Makers episode.
Prior to the CHRO role, Leena served as Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion; she was instrumental in driving Unilever’s employer brand to a record high and in step-changing the diversity agenda to industry leadership. “Be the one to ignite the spark,” she urges, a quote that can apply as much to breaking the bias as making change in our personal lives.
Why disability should be on your business agenda
In her own words, she is “somebody who has a dream; who gets stuff done”. Caroline Casey is an activist with a global call to action; if disability is not on your board agenda, she declares, then neither is diversity. Her initiative, The Valuable 500, is an ambitious campaign to get 500 global businesses to break the bias by promising to put disability inclusion on their leadership agendas and recognising the social, economic and business value of the one billion people living with a disability.
“Who knew that Covid would be the greatest opportunity for the work that we do?” Caroline asked Michael when they spoke in 2020. Remote working may have become the new norm for many but in her Change Makers podcast interview Caroline explained that this is the way people living with disabilities and mobility issues have had to live for decades. She questioned why it took businesses so long to catch on and shares her exciting vision for the future: where work practices are built, not to inhibit their potential, but by and for people with disability.
How to live in the moment
“Never take yourself too seriously and just keep going, whatever obstacles are put in your way, and keep learning.” And there’s a lot we can learn about bias-breaking from Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE. The life peer, President of the British Chambers of Commerce and Chair of behavioural change specialist Mindgym was also the first Asian female chief executive of a FTSE 250 company and awarded a CBE in 2012 for services to business and promoting diversity.
Baroness McGregor-Smith certainly takes the challenges of creating fairness and equality in the workplace seriously; she pioneered the McGregor-Smith Review on race in the workplace, which stated that in the UK today, “there is a structural, historical bias that favours certain individuals. Conscious or unconscious, the end result of bias is racial discrimination, which we cannot and should not accept”. It was, she admitted in her Change Makers interview, “really hard for me to write the review. Talking about race is a very, very personal thing”. With Michael, she discussed her drive, the importance of living for the moment and why business can be a force for change in the world.
Listen to Baroness McGregor-Smith’s Change Makers episode here
How to let go of failures
“Meg Mason has achieved something remarkable…,” declared The Times. “Sorrow and Bliss is a raucously funny, beautifully written, emotion-bashing book about love, family and life’s curveballs that leaves you, satisfyingly, with what feels like wisdom forged in fire.” The reviews of Meg Mason’s second novel are impassioned, acclaimed as it has been for containing a “brutal, hilarious and compassionate” truth, and its many fans include the likes of Gillian Anderson, David Nicholls and Pandora Sykes. It is an agenda-setting book, Michael discovered after reading it and during his Change Makers episode with Meg, exploring how we deal with shame and challenging stereotypes associated with mental illness.
It is also the story of a writer on a journey; Meg references a quote by one of her own favourite novelists, Ralph Ellison, who observed that the end is in the beginning and lies far ahead. “My journey was to decide to start again,” Meg told Michael. “I have always found letting go of my failures difficult and forgiving myself for them nearly impossible, but I always thought it was a prerequisite to moving on…. I decided to stop trying at self-forgiveness and just exist alongside my failures.” They are part of her, she explains, the inescapable scar tissue of life.
Listen to Meg’s Change Makers episode here
Cross your arms to show solidarity and share your image, video, resources, presentation or articles on social media using #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to encourage more people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.