Gender equality has got me asking questions
By Kerry Cope
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been reflecting a lot on equality. It started with the gender pay analysis here at SMRS, and a conversation I had with my niece about the recent experience she had with a Careers Advisor at her school. Throw in the changes being driven by #MeToo movement and the theme of International Women’s Day - #BalanceforBetter - and I can definitely feel the fire in my belly starting to take hold.
I do not consider myself a feminist, and I do not believe men and women are exactly the same. However, what I do fundamentally believe is that everyone, no matter who they are, should have equal opportunity. And that no opportunity should be influenced by gender.
Do I think this is a realistic view? I believe strongly that it should be. Do I think this is the real picture in society? No I don’t. Do I think the momentum is behind change? Yes, I do believe that the desire and will are there. But I’m not entirely sure if everyone is on board with it, and there’s no doubt that it’ll take time. We need to recognise that change needs to come from grass roots as well as leading lights.
I am very fortunate to work in culture that encourages talent and empowers self-discovery and development. There’s no conscious gender bias here. And, having been part of SMRS for a number of years, I’ve taken those opportunities and challenges set out before me. I’ve always been treated fairly and equally to my male peers. My position on the Leadership Team is important to me, but it’s also important to the wider team and agency: the strengths I bring to the group balance the strengths of my peers, and make us a stronger, more effective and impactful unit #BalanceforBetter.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not getting this right all the time. But what we have got right is that we can call it out, and everyone feels comfortable knowing they can.
Has this always been the case when I look back on my career in this industry? If I’m honest, probably not. Have I been called ‘emotional’ while male colleagues are called ‘passionate’? Was it easy to call me brusque, while calling my male colleague ‘direct’ for dealing with a situation in the same way? Did it affect me when, in my first job out of uni, I was called a prima donna? And was that ever appropriate?
Here’s another. Is it ok that one of the first questions I get asked at any event I go to is ‘Have you got children?’ My standard response is now ‘No, I just forgot’, which stuns just enough for people not to try and continue that conversation.
Every one of those examples is a form of gender bias, either unconscious or conscious. Does it still go on today? I am sure it does sometimes. Do I think things have changed, though? Yes. And do I think that more needs to be done? Absolutely.
How can this not be the case, when an artistic, empathetic, creative young woman gets told she needs rein in her ambition, because she doesn’t fit the traditional academic mould? How different that conversation could have been.
Anyone who knows me knows that my personal values of independence and fairness run through me. But so do our company values. I want people to go and explore all and any opportunities. Don’t avoid the challenges. Do it with your own flair and personality, while respecting those around you have the same throw at the dice. How great would it be if everyone had a little bit of that attitude? Opportunity based on what you do, not who you are. #BalanceforBetter