Comment: I’ve never thought of myself as feminist, but there’s clearly work still to be done

Comment: I’ve never thought of myself as feminist, but there’s clearly work still to be done

International Women’s Day served as a reminder of the need for equality in the workplace, says Advantage managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Make It Happen: for greater awareness of women’s equality, for more women in leadership roles, for growth of women owned businesses, for increased financial independence, for equal recognition of women in arts, for more women in science, engineering and technology, for fairer recognition of women in sport.

I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist or indeed felt that I had experienced true inequality throughout my personal or professional life. I’ve never believed in board quotas or promoting staff just because of their gender or felt that I couldn’t have it all, simply for being a woman and mother.  

I am however starting to wonder whether inequality against women is so ingrained in society that we don’t actually realise that it’s happening.  What is most alarming is in some cases it’s actually other women that are barriers to equality, as they feed their own insecurities on the success of successful women.

It’s 2015, and over 100 years since the women’s movement began. There is increasing recognition that gender equality is crucial for a nation, with positive progress made on equal rights for women on a global scale, which is why last week’s headlines from the professional sporting world is so disappointing and a reminder of how much more needs to change.  The disturbing footage that has emerged of football fans chanting sexist abuse at Chelsea’s club doctor Eva Carneiro is beyond belief. Do those responsible not have wives, daughters or sisters? 

Advantage has never had a female MD and over the last thirty years there has been a disproportionately small number of elected female board directors. During my tenure I have actively supported the DCMS Think Act Report which proactively champions a fair deal for women in the workplace. On my board we have seven elected directors and only two are female. I am hoping that with our next member elections about to take place more successful women find the confidence and motivation to nominate themselves where they feel they can bring the skills they have learnt in their own business to be utlised to the benefit of the company. 

As women, our perspective on issues is very different. We deal with matters in a methodical manner; we see humility as a strength, we reference with a ‘we’ rather than an ‘I’ and our instincts are tuned in to pick up every detail from body language to tone. We are not scared to deal with conflict and do not see mistakes as a sign of weakness but a way of learning how to do things better. If something has to be said we may not have great diplomacy skills, but it will still need saying.  We leave no stone unturned until it ‘feels right’.

Confidence, gravitas and charisma are behavioural qualities generally thought of in male business leaders. I have heard the same expressions used for women but the word generally used is bully.

When you move out of the workplace there are so many areas of inequality that still need to be tackled. You may have read the moving story of the ‘World’s Lost Girls’ in the Telegraph yesterday (Sunday) which highlighted the plight for girls across the world from kidnapped girls to girls battling body images.  This open letter by a sixteen year old girl really moved me and reminded me why I can no longer be naïve to the fact that inequality in the 21st century still exists.

Are the cultural reasons why in some parts of the world women cannot vote, drive or be seen in public unless covered from head to toe in clothing something that can be modified?. Yes they can as even these cultures are changing; modernising their approach to women and this is happening through education.  The more we can educate a new generation of children on the importance of gender equality then the better the chance we have of changing the future for generations of girls and women to come.

We can start with our own children and in schools. Educating and mentoring young girls and boys of the importance of equality. Mentoring school children that women can go on to have successful careers without fear of intimidation or retribution.

I am very fortunate to have always had strong confident women around me as role models. Women who have risen to the peak of their careers in male dominated sectors and it is these women who continue to inspire me and teach me that together, we will make it happen.


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