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'When women gain, everyone gains'

25 March, 2024 Reading: 4:50 mins
Sarah Reakes

By Sarah

It was an honour and a privilege to host our International Women’s Day (IWD) panel discussion recently. I was honestly astounded by the power, eloquence and positivity of our five panellists.

'When women gain, everyone gains'

I’m acutely aware of how different my lived experience is to that of today’s twenty-somethings, and this event was designed for me and my generation of women to learn more about that lived experience of this younger generation, and what we can do to enable a better future for them.

I feel strongly that it’s part of my role of making KISS a place where everyone can thrive so, in this case, we wanted to keep the spotlight on understanding younger women’s motivations, needs and challenges. Everyone who attended owes so much to the panellists who shared so openly and eloquently. I learned so much and have several ideas about how to turn what I learned into action.

I left the event feeling inspired and positive with the words of these women

Although we have a long way still to go to reach equality, I left the event feeling inspired. The evening, put together with the help of our friends at Form the Future, featured a panel of amazing and inspirational young women and was designed to be truly intergenerational: everyone was invited to bring a younger friend, colleague or family member with them. We wanted to explore younger women’s lived experiences at work, and talk about what we can do to embody the IWD theme which this year was ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’. In a lively and positive panel discussion, many thoughts and feelings were shared and I experienced a huge range of reflections and emotions.

Here are a few moments that stood out for me:

Firstly, the panel agreed that there is a tricky balancing act for women between being ‘too much’ in a work environment: being vocal with your ideas and opinions, firm in your beliefs; versus the (stereotype) trait of being ‘too little’ – undervaluing your ideas or allowing others to dominate. Several of our panelists reflected on the instant judgements they regularly experience, simply for being young and female. Some had experienced additional stereotyping or bias due to perceptions around race, ethnicity and neurodiversity, and emphised that this double bias and intersectionality of identities, isn’t really addressed in law or often spoken about.

It’s sad that we still spend so much time battling these perceptions, but our panel shared some great practical tips they use such as: ‘…if in doubt stay assertive’, ‘look back, be an example to your younger self’. Related to this was the simple power of self-belief: ‘be your own best friend… tell yourself – you deserve to be here; you were put in this job on merit’. One great suggestion was making a list of your own past achievements and ‘proud moments’, as a wellspring to draw on whenever you need to.

Secondly, my lived experience is that the norms in most workplaces are male constructs, including the norm that we shouldn’t be 'too emotional’ at work, and that things like crying at work are seen as a sign of weakness. So, to hear one panellist say ‘emotions are our superpower’ was fantastic! The fact is, we all show our emotions in different ways, all of which are valid, and now more than ever everyone should feel they can show emotion at work. We need more high-EQ leaders who are authentic, vulnerable and available.

A third strand was a focus on the view that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’: so, our fantastic panel suggested trying to find role models to aspire to in the workplace or outside it, and speak to them directly if you can!

I admired their constructive thoughts around the support men can offer: ‘use your privilege’, ‘mentor and sponsor younger people’ and also their views on the hybrid workplace: ‘if you’re going into the office, make it worth it: speak to at least one new person each day’.

With the UK’s gender pay gap at almost 15%, there are so many things that need to change in this space and I came into the event expecting to be impressed and inspired, but this went far beyond that. At KISS we talk a lot about the ‘multiplier effect’ and to me this is a great example of it in action: the power was in the intergenerational sharing, and I, for one, learned so much from the panel and the others I spoke to on the evening and in discussions afterwards.

So, there’s lots of food for thought here, and I thought I’d highlight the top five quotes that I took away from this truly inspirational event:

  • Know what you know
  • When women gain, everyone gains
  • Emotions are our superpower
  • You can have it all – but maybe not all at once
  • Make your commute to work worth it: talk to at least one new person each day.

My first action following this event is a debrief with my colleagues at KISS who were in the room to see how, as a company, we need to think and act differently. I really hope we can do more events like this as the buzz I felt will stay with me for a long time. Thank you again to everyone who helped make it happen.

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