Breaking through bias to achieve career potential podcast

As we conclude our International Women’s Day campaign in which we have raised awareness of real-life examples of gender bias in academia and publicly committed to improving gender disparity in our publishing practices, we want to use this podcast as an opportunity to provide practical tips of how women can overcome gender bias in their career, and how men can help level the playing the field.

Jenny Garrett, in her coaching role, will provide tips and real life examples that listeners can takeaway and put in to practice. Vicky Williams, as a successful woman in publishing, will talk about her experiences of any gender bias in the workplace, how she has achieved her career and what Emerald Group is doing and has done to address the gender imbalance.

Speaker profile(s)

Jenny Garrett (OBE) is an award-winning career coach, author and leadership trainer. Her books explore the empowerment of working women and women in leadership roles.

Jenny and her team use their years of experience in coaching and leadership to support women and ethnically diverse leaders to progress at work. As well as supporting majority group leaders in making inclusion happen.

Vicky Williams has over 20 years’ experience in scholarly publishing across a range of market-facing functions. She is currently CEO of the Emerald Group, following four years as CEO of Emerald Publishing.

As part of both giving back and learning from our communities, Vicky is an International Advisory Board member for the University of Bradford (UK), and an Advisory Board member for the University of Lincoln’s Impact Literacy Institute (UK). Vicky also works within the local community on Bradford’s Economic Recovery Board.

Both in and out of work, Vicky is a keen advocate for gender diversity, having launched Emerald’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion programme in 2016, and speaks widely on this topic at global forums and events.

In this episode:

  • Background to the guests and their journeys
  • What are the common challenges women face
  • What tangible things can women do to overcome the challenges they face
  • What should men be doing in the workplace to support women
  • Examples of what good looks like from companies
  • Practical tips that we can implement right now

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Breaking through bias to achieve career potential

Iram Satti: In this episode, I am speaking with Jenny Garrett, OBE, and Vicky Williams, CEO of Emerald Group, in celebration of International Women's Day 2022.

We will be discussing the theme of ‘breaking the bias’. If you're currently facing bias, if you're interested in equalising the playing field, if you're looking for practical tips on breaking the bias, this is the podcast for you.

Welcome Jenny and Vicky, thank you for being here today. So today we're talking about this year's International Women's Day theme, which is ‘breaking the bias’. However, before we delve deep into this very interesting topic, we would love to hear more about you, your career journeys, and basically how you've come to where you are today.

So Jenny, can we start with you please?

Jenny Garrett OBE: Thanks so much for the opportunity to have me here on this podcast I'm really excited, it brings together everything I care about. I'm really passionate about supporting the progression of women, and those from ethnically diverse backgrounds in the workplace, as well as supporting majority group leaders to make inclusion happen and I love this idea of breaking the bias because I absolutely think that's what we need to do.

A little bit about me as we're on a podcast, I should explain that I am a black British woman. I'm based in Hertfordshire, and I've been running my business for about 15 years now. My previous career was that I was the Director of Marketing in a leading business school, and it was there I found out about coaching, became hugely passionate about it, and started my business providing coaching and leadership development.

Around nine years ago now, I wrote a book called: Rocking Your Role, a guide to success for female breadwinners, and as a result of that was doing lots of talks with groups of women but I didn't necessarily see my face reflected back in the audience. So I started really to do lots of work around really supporting ethnically diverse people to break through the glass ceiling.

I'm also really passionate about supporting young people and I have a social enterprise that helps young people increase their aspirations, become more inspired and make good choices in their life.

Vicky Williams: Thank you for the invitation to join today. So I am currently Group Chief Executive for the Emerald Group. I've been doing that only for about five months, but I've actually been with the business for just over 20 years.

I think probably I am a classic arts graduate, I studied English and history at undergraduate level, genuinely didn't know what I wanted to do next and kind of fell into publishing. I applied for a job at Emerald as an Editorial Assistant, back in 2000, and I've been here ever since which is probably quite unusual in this day and age but I've worked right across the business, in publishing, in product, business development, HR, marketing. I joined the exec board at Emerald in 2011, became the Chief Executive of the publishing arm of the business in 2018, and as I said, I've just taken over the reins as Group Chief Exec. So brand new role for me in a business I know very, very well.

I also set up Emerald’s ED&I programme back in 2015 and we looked specifically then at gender diversity in our leadership and across our business, but we've really expanded that programme over the past five or six years. Really looking forward to this discussion today.

IS: Brilliant, thank you so much both of you. Both very varied careers, and very different, but equally inspiring so thank you for sharing that.

So, let's move into the theme of ‘breaking the bias’. So, on the International Women's Day website, there are some very powerful statements which illustrate types of bias and the world that we can eventually live in.

So, it says a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive; a world where difference is valued and celebrated; together we can forge women's equality; collectively we can all break the bias.

So, my first point to both of you is, how is it in 2022 there is still so much bias that we need to tackle? Which is quite a big statement and a lot to unpack so that'll be interesting, but what would you say are the common challenges that women continue to face in today's world? And if you've got any personal experiences that you're comfortable sharing, we would be keen to hear them.

So, Jenny, can we start off with you?

JG: The truth is we've come a long way and it's really important to acknowledge that we have come a long way. But on days like this, it's also important to remember that we have a long way to go and we're thinking about women globally. The truth is that no country has achieved economic equality when it comes to men and women. Typically, women are lower paid, or unpaid or undervalued. Often, we're at the bottom of the ladder and also as women, we often have the lionesses share of the carrying responsibility.

So, we have a lot of challenges and that's often what keeps us back, but there is a missing rung on the ladder and that's caused by many different things and bias being one of them. What often happens is at the top of organisations, we look up and there's no one who looks like us when we're a woman, and we find the people at the top recruiting in their own image. People recruit people who look like them, have similar education, similar backgrounds and similar thinking; and so we end up just having the same sort of person over and over again, and as women often were mothers, not always, and there is a motherhood penalty.

I definitely experienced that when I had my daughter, which is 20 years ago now. Taking maternity leave, even being pregnant, I sort of started seeing myself being side-lined. The idea of being part time, and still committed and ambitious, is still a problem in this country but the idea of sponsorship is a big thing. So those at the top of the organisation will reach down and support someone and maybe pat them on the shoulder and say, “I think you'd be really great for that role” or advocate for them when they're not in a meeting. Typically, they do that, they sponsor people who they have an affinity with. So if you are different, and that comes to gender, or ethnicity, or ability, then often you are not the person getting the hand up. So that combination of gender and other aspects can really get in the way.

VW: I don't personally have children, but I do think that is one of the most common challenges that women face is how we juggle caring responsibilities, and it might not be children, it might be elderly relatives, it might be other caring responsibilities; and we saw this amplified during COVID I think. We've moved on, and we have more gender parity in caregiving, but it's still heavily weighted towards women, and I think when you combine that in an age where we're always on, and we're always available via tech and social media, it's actually quite difficult for women to compress hours or be part time, unless you and everyone around you is incredibly disciplined. So I think one of the big challenges is that women are always juggling, and they're consummate at it. So to some extent, that means all of that additional labour is hidden.

Something else I've been thinking about is a challenge that I think is emerging for women, is that as we've started to see some progress in equality, I think women have taken on some of the responsibility of driving intersectional change. There are so many female leaders I know, trying to pave it forward for other women, but also recognise their privilege and help raise others too. If I think about male leaders in the past 10 or 20 years, I'm not sure that they would have seen that responsibility in the same way, and I also got told not long ago that I shouldn't leave the men behind either. So I think as a female leader, you're essentially carrying a huge weight that I don't think men in similar positions thought about for a long period of time. I hope some of them do now, but I'm not sure.

IS: So what would you say are the tangible things that women can do to overcome the challenges that they face?

JG: To women I'd say don't wait for permission. Don't wait for permission to be you. Don't wait for permission to be ambitious. Don't wait for permission for anything. You may have been taught to be a good girl. I absolutely was, sit with my hands on my lap, speak when I was spoken to, but I think in the world of work, things have to be quite different; and I really encourage you to not wait for permission, but to give yourself permission. A boss once said to me “Act first, apologise later”, and I think I've taken that with me. I don't mean to offend people, be rude to people, be disrespectful, none of that sort of thing, but actually a lot of things that you probably want to do just require you to step forward positively, and really show yourself, show all of your potential. So don't ask permission, just go for it.

IS: In my experience, I have had men question whether they can even take part in International Women's Day, and I've always found that to be really sad because International Women's Day is about promoting equality and we all need to be involved in that for it to actually happen.

So what should men be doing in the workplace to support women in building an equitable and diverse world or workplace?

VW: I do think there seems to be this growing fear that men are being displaced. There won't be enough opportunity, there won't be enough jobs, there won't be enough anything. I think we're fundamentally missing the point there; so this is all about creating room and achieving balance, rather than displacement. It's not about replacing one dominant characteristic with another, and I think men need to educate themselves as much as any of us do on just how complex and intersectional the solutions need to be. I mean, particularly white men need to recognise their privilege and use it. As a small example, we recently launched a menopause cafe at Emerald, and although there were only a handful of men who chose to attend, it was wonderful that they did and I just hope we can see more progress like that, even if it's in small steps.

JG: Some really fantastic points there and I wanted to speak to the point about the emotional labour that women have to carry, which is a really important point. The fact that actually, we can feel that we're the first perhaps in the most senior role we're in, and if we don't do it, right, it reflects on every other woman who goes after us in a way that men don't experience that this idea of having to be a role model for other women, and also keep the men alongside us is a lot to carry. In terms of breaking the bias, it's for men to take on some of that load, it’s for men to call in situations that they see that or not quite right; when that woman's always been spoken over in the meeting, not to leave the meeting and say, “Oh, I wonder why they were so rude to you?”, “how do you feel about it?”; but instead in the moment to say, “Oh, let's just let her finish her points”, or amplify her point. I see men having a really key role here. You know, men, you have power that you can use with humility, and a really positive way and I think men can really break the bias.

As women, when we keep banging on about it, we sometimes sound like we've got a bit of a chip on our shoulder. When men say they are coming from a different place, a place of empathy, and objective place and I think it can be listened to in a different way. It's not just a women's issue. Actually, if we get to gender balance, every single person benefits. We've seen so much change in the world recently, whether that's the Black Lives Matter movement, whether that's technology, there's a war going on, the world is changing at such a pace, and we have to be competitive and innovative, and I think gender balance really plays a part in keeping you in that space.

IS: Do you have any examples of what good looks like from companies where they're achieving or have achieved equality in the workplace?

VW: I can talk a bit about Emerald in particular, not because I think we are the bastion, but I think I think it's a good solid case study. I do think companies need to be really conscious and deliberate in their policies and their practices and their ways of working; and we need to consider both structural barriers, but also the invisible barriers that are part of a company's culture.

So the former relates to things like paternity policies, flexible working policies, recruitment and promotion policies, and so on. The latter, they're much more difficult to unpick, but this would be things like team culture, inclusive meeting practices, who and what gets valued and promoted, the company tone of voice, how the company responds to complaints and issues.

At Emerald, we are genuinely very committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, but we do also recognise that we've got a huge way to go. We have made really great progress with gender diversity across our executive teams, and across our senior teams, and that really reflects the makeup of the organisation as a whole, and it's also really reflected in our policies and our practices.

A real turning point was when we introduced more flexible working practices. We had an increasing number of role models, we had an explicit internal programme of development as well and we are committed to reflecting that work across our editors, our editorial boards, and our author make-up. We've got a way to go when we look at other diverse characteristics: ethnicity, class, disability, etc, but we are committed to that journey, and I think in all honesty that's the story for so many companies. There is a long way for us to go in society, and companies are very reflective of that society.

I think the fact that this is on the agenda now, is only positive and hopefully we will just see increasing progress going forwards.

JG: One of the biggest areas that I think can be something that shifts the dial in an organisation, is deciding what talent looks like. Often there's a type in terms of education, in terms of gender, ethnicity, those are the people who get promoted, those are the people who are in senior roles. The rethinking of what talent looks like in your organisation is really important and when you do that, then you start to really appreciate all of the difference that people can bring.

So I think that's one of the biggest levers, what does talent look like? Can talent look different, be different, behave differently? And how do we share that message throughout our organisation? Once someone says, “Wow, that's a woman as a CEO”, “Oh there's someone from ethnically diverse background”, “There's someone with a disability”, “There's someone working part time in the senior leadership team”, that's when you start to see real change, and I think data really helps because quite often, if there's one woman in the senior team, people think, ‘Oh, we're full of women, we've got so many women’, for some reason, just one or two women, makes people think that there's hundreds of us. So actually, the stock data really helps and it also helps with intersectional pieces as well. So that idea of oh, are all women doing well? or, are there particular groups of women who are not doing as well as the others, and what can we do about that? And I think once you really think about the talent aspect, you stop that we need to recruit on merit and we don't want to lower the bar argument, which I find infuriating. It's not about lowering the bar; it's about widening the gate. It's not about lowering the bar, it's about appreciating all the talent that you've been missing for years.

IS: So to round off this conversation with you both, can you share any practical tips that we can implement right now, today in the workplace to break the bias?

VW: My first would be to challenge your own and other’s preconceptions, what does talent look like? What does talent behave like as well? I think we've got all of this history within organisations which has taught us what should be valued and what shouldn't, and I do think that really needs flipping on its head.

So, one example would be if you are the one that talks in the room, then you are the one that's most valued. Well, that's nonsense, so we have to kind of flip some of those preconceptions and out of date perceptions.

The other one is, be authentic. It took me a while to realise I could only ever be myself and that had to be good enough. As long as I'm listening, learning and growing, that has to be good enough, and you'll never please everyone with that. So don't waste too much energy in trying. I think being yourself can remove some of the fear and some of the imposter syndrome that we all experienced at some point. So that's always my top tip. Be yourself.

JG: And I would say to anyone who's a manager, or even people who are not, if you're going to give feedback to a woman, if you're thinking about how you can support women, whatever advice you're giving, flip it to a male perspective, and think, is it worth me saying this?, or, is this absolutely ridiculous?, and am I holding up women to such a double standard?.

My second piece of advice is really about raising your consciousness of your own bias. I encourage people to give me feedback and call me out. I'm not a perfect person. If I get it wrong, I want to know. I encourage people to be patient with me if I make a mistake, but I want them to be honest with me. So you have to be open, to be vulnerable, to get that feedback to be better. Engage in a beginner's mind, be opening to learning, and that will really help you in this journey.

IS: That was fantastic.

Thank you both so much for sharing your experiences and valuable insight, and thanks for your time.


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We are passionate about working with researchers globally to deliver a fairer, more inclusive society. This perhaps has never been more important than in today’s divided world.