As we sat in the office yesterday, working together, the same as every day, I inadvertently sent a small shockwave through the team. ‘How?’ I hear you ask…well it seemed to be such a small comment that caused much debate. I informed the team that I would be writing the blog today about International Women’s Day. Dah dah daaaaaaaah!
Well this comment caused quite the discussion within our usually harmonious team…and I must add that it wasn’t a boys versus girls scenario, but there were obviously the usual jokey murmurs of “when’s International Men’s Day?” (19th November, for those who wish to know). However, it did prompt a discussion on industry bias, gender stereotypes and our thoughts on the feminist movement. I have to admit, I can be a little critical of women’s movements as I think all too often there is a desire for the scales to be tipped too far, but the #balanceforbetter motive has resonated with me. Opportunities should be equal and assessments should be based on performance and ability, not gender. I think balance is integral to most things we do in life, so balance in the workplace sits nicely with me.
Biologically we are wired differently, anthropologically we have developed differently, and I believe these differences should be celebrated and provide strength in diversity. These differences should not be highlighted as a reason to pay anyone any less, hold anyone back or create an environment where an employee’s perceived ability to do their job is defined by their gender. I do not want to be offered a job because I am a woman and I fill a company’s gender diversity quota, I want to be offered a job because I am the best person for it! Gender should be an irrelevant factor when it comes to job performance. In 2012, Marissa Mayer dominated the headlines by being appointed as the first female CEO of Yahoo. Incredible. However, I would very much like to raise my daughter in a world where future Marissa Mayers do not make headlines for being a high achieving woman. It should be the norm. The fact her gender was celebrated in the media, highlights that the prejudices are still highly prevalent. And having a Fortune 500 company with a female at its helm, put the company under the microscope – she was widely criticised throughout her time at the company. It is also worth mentioning that when she parted ways with Yahoo in 2017, her male successor was paid double the wage she received. Looks like we’ve still got a long way to go.
But why did the mention of #IWD cause such a ripple in the office? At first I was concerned and thought, ‘maybe we are not quite as harmonious as I thought’ but then I had a realisation. The Sherpa team were working together, using their different specialisms to enhance the shared projects in unique ways and I had disrupted the equilibrium. I had suggested that we segregate half of our team and celebrate their gender. What this did was create a ‘gender bias’ that ordinarily isn’t really there. At Sherpa, what sets us apart is our individual skillsets, not our anatomy. I hadn’t really thought about it but it suddenly occurred to me that we are, in fact, well balanced at Sherpa. Tom is the CEO and founder; directly below him, we have two directors – one male, one female, then we have a 50:50 split of males and females across teams – specialists, managers, execs, account directors and inside sales. This is a refreshing composition when we are constantly fed with worrying statistics such as: only 30.2% of women hold leadership positions in the marketing agency world, only 12% Creative Directors are women and globally, women make up less than 20% of the tech industry.
So, what sets Sherpa apart? CEO, Tom Perry, founded Sherpa and quickly created a landscape in which equality was the benchmark and diversity was encouraged, so I asked him how he has developed this culture. This was his response:
“Four years ago Sherpa took the decision to align itself with 3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - the first of these was Gender Equality. As an agency, we are absolutely committed to this idea and have developed a whole range of initiatives to support this. ‘Choose your hours’, flexible working arrangements, an open book gender pay policy and Sherpa time - where we allow unauthorised time away from the business for personal time, have all become part of our way of life here. In fact, I’d go further and say, that without these initiatives and a drive for full and total equality we would not be the successful organisation we are today. On International Women’s day, it’s been great to reflect on the huge effect of these initiatives and to also consider how we can go further in this area”.
It is therefore not about actively employing men or women to fill a quota, it is about creating an environment which allows employees to be themselves. As a mother with a young child, I know how difficult it can be to not only juggle parenthood, but to carve a route through the undergrowth of maternity leave back towards your once perfectly paved career path; I am not at all surprised that 43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time. However, if more companies embraced similar policies to those at Sherpa, where flexibility, transparency, equality, understanding and above all abilities were championed, maybe this figure would be lower.
The differences we celebrate at Sherpa are nothing to do with age, the colour of our skin, the composition of our chromosomes or our personal preferences…we are treated as professionals and our skill sets are what differentiate us. We are doffing our hats to International Women’s Day today, but don’t you worry, we will also be doing likewise for International Men’s Day on the 19th November. After all, we’re one team and it’s all about balance.
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