In the three themed breakout rooms, attendees – despite managing different topics – found a common challenge:
In our breakout room on the Importance of Education, children’s schooling and its role in gender dynamics took centre-stage. With work-from-home and lockdowns enforced, it was near impossible to work in a productive manner with children at home and something had to give; predominantly a reduction in hours for one parent, unpaid leave, or simply an unsustainable lifestyle of ‘childcare all day and work all evening’. Most of this burden fell on women.
This crisis has not only highlighted the importance of school to keep the economy running but also that without appropriate childcare considerations by both the government and employer, achieving parity of access to opportunity is impossible. However, while policy was important, ‘company culture’ was agreed to be key in affecting real change.
The Male perspective room, while discussing a similar disparity on home/childcare responsibilities, noted the impact this experience has had on male leaders; improving awareness of the challenges faced by their female colleagues at home, and reevaluating their perception of gender equality. We observed a need to tackle the stigma of men leveraging care/flexible policies. Rather than policies, it was down to leadership highlighting and encouraging their use by men as well as their partners – a heightened focus on company culture.
Our Generational Female Perspective room tackled a different discussion on culture altogether. Attendees discussed how culture affects the ability to progress a D&I agenda, and if it is something society can overcome. Are we also good enough at calling ourselves out when we fall short? One attendee shared how her heritage impacted her perceptions and assumptions. Another shared challenges of bringing change locally in an Asian company that, in its HQ, still ascribed to the concept that employees beyond a certain age are officially considered to now being disadvantaged. Critically also was the discussion of ‘grassroots’ change – to take ownership in middle management, in a local team or office – to drive change at all levels of the business.
Day 2: Inspiration from Dany Cotton, The First Female London Fire Commissioner
A catalyst for diversity is the visibility of female role-models in leadership. To this effect, we were very lucky to have Commander Martin Moore, Defence Advisor for the British High Commission Singapore host a discussion with the much acclaimed Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton.
Dany rose through the ranks of one of the most male-dominated industries in the UK. In an inspiring and humble presentation, we learned how Dany Cotton became a leader and role-model, not by mirroring the attributes of her male colleague to ‘fit into’ an existing culture but working & leading with authenticity with a belief in her skills and experience – even during the hardest times. In doing so, Dany gave enormous value to an organisation where your ‘culture’ and team-dynamics can have the highest of consequences.
Dany Cotton demonstrated how fresh perspective can radically change the oldest of institutions and concluded with this simple advice: ‘Lead by example, don’t let anyone undermine you and be the best you can be’.
International Women's Day: The Virtual Conference
example, don’t let anyone undermine you and be the best you can be