#IWD2022 International Women’s Day: #BreakTheBias
This year’s #IWD2022 theme is #BreakTheBias. The day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all over the world.
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
Every year we celebrate inspirational female leaders – this year we wanted to acknowledge that alongside gender, that age, beauty, marital status and other biases also come into play. So let’s meet these five inspirational women who have been breaking biases of their own…
Ladies! Thank you for joining us – please introduce yourself…
I’m Jackie Weaver. Known locally (in Cheshire) for my work with town and parish councils, and now nationally for the meeting of Handforth Parish Council that went viral. I live with my husband Stuart and have three grown-up boys. We also have two West Highland Terriers (Izzie and Rosie). When not working I like all kinds of paper crafts, sewing and knitting – and Stuart loves gardening!
I work for the Cheshire Association of Local Councils providing training, support, guidance and representation for town and parish councils. It is an interesting and varied job because town and parish councils are very diverse. They may be small, rural parishes or they may be large, urban towns (maybe with a budget of c. £2m).
Hi! My name is Camilla Collins, I was born, bred and live in North London with the two loves of my life; my cocker spaniels, Arthur and Bibi. I’ve always loved the gym, but my passion for fitness ramped up several notches recently and led me into competitive bodybuilding. I’m obsessed with growth – mentally, physically, professionally, and personally. I love pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo, grabbing opportunities and learning – even from setbacks.
I’m the founder of multiple beauty and creative entertainment agencies, a speaker and coach, as well as the author “#NoFilterNeeded – kicking unobtainable standards to the kerb and reimagining the power within yourself.”
I studied TV, Film, and Theatrical hair and makeup and started out in film, but found my true calling building people’s confidence through makeup artistry and hairstyling for the big events in their lives; I set up my bridal business in 2011 and began building my agencies CJC Hair & Makeup and Glitter & Glo from 2012. Having teams now allows me to follow my passion: supporting people build their self-confidence from the inside-out as opposed to the outside-in, so they can show more of their true selves, build better relationships, make more aligned connections, and experience more enjoyment and fulfilment in their life and in business.
I am Emma Carroll, daughter of entrepreneurs. I share my home with my husband Phil – a strategic leader – and our 3 beautiful children Dylan, Isaac and Esme. When I’m not “wife-ing”, mothering or working you will find me in the countryside with my horse Bobbie.
I’m the founder of Choose to Grow, a company that serves large scale organisations with training, skills development and capability programmes for their staff. I’m a leadership coach, speaker and author dedicated to ensuring women achieve wellness, wisdom & win at work by adopting my PIVOT leadership model. I want to use my business as a force for good, levelling up the workplace and promoting women in leadership. My big vision is to create a movement of PIVOT leaders who know how to get the tone of female leadership right in their organisation, so women are no longer underrepresented in senior positions due to burnout, lack of skills or losing out to bias.
Hello! I’m Sophie Milliken; an entrepreneur, author, speaker, property and angel investor, NED and proud single mum. I’m based in Newcastle upon Tyne where I live with my 10-year-old daughter and our cat Martini. I try to live a balanced life (The Holy Grail right?!) with health and wellness becoming increasingly more important, the older I get.
In February 2022, I launched Moja. We work with business owners and senior executives to boost their personal profiles and get known in their industry. We know that being visible online, winning awards, speaking at events and gaining coverage leads to an increase in sales and exciting opportunities. I am also the Chair at Smart Works Newcastle, an incredible charity providing interview clothing and coaching for women across the northeast of England.
I’m Carole Ann Rice. A belief in magic has got me where I am today: from council estate to dining with royalty, having toast with Stephen Fry in a broom cupboard to getting on so well with Picasso’s daughter she sent me one of her dressing gowns! I believe in big dreaming and making those dreams a reality. I am a bon viveur who believes brevity is the soul of wit, lingerie and writing copy!
I’ve been a life coach for over 20 years and was one of the first in the UK. I have coached the great and the good, billionaires and students, the famous and the shy. I have also authored two books, am a former Fleet Street columnist and MD of the Pure Coaching Academy – where I create world-class life coaches.
How did you end up where you are today?
Jackie: I started in a voluntary capacity and when the vacancy for Chief Officer at the Cheshire Association of Local Councils arose I applied for it. Back then, we were a small, largely discussion forum with operating costs of less than £10k per year. Over the past 25 years, I have grown the organisation and today we provide a range of services to our member town and parish councils and run on c. £140k. Along the way, I have attained the Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA); a BSc in Psychodynamic Counselling and I am a fully qualified Mediator. I use all these skills in my daily work.
As to where I am today, as someone featured in the media and being a published author – well! I came to public attention unexpectedly after that Zoom call went viral. That led to multiple media appearances from This Morning to The Last Leg and The Archers (to name just a few!). That led to my book deal and launching the Jackie Weaver has the Authority Podcast. It’s been quite an experience!
Camilla: There are biases around people in the beauty industry and in bodybuilding not being that deep or intelligent. But I learned very early in my career that the conversations taking place in my makeup chair were just as important as the makeup itself in order for women to feel confident in their own skin. That’s what paved the way for my coaching career and lit the fire to write my book.
My passion stems from my own struggles with mental health, image and self-confidence. I was full of fear, I looked for love and validation externally and I fixed on many unhealthy addictions which wound me up in The Priory rehabilitation centre shortly after my 21st birthday.
Through many years of my own therapy and research, I was able to recognise and understand my mistakes and find the tools to build inner strength, resilience, and self-confidence the right way. My own journey drives me to support others so that they too can find comfort, confidence in themselves, stop holding back and live fully and fearlessly.
Emma: Since the dawn of time, a woman’s role has traditionally been that of a housewife and carer; the man going out and supporting his family. Phil and I started our marriage like that with him as the breadwinner and me as the breadmaker. At 37, he was promoted to Director so I left my leadership position to start my own business as we wanted a third child and more flexibility.
And so Choose to Grow was founded. I had some lovely clients who gave me exciting projects and paid me well. The following year Esme was born. Our children were thriving. Phil earned a nice wage and we were comfortable. Life was like a fairytale. But then, as in all fairytales, along came a baddy.
At 38, Phil was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma.
We spent the next three years were spent fighting this cruel disease. Facing the facts that you may lose your love, your children could lose their dad and you could be left bringing them up alone, is scary. Yes, I was scared about Phil’s suffering, but I was also (I felt shamefully) thinking about money, how we would not just survive, but sustain our lifestyle. I couldn’t get a corporate job like Phil’s; there were very few women at that level, and with my caring responsibilities I’d soon burn out. Plus, Phil was on an intense treatment plan: we had to visit hospital daily, our children were in childcare or with our amazing friends and we were excluded from normal daily activities. It was a gruelling time physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I needed to find my superpower as a female leader, but it wasn’t easy. I soon realised the real baddy I had to fight was imposter syndrome, fuelled by other women in my life who believed my role was to remain the wife. Then you develop your own bias about your capabilities. Your internal dialogue gets louder. It said I shouldn’t – couldn’t – become the breadwinner. The baddy was also the societal roles we trap ourselves in; the biases around how we achieve and define success. They held me back from stepping up for my family. Could I ‘bring home the bacon’? Was I prioritising money too much? All self-fulfilling prophecies that can stop women beating the wage bias.
Sophie: After university, I joined the John Lewis graduate scheme in Newcastle. I was a manager on almost every department there before falling into HR. I moved to London where I designed training for managers joining new branches. Studying for an HR Management MA was a great experience led to some great contacts. My favourite, final, role at John Lewis was managing the recruitment for all the graduate and placement programmes. It was fun and gave me huge networking opportunities within the graduate recruitment industry.
My proudest moment was seeing John Lewis rise up The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list, peaking at number nine. In 2012, I had my daughter, Jessica. I was married with a baby and commuting from Newcastle to London was no longer sustainable. A restructure moved my role Bracknell which made the commute even more challenging so I took the opportunity to leave.
In 2013 I set up my first business; a graduate recruitment consultancy with a co-founder. By 2014 I was divorced and my business partner left in 2017, after which the business really took off. I sold that business in 2019, stayed on as MD and exited in January 2022. In February 2022, I launched Moja.
Carole Ann: I’m not going into all the details here (my ‘About me’ on The Real Coaching Co website tells the full story!) but my story includes Weight gain. Indecision. Redundancy. Loneliness. Bereavement. Divorce. Parenting problems. Business strategy. I have never been afraid of breaking any biases. I’ve been a punk, a TV cook, a TV puppeteer, a journalist in a man’s world, I won an industry award for writing about perfume and I’ll say “yes” to even terrifying opportunities. Simply put – I have big dreams, grab the opportunities, take the steps and never give up.
This year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. What bias(es) have you encountered as a woman and how have you broken (and continue to break) them?
Jackie: The Local Council world has always been male-dominated but that is changing slowly with almost 40% of councillors now women. However, there is still a bias towards the older age group.
When I joined the sector I was seen very much as a secretary but over the years I’ve demonstrated my understanding of and vision for the sector and believe that I have some respect from my peers for that. A number of officers within Local Councils are younger women and there are reports of sexism and bullying by older male members though. As often in life, there is often a power struggle with the woman experiencing frustration at not being able to do what they feel they should. In mentoring women in these difficult situations I have learned a lot myself about the abuse of power.
There is an assumption that the person who is loudest has the greater power but this is rarely the case. I have found that a clear focus and quiet logic plus an understanding of the ‘rules’ has a big part to play. Rather than engaging in the shouting, it is better to wait until it dissipates and then put your points forward.
Being quieter does not mean being less intelligent or able and I like to think that perhaps I demonstrated this during ‘that’ Zoom meeting. The bad behaviour that we saw played out clearly did not achieve their intended goals. But also, no-one expected me to deal with the situation quite so assertively – probably because I was a woman and an older one too.
Camilla: I’ve experienced biases by the bucketload over the years because of how I look or act. Some assume that being a makeup artist is a hobby or not a meaningful job and that I couldn’t possibly make a living from it. Or that the fact I’ve been single for years can’t possibly be my own choice. Or that my love for bodybuilding is something I shouldn’t be doing as a woman. I love challenging people’s opinions of what a woman should or shouldn’t be.
I believe we all have a bit of bias in us which comes from our experiences and what we, and others, have normalised for ourselves. Through challenging our own beliefs and opening our minds we all have the ability #BreakTheBias within ourselves which gives us the ability to support others in breaking theirs.
Whenever I come up against bias I see it as an opportunity to educate, whether someone wants to be educated is up to them, but me taking it personally or getting defensive benefits no one. And when I meet someone with a predisposition towards me it actually fuels my fire to be more of me, push on with all that I am doing, and be more of who I am.
Emma: Closely linked to the wage bias are a number of other thinking traps that lay in wait for me, and many other women in the modern workplace. The “ball buster bias”; where male counterparts referred to me as ruthless because I was clear on expectations and made things happen, the “mumsy bias”; when my family would comment on me not enjoying motherhood because I chose to work, and the “remote bias”; so a male boss assumed I was less capable of a quality output if my children were with me.
The more you experience these biases the more you begin to question yourself and if there is an element of truth in them. I had always tried to manage this internally through the catch, challenge and change process, and externally by trying to educate or calling out these non-inclusive behaviours in the moment. However, this is easier said than done when the bias is coming at you so relentlessly.
Sophie: Growing up, I don’t remember encountering any biases but this completely changed when I became a mum. There was this expectation, that despite me being the main earner in our household, I was responsible for most of the childcare and the home. When I got divorced my daughter had only just turned two and this expectation very much became my reality.
My business was only six months old and we were taking very low wages so it was a really challenging time financially and emotionally. I needed to get my head down for a couple of years to grow the business as I knew it would do well. Short term, I applied for working tax credits and was fortunate to be able to have my dad go onto my mortgage so I could keep my house. However, because of his age, the mortgage term reduced and payments doubled. I was taking about £1500 a month from the business, yet my nursery costs were almost £900 and my mortgage £1400. Luckily, my parents were able to loan me some money which was a huge help but I ended up around 30K in debt over this period.
I felt a sense of failure and shame that I had become a divorced, single mum, essentially on benefits. It was a difficult couple of years. I focused on growing the business and providing stability for my daughter. Joining some local female business networking groups gave me a huge boost. I met women in similar situations to me and we supported each other. As the business grew, my situation improved and I now have the freedom to do a lot more with and for my daughter – breaking all those biases!
Carole Ann: I haven’t had a job for over 20 years but now I help other women break through their biases via my coaching work. However, when I was a journalist it was very male-dominated and macho. I was the first-ever feature writer to get pregnant and HR didn’t even have guidelines for that. My male editor groaned and said “Oh no I suppose you need time off for that?” to which I replied “No Nigel, I was thinking of having the Caesarean on the desk right here!” It didn’t go down well – but thankfully they’d never say anything like that now!
Which women have influenced, inspired or helped you in your career?
Jackie: No one I can name, but it is encouraging when you do see women come forward to take up roles in local government (and indeed as MPs). There are organisations, such as 50:50, formed specifically to support women as they begin their journey into politics.
Camilla: I’ve admired Marie Forleo for many years, I began following her at the start my career in 2010 and identified with her multi-passionate persona and was in awe of all the things she’d tried before settling in her career. I feel there is an immense amount of pressure on us to pick a lane and stick to it, but we are all free to move lanes whenever we like, and we can always return to a lane if we want to. We can always figure it out as we go. The more things we experience, the more we learn and grow – that makes for a rich, interesting life and actually allows us to serve others better. My favourite quote is “Everything is figuroutable” and I live by it!
Emma: Over the years there have been many female leaders who have inspired me, but there are three that really stand out. Karren Brady, the first lady of football, who has encountered a devastating amount of sexism during her time as a leader. Madonna: whether you love or hate her, this female leader in the pop world has broken records in the music industry and is one of the most powerful women on the planet. And more recently I have had the huge pleasure to collaborate with Mandy Hickson, the only female pilot in the Frontline Tornado Squadron and a true inspiration in carving out elite-level success in a male-dominated arena.
Sophie: I’m lucky enough to have met and been inspired by some incredible women. In my first business, a lady I had worked with during my time at John Lewis, Fiona MacNeill kindly gave us her time to coach and mentor us. Fiona has a challenging style which I respond well to and some of her direct feedback moved the business on at a timely pace.
I have also had epic support from Nickie Gott OBE, a local businesswoman who has encouraged me and cheered me on. Nickie has been through some huge ups and downs professionally and personally and has shown real strength and resilience. During lockdown I wrote my second book, The Ambition Accelerator, to encourage and inspire women to power up their professional success. I was lucky to be able to interview some incredible women (the interviews became The Ambition Accelerator podcast) and learn from their stories: Sara Davies MBE, Linda Plant, Katy Leeson and Ayesha Nayyar amongst others, all hugely inspiring.
Carole Ann: I was always inspired by the actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood as I brought up on those movies – the glamour, romance and power. Feminist campaigners such as Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia for telling it like it is. Journalist Julie Burchill was my role model when I was a journo. A woman I worked with Maureen Messent (sadly no longer with us) who was a brilliant writer and columnist took me under her wing when I was a cub reporter and showed me how to write to make a name for myself. It worked. Thank you, Maureen. And my dear old mum, of course, who said there’s no such thing as the impossible.
What’s the best piece of business advice you were given (and who gave it to you?)
Jackie: In business, it is better to be respected than to be loved. My great aunt (she ran a children’s home in Scotland over 80 years ago)
Camilla: “Hire some help early on.” I didn’t take it, of course. But by the time I did eventually hire some help, I wish I’d done it sooner! It’s a scary prospect for any business owner who has poured their heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into building something to risk someone getting in and messing it up. But the sooner you hire, the less blood sweat and tears there are likely to be.
The truth is you cannot fully grow without support. You can only be in one place at a time, you have just two hands, and there are only 24 hours in your day, some of which you must sleep! With additional people you can double, triple, quadruple your capabilities, and your income along with it to achieve so much more and free up your precious time to focus on the things that are the most valuable to you and those around you.
Emma: Being a successful businesswoman doesn’t mean you have to beat men to get ahead. My business mentor Daniel Priestley offers me sound advice on a regular basis and some of the best he gave me was not to worry about perfection as a woman when launching new ideas or products but just to make sure you are prolific and kick the door off its hinges! This is sound advice for any women out there struggling to put their best foot forward with getting ideas or products out into the world, and it shows that adopting male thinking can be a tool for beating the imposter inside you and driving growth in your business.
Sophie: Frustratingly, I can’t remember who gave me this advice, but it was to surround yourself with people that are amazing. This can be in the sense of your immediate team, ensuring that they complement your own skillset. Alongside that, it is vital to treat people well and look after those that are loyal to you. I’m lucky to have worked with some really brilliant people throughout my career so far.
I find that being open with people, listening to them and doing what you say you will goes a long way to building and maintaining strong working relationships. This makes work more fun and easier to recruit and retain good people. It works for your peer groups too. When I started spending more time with people who were on similar business journeys as me, I had a huge shift in my thinking, confidence and progress. Being able to share the highs and lows with people that get it is so invaluable.
Carole Ann: Don’t play the game for compliments and praise, have the courage to truly trust yourself and courageously cut your own path, reinvent when needs must and be true to yourself. (Advice from many sources)
…and what’s the best advice you could give from your own learnings and experience?
Jackie: Be at least as kind to yourself as you are to others
Camilla: Stay true to you and don’t lose sight of why you started.
I find journalling a great tool for processing thoughts and feelings. Things often make sense in our head but don’t when you put it down on paper, and vice versa. Offloading the things whirring around in your head on a daily basis allows you to sort and organise your thoughts and actions far easier. Even writing out a simple to-do list can make you realise you’re creating more work for yourself in your head than is actually necessary.
Actions get results, not thoughts, and sometimes the simple act of writing down your thoughts is the best action you can take: it keeps you in check and in alignment with who you really are.
Emma: Catch, challenge and change your own bias thinking to overcome the barriers to female inclusion. We often rule ourselves out before society gets the chance. Spark new thinking in yourself to rule yourself in, then influence society with your value creation.
Sophie: My own advice would be to always remain curious and keep learning. We never get to a point where we know it all. A focus on self-development will pay dividends. I do this via courses, qualifications, reading and watching great content. I always have a business book on the go and love a good podcast. Each year, I set specific development goals. It is a habit from my John Lewis days – what gets measured gets done.
I‘ve started sharing the learnings I get from business books with my team and encouraging them to either read books I’ve learned a lot from and/or seek out their own. I’m due to start a business book club this month and plan to turn it into a podcast – really excited for this as we have an eclectic bunch of members!
Carole Ann: In business – have a clear and delicious goal, don’t expect overnight results, patience is a superpower as is resilience. If you really want it – never ever give up. Get good support – a coach is vital 🙂 Also, don’t people please to fit in or be liked. Know yourself, it’s OK if people don’t like or get you. Trust who you are.
What would you say is your biggest success/achievement so far? Anything you still want to achieve?
Jackie: Developing security and status for the Cheshire Association of Local Councils through its reputation in the County. I would like to achieve a better understanding nationwide of what town and parish councils are and how you could, and should, get involved in them.
Camilla: I’m not sure I can name one big achievement. All my achievements are stepping stones in my journey, each stone forms a path and I feel it’s the path I have walked, and continue to walk, that is my biggest achievement.
I’m constantly setting new goals; starting my business, growing it into an agency, launching a podcast and YouTube channel and stepping on stage for a bodybuilding competition. Landing the front page of the newspaper with my book was pretty cool; it’s always nice to have recognition and validation, but with my past in mind, knowing that I’m fine without it is actually probably more of an achievement.
I’m always looking to do more, achieve more and ultimately grow more by constantly asking myself: how I can shake things up a bit? How can I challenge myself and those around me? How can we make positive shifts in life and experience more growth?
Emma: My biggest success in business so far is making my family proud of me as a female leader, followed by creating my PIVOT Leadership philosophy and writing my first book. It feels amazing to get your story out there and hopefully inspire other women with similar challenges. In the future, I would really like to make a difference at the top table by using my profile to influence organisations to be more resilient when they come face to face with bias.
Sophie: It is tough to come up with one success or achievement so I will cheat and share a few highlights. I’m proud of the multiple award wins I have received locally and nationally for my first business and myself. Awards are great recognition for a wide range of achievements and strong results. Writing two books is a career-high. We had two book launches for my first book, From Learner to Earner, a book to help students and graduates secure their first job. The sales leads and interesting opportunities that came from those were phenomenal.
I got the chance to speak at two TEDx events, a column in a careers magazine and several media opportunities. My TEDx talk was a scary experience but the sense of achievement when I had finished it was unbeatable. The opportunities that the talk went on to create were on par with the books. I still receive feedback from people who viewed that talk who tell me how it resonated with them.
Carole Ann: Having my own cookery show on ITV in my 20s. Being the only coach in the UK to have a weekly column in a national daily newspaper (for seven years). My Pure Coaching Academy which stands for coaching excellence. Lovely family and superb friends. What I have yet to achieve? Franchise my academy and get my own TV programme about coaching and personal development.
Finally, what do you think it will take to achieve true gender equality? How will we know when we get there (and are we nearly there yet?!)
Jackie: When we accept that it is necessary to be kind to each other and no one group has greater or lesser needs than any other – we are all different and that is acceptable. Are we nearly there? Sadly no – we all feel our own needs are greatest.
Camilla: We have some way to go on gender equality but I do feel we are making progress through the generations. Focusing on the solution and not the problem is what will continue to move us in the right direction always. More productive conversations, less pointing of fingers, more openness, less defensiveness. Challenging others with their biases, and challenging ourselves with our own biases makes us all more open-minded and willing to change.
There are many gender issues we could address but to me, that seems like deadheading when we should be more focused on solving it from the root. I believe that we need to educate and empower all girls to have belief in themselves and their capabilities, to find their courage to dream any possibility, and lead and support them with building their self-confidence to take action to stop at nothing and make those dreams happen.
Emma: Progress towards gender equality has been too slow and in the aftermath of COVID 19 threatens to stagnate further. I think it’s time to take stock. Given the competing priorities arising from the pandemic, there is a significant risk that inclusion and diversity may recede as strategic priorities for organisations as companies focus on recovery.
Downgrading the value diversity would be a huge mistake. Research shows that organisations with the greatest representation of women experience a higher return on investment, improved productivity and better performance. This must be a motivator for us all in positions of leadership in the organisations we love, to help influence and change the playing field men and women find themselves on so we can all succeed. We’re talking about this at the Women in Leadership event on Thursday 19th May – readers can register here
Sophie: I think to achieve true gender equality, we need to start from birth. We need to educate boys and girls on what that can be and encourage both sexes to play more equal roles as they grow up. For me personally, seeing an even split in expectations and responsibilities for childcare would be a game-changer. Equality in this area would create more parity in the workplace so we would see a number of knock-on benefits.
We will get there when it no longer is an issue that is spoken about or even discussed. Sadly we are so far away from that, but both men and women are more vocal on what needs to be done and we see more obvious signs of commitments from organisations and individuals to get us closer.
Carole Ann: Women need to believe in themselves, be courageous, speak up, be visible and stop underplaying their talents. We will know we are there when we occupy the same amount of top positions in major companies and are equally represented in The Times Top 100 Richest in the UK.
Ladies, thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us.
Readers: we hope you feel inspired to break a bias or two of your own – connect and find out more via the links below.
Happy #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias