Why the theme for this year's International Women's Day means so much to me
When I worked at NHS.UK, GDS and for the Mayor of London, I never really noticed much gender inequality. All of the teams I worked in and with were very diverse and that felt like the norm. It wasn’t until I moved into the private sector in 2017 that I became acutely aware of a real issue. “Where are all the women? Where are the female leaders?”
People who know me, know I’m a ‘get shit done’ person. So when I find a problem, especially one which goes against my personal values, I feel compelled to try and fix it. So I found myself setting up a ‘Women In Digital’ group to try and redress the balance in the department I was working in. This quickly escalated into me becoming the Diversity & Inclusion sponsor for the whole digital business (about 300 people) and becoming Vice Chair of the Global Women’s Network for the entire firm.
These roles involved leading initiatives such as mentoring, leadership training, reverse mentoring, recruitment initiatives, allyship training and updating HR policies to reflect fair parental leave and flexible working.
Taking on this work (on top of my day job), was hugely rewarding, but quite a slow burning task because I was working with a large, traditional organisation which is a hard thing to change and move. We did make a lot of progress, but sometimes our ambitions were diluted by the time they came to fruition, because of corporate pushback.
A different kettle of fish
Why am I telling you this? Because Foundry4 and its parent group The Panoply is an entirely different kettle of fish. We have the same diversity challenges as most IT and Digital businesses, but we’re a new, agile, modern group with progressive thinkers at the helm. In fact, one of the reasons I joined Foundry4 was because the work and culture aligns so much more with my personal values.
We are already investing considerably in the Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) agenda and have genuinely ambitious plans to tackle these issues head on. You just have to look at initiatives such as the Future Leaders Programme, our flexible work policies, and the covid-19 Child Support Programme which helped employees with homeschooling to know that this is something our organisation takes very seriously.
We have a fantastic opportunity to design our organisations very deliberately so that as we grow, we become a diverse group of people which truly reflects the society we serve. But we will only achieve this if we all feel empowered to #ChooseToChallenge. That's the campaign theme for this year's International Women's Day.
What I take this to mean is that each and every one of us has a responsibility to keep diversity and inclusion front of mind, so that when we’re setting up a bid team, arranging a meeting, recruiting a new staff member, writing a policy document - doing any piece of work, we ensure we have a healthy balance of team members and opinions in the mix and when we see that this isn’t happening, we feel able to call it out constructively and help fix it.
Creating the environment we want to work in
This agenda is important to me because I want to work in an environment that values and champions equality and diversity. I want to work somewhere where junior staff have leaders they can relate to, that inspire them and which they can aspire to be like. I am prepared to put in the extra time and effort to support this work because it really can improve the working and personal lives of our colleagues, as well as better equipping us to deliver value to our clients. But even better than that, there is also a lot of fun to be had along the way.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been a judge for the Code First Girls course finale, which gave me the opportunity to meet lots of young women from many different backgrounds and encourage them to continue their journey to become developers. I even ended up recruiting one of the students, who turned out to be a really excellent and successful hire.
I’ve also given my time to regular career mentoring sessions with two BAME women and had the pleasure of helping them to overcome significant obstacles - such as being held back from promotion, being asked to take on too much/ the wrong kind of work, making a career move and planning to have a baby - and make fantastic progress in their careers. I can honestly say that my meetings with them are the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job.
Through the Women’s Network events that I’ve been part of, I’ve participated in many conversations and talks, which have inspired me to try new things and push myself outside of my comfort zone. One of the most stand-out of these was a talk by Josie West about her #SheFlies initiative for encouraging and supporting women in extreme sports. Since then Josie and I have become friends and I’ve been on one of her all women beginners kite surfing camps, which was a truly exhilarating experience.
From challenge comes change
On this year's International Women's Day it feels like precisely the right moment to highlight this agenda with you all. As the #ChooseToChallenge campaign message states:
“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.
We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.”
I particularly like this theme because it’s about empowering people to take action to drive change, which really resonates with my desire to make things happen. 2021 is going to be a big year for Foundry4 and The Panoply, a lot is going to change and we are going to grow considerably.
If we all take on the responsibility to #ChooseToChallenge then together we can ensure that we grow into an equal and diverse group of businesses, which in turn will help us to become a fantastic place to work and deliver the best possible outcomes for our clients.
Managing Director, Public Sector
Natalie has fifteen years experience in Digital Transformation, including key roles in the transformation of UK government, NHS.UK, GDS, and london.gov.uk.