One year ago I blogged about how Gaia Resources created time for the women (and truly all staff) of the company to come together and speak on sensitive matters in a safe space. We raised issues of sexism in previous employment and how we feel supported by not only leadership but by the whole team, men and women alike.
As a follow on from last year, those who were interested were encouraged to continue the discussions. The group met a handful of times to discuss topics such as what it means to have a family and be a working woman, what it means to be childless in today’s society, and sexism in finance. Conversations were rich and it was warming to encounter such a diverse range of experiences and opinions.
This year, rather than taking you along on our discussions, I’d like to highlight a couple of our outstanding female staff from across the company. Gaia Resources is a company with a gender ratio of almost a cool 50:50. Personally, I find it rewarding to work in a company where women are in every role, from leadership to DevOps to support. Furthermore, as a Developer, I take pride that I am not the sole female Developer. However, for today, in their own words, Tracey Cousens and Tanya Aquino describe their experiences being female and working in various roles.
I’ve had a very varied working life, from labouring to STEM to tech support. I’ve found my time as a Business Developer for Gaia to be refreshing in that I have rarely found my gender to be an issue. I’m aware that a big part of this is the nature of the role – I am predominantly listening to clients and working with them to find solutions. The issues tend to arise whenever you have to push back on a client.
In any role, in any company, when you have to say no to a client, the attitude towards you can be vastly different to that of your male colleagues, even when delivering the exact same message. I’ve experienced this from both men and women – if you are not telling them what they want to hear, they go over your head, only to be completely accepting of the same information from a male, regardless of job title or authority.
I’ve pondered the reasoning for this – is it a man’s appearance? Their deeper voice? Their confidence? When these attitudes come from other women it can be especially disheartening and confusing, and I don’t even think they realise they are doing it.
Digital communication such as emails can create a certain disconnect between people, which makes building relationships trickier in many ways. But they can also be advantageous in that they help to remove preconceived notions based on a person’s age and appearance. The increasing need for video calls has been somewhat of an advantage for me – everyone on video calls appears about the same height. As a person who is barely tall enough to reach the accelerator pedal in my car, I have to say I have definitely felt people take me more seriously as a professional when they only see me from the torso up!
I think attitudes are steadily improving as time goes by, and I believe all people can play a part in improving things by examining their own unconscious biases. Personally, I have been working on appearing more confident through my tone of voice and delivery, and not pathologically apologising for things that aren’t my fault. But I’m also looking forward to the day I don’t have to try to act more like a man to get a point across.
At parties, when people ask me what I do, my stock response has been “I manage teams in IT”. (Purists will note this isn’t very precise – but it’s good enough for parties!) I’ve been saying that for 25-ish years now. The response was often … curious surprise. “Wow .. wouldn’t have picked that!”. Or, “My, that sounds like a big job – do you have kids?”. That is; the response was often not about the thing I had just told them I did, it was a reaction to something about me, the person who was telling them.
I’m not entirely sure what part of my answer inspired this kind of response. Was it the “IT” part? Or was it the “manage” part? Or the fact that at some points they would have been looking for a young (early 20’s) IT professional. Who knows? But it would seem that at some level I’d disrupted some assumptions about who does management, who does IT, how old they are, what kind of a person they should be, whether they had kids or how they should look …
It’s fair to say that I get less curious surprise about me .. and more interest in the thing I do (“Cool, what kind of IT and where”?) these days. I’d like to believe that my experience of this happening less in more recent times is a shared one. But I know I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to always choose to work in organisations that value inclusivity, diversity and equality, places that ‘walk the talk’, with policies to ‘define and enshrine’ these values, supported by tangible practices – such as selection activities and targeted career opportunities. I also recognise that my experience comes from a place of privilege – and others will have many different stories.
But my experience is what formed my strongly held belief that one of the most important obligations I have as a (now older!) woman who ‘manages teams in IT’ is to make sure that at the foundations of everything we do – how we manage our teams, recruit our people, how we train them and treat them – must continue to have at its heart the ‘breaking of bias’.
I truly believe it’s our difference that makes us better.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. Both Tracey and Tanya spoke to the biases they have faced head-on. Through conversations and stories like theirs, we take the steps forward to breaking down stereotypes. We all have bias but recognising and working to overcome it is what will make this world a better place. Thanks to both for sharing their story.
If you’d like to know more, if you would like to work with a team that supports and encourages diversity, or if you simply want to tell your story, feel free to email me or start a chat with us via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.