Here at EvaluAgent, we’re proud to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme this year is #BreakTheBias. We’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to live in a gender-equal world, where we can call out bias, stereotypes and discrimination.
By all of us working together, we can create a world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can all #BreakTheBias. As a company with a female co-founder, we strive to make our company a more inclusive place. We’re delighted that our Customer Success Manager Michelle Reilly took part in a Q&A on what International Women’s Day means to her and what we can all do to make the world more equal.
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
I think it’s crucial to celebrate all underrepresented groups to promote inclusivity, whether that’s women in tech, LGBTQ+ people, or ethnic minorities. And women are minorities in lots of sectors of business, from train drivers to STEM industries to senior leadership roles and so many more.
International Women’s day is important because it gives women an opportunity to be visible and to talk about their achievements, their challenges and to be able to celebrate their differences together.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
So this is a story about how cultural biases can truly affect women in business, and I’ve experienced it first hand. Throughout most of my career I’ve worked in B2B client facing roles, working with a clients all over the world. And although fortunately we see less bias in UK based business we still see challenges in places where equality for women isn’t as high on the agenda.
I once worked with clients in Africa and The Middle East where equality for women in business is still tricky territory. I was once reallocated to a US business from a business in The Middle East and Africa because the firm I worked for felt that I wouldn’t hold as much gravitas or influence in those regions.
This happened only three or four years ago and I feel like had I continued in that role my career would have been impacted unfairly due to the diversity of my client portfolio. And so I decided to move on to a more progressive business where I felt more supported with international clients, and less like I needed to change my priorities to get the results I deserved.
This really highlighted for me that although we see lots of progression for the equality of women in business, there are still very current issues which need to be addressed to avoid the gap widening as we move through our careers as women.
What changes would you like to see happen in the workplace in the next five years?
More women in senior leadership positions and in ‘the boardroom’ (if that’s what they want!)
More support for women entering industries not traditionally seen as jobs for women
More flexible working to support childcare arrangements given that a significant majority of single parents are women this is not surprisingly often top of most women’s agenda
And less gender-based discrimination and workplace harassment overall. The number of cases of discrimination against women is still prevalent in most industries and we all have to work together to stamp this out
What is the most important piece of advice you have been given?
A few years ago we saw a theme where lots of self-help guides and books about how to lean into the male way of working was a trend. Those guides asked us to talk more like men, act more like men in business meetings, write emails more like men too! (Don’t use exclamation marks?!)
Where I can see where these recommendations came from a well-intentioned place, what I really feel is that this was asking women to adjust to a male way of working, rather than making the workplace a space where people can be themselves. Where women can be women and men can be men and non-binary folk can be themselves too.
So the best piece of advice I was given was to be unapologetically a woman in business and to embrace the diversity of different ways of working for different people.
Is there anyone that inspires you in your career?
I love Shonda Rhimes (Who doesn’t love Grey’s Anatomy?) And although she isn’t a a woman in my field Shonda inspires me to take risks and to grow by pushing boundaries and by going outside of your comfort zone. A few years ago Shonda performed a talk at TEDX where she talks about her personal challenges, her children and balancing her busy career. What Shonda explains in this talk so eloquently is the determination and hard work you need to progress in whatever part of your life you want to work on.
Another favourite inspirational quote of mine, ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room then you’re likely in the wrong room.’ So if you want to be better at something you should surround yourself with inspiring and experienced people who can help you get to where you want to be.
How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their career?
I think education and exposure is key to senior leadership. Education around theories and principles which consider the masses of research and case studies can help you to understand how to work well as a team and how to set the right objectives. Exposure gives you an opportunity to test these theories but also to use your own flair and experience to suit whatever environment you’re working in – but that goes for everyone.
If we think about it from the perspective of women specifically I think there’s still a long way to go in terms of flexible working to help encourage women to pursue roles in senior leadership particularly those with children, simply because they are traditionally the 9 to 5 (and the rest!). Although the recent shift to working from home has helped this enormously there’s still work to do.
I think the women’s entrepreneurial space is booming and I’ve seen lots and lots of women take control of their own lifestyle by starting their own businesses to suit their needs. So to that I’d say keep going! I have massive admiration for women who see an opportunity and take it with both hands!
What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, work out the things you don’t know and work on them, and ask for advice and mentorship from your colleagues to continue to improve. Some of the greatest lessons throughout my career have been learnt through watching the way my mentors work, taking note and saying yes to any opportunity that will help me grow, no matter how scary it is. Throw yourself in at the deep end!
As you start to learn you should focus on the things you’re good at and that you enjoy! Don’t think within the realms of a traditional hierarchy when expanding your skill set. Some people are naturally good at tech while others really thrive when manging people. Choose your career direction based on what you like to do and don’t focus too much on the things that you don’t. By all means, work on your development areas if they’ll help you get to where you want to be, but the value of specialising in an area you are interested in will help you to feel fulfilled.
If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Firstly, what’s for dinner?! But onto my guests…
Shaimaa Khalil – A journalist who’s worked for the BBC for more than ten years. She’s Egyptian-British and has years of experience in international news reporting. In 2011, while she was covering the Arab Spring in her home country Egypt she was detained by the military in Tahrir Square and continued to report and share the experiences of the local people. I remember following along on Twitter and I’d love to hear more about her bravery & experiences as a woman in such a hostile environment.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – was working in a bar as a waitress until becoming the youngest woman of the United State Congress in 2018. A really passionate socialist activist with progressive views on immigration and tuition-free education. Alexandria has a massive social media presence because of her bravery to challenge injustice. I watched her examination of Mark Zuckerberg around the Facebook political advertising scandal and it was incredible, I’d love to ask her how she felt in that moment.
And finally, Taylor Swift to get the after-dinner party going with a few songs, to talk about modern feminism and to hear her inspiration and experiences from inside the male-dominated music industry.