This International Women’s Day, I spoke with two of our Explorers, Katy and Barbs about our Scottish Enterprise Principally Women’s programme and to find out what they’ve learned from the programme, and what IWD and #BreakTheBias means to them.
- Can you tell me what the Principally Women programme is all about?
Barbs: “It’s a programme designed specifically for female senior business leaders to develop their leadership with a focus on the real challenges that are specific to women.”
Katy: “Absolutely – we’ve worked to make a space where women are able to truly be themselves, feel supported and safely challenged to develop personally and develop their businesses. It’s a place to feel confident and empowered.”
- Be honest, before we started running the Principally Women programme, did you think that there was a need for ‘women only’ or gender specific leadership training?
Barbs: “Unfortunately, yes. Women face situations, challenges and barriers that do not exist out-with their gender. The programme works to identify some of those challenges, and offer practical support on how they can address them.”
Katy: “If I’m honest, unlike Barbs I rebelled against the idea that women should have their own programmes/network, as I felt that we shouldn’t need our own spaces and should be able to be successful within a mixed gender environment.”
- We've run the programme twice now - having been part of it, is that still what you think?
Katy: “No! As soon as we had our first introductory calls with women on the programme, I very quickly saw how wrong I’d been. A women’s only programme, wasn’t a sign of weakness but of amazing strength.
Women do face differently challenges and barriers in the workplace to men, and men still hold the majority of leadership positions, that is just fact. Being in the minority can at times feel can feel wearing and lonely, but in a women’s only programme you don’t have to deal with the perceptions and stereotypes that may hold you back in a mixed group.”
Barbs: “I agree with Katy - the reality is that from birth that women are viewed in a different way, across continents and cultures, and we want to make sure that there are opportunities for women, and everyone, to thrive, no matter what they face. One of our key messages in the programme is about sitting with fear and courage. Acknowledge it, but don’t let it stop you.”
- What has been your favourite part of your involvement so far?
Katy: “All of it! These programmes have enriched me and I always look forward to the sessions as I know there are going to be some brilliant conversations. A huge privilege for me was sharing feedback that family members had given. Seeing the impact that this had on the women will forever make me smile.”
Barbs: “I love when the women share really personal experiences and we can support them, through great conversations, to find a solution, or even options. The women speak about the difference in their confidence that they have experienced after taking part in the programme, and this is the stuff that has the greatest impact for them, and me.”
- What struggles do you think that women in the UK still face in the professional world?
Katy: “There is still a perception that women are inferior to men and less able to be successful in roles of ‘power’. Unfortunately, I can give numerous examples to back that up with what I have experienced, and what the women we work with have told me. Things such as, women being left out of meetings, being described as “over-emotional” or “all women are weak” … I could go on. Gender pay gaps and representation also evidence this. It’s my opinion that every single challenge that women face, comes down to systemic gender bias.”
Barbs: “I was doing research last week to design more content for the programme, and I came across some interesting (and terrifying) stats on gender bias when it comes to influence and negotiation. There remains a lot of negative stereotypes about what a woman should or shouldn’t be, how she should behave, and the role men play in supporting women.”
- The theme of International Women’s Day this year is Break the Bias – what does this mean to you?
Barbs: “To me it means everyone taking a proactive approach (all genders) to what is not appropriate and what is not helpful and to know how to call that out not if they should. This can be behaviours, workplace cultures or practices. This is a responsibility of all. It’s about challenging those things we hear and observe every day in our workplaces and in all aspects of life, to give women their rightful place of equity in the world without fear or bias.”
Katy: “For me it’s about people being honest and taking in the fact that gender bias still exists. Open your eyes and don’t hide to this. From here you will be able to call out biases and call in those who have them to learn and do the right thing. There are amazing women out there that we haven’t even met yet, who haven’t had the opportunity to show how amazing they are. What a shame it would be if bias continues to dictate that.”