“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions, all day, every day” – IWD, 2021 #ChooseToChallenge
This year's International Women’s Day (IWD) aptly focuses on challenge, be that challenging the status quo, or the challenges women face. This year we want to remind and encourage women to speak up, and let them know it’s okay to challenge people, challenge words, and challenge actions.
We can choose what we wish to call out, and we can choose to make change. This year we spoke to our Customer Success Senior Business Manager, Faith Doherty, and our Business Manager, Mhari-Claire Doolan, about the challenges they have faced in the recruitment and STEM industries, which are historically male-dominated, and how they chose to overcome those challenges.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you and how does this year’s theme, #ChooseToChallenge, resonate with you?
Mhari-Claire – “IWD is important to me as it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of gender equality. I do not think many people are as aware as they need to be on what gender issues women face day to day. The starting point for any solid change is awareness and education.
Also, I have a daughter and I want to do all I can to make sure that she grows up in a better world than we did. Just as we grew up in a more progressive world than our mothers did, but there’s still a way to go!”
Faith – “IWD for me is a wonderful opportunity to refocus what we aim to practise every day, to connect with colleagues across the business on raising awareness of gender bias and inequality, but also connect with our customers within STEM on gender related issues.
This year's theme of #ChooseToChallenge is an interesting one. Challenging and actively calling out gender bias is not something I have always had the confidence to do in my career, certainly not as a younger and less experienced person when I first joined our business. But it is something that you realise is a duty and a responsibility. Ultimately, choosing to challenge is something I must do whenever I might encounter behaviours that are unacceptable, and play a part in supporting people to learn about gender bias that still exists, particularly in the workplace.”
What challenges have you faced as a woman in recruitment?
Mhari-Claire – “I joined an office nearly 13 years ago, that was heavily male-dominated and have always worked in markets, across Technology & Engineering, that are very male-heavy too. From day one as a young 22-year-old female, I found this tricky.
I felt, being a woman, I almost had to “over-prove” myself with my colleagues and my customers to be taken seriously. But then ironically when I did do well, against other men that had joined at the same time, their excuse would be ‘it’s because you’re a girl.’ So, it felt like a bit of a no-win situation at times!”
Faith – “I think the first challenge I encountered in recruitment was the 'fit' of my natural disposition in what was, in 2006, quite a cutthroat environment. I often received feedback that I was not assertive enough in my dealings with candidates and clients, and even internally. I can look back now and see that I often lacked authenticity because I would change my behaviour to fit the mould, and the mould was quite male!
I didn’t really learn my lesson on this for a good 12-13 years into my career, which was to consider my natural traits as assets rather than things I should try to hide or change. When I did the Gallup Clifton Strengths Assessment, my dominant strengths came out firmly in the theme of 'Relationship Building'. I historically viewed those skills as being too 'soft' to succeed at a senior leadership level, always wishing I were naturally more dominant in strategy, or execution, or influencing. However, I have learned now how to use those strengths and how they complement my team.”
Tell us about the process you went through when you were #ChoosingToChallenge these things, did you feel the urge to speak up? And would you encourage others to do the same?
Mhari-Claire – “One way in which I challenged this was through doing all I could to be successful. I felt like if I could be successful and rise through the ranks then I would have a lot more power to influence change, by creating a better culture internally. I also made sure that I was not part of the problem and did all I could to support and promote other females.
Externally with my clients and candidates, I was brave in pulling people up if they made any sexist comments and used that as an opportunity to educate them to help, promote change. I found a lot of the time they didn’t really mean any harm they were just ignorant to the potential effect of their words and actions. I found that speaking up won me respect and I’ve also had the feedback that it has changed how certain customers interact with their female colleagues now in a positive way.
The number of times I had to tell people not to call me ‘love’ and the number of times people assumed I was someone who answered the phones rather than a manager is pretty mind-blowing!”
Faith – “I think my role in challenging these issues now is to really advocate for the power of diversity within SThree. Achieving healthy gender diversity has clear advantages for us as a business, and this is unequivocally backed up through so many studies that have been done over the last 20 plus years. However, the power of diversity of thinking is also incredibly beneficial. I do believe that having more women successfully growing their career in our business will naturally lead to a diversity of thought and diversity of approach to the challenges we will face as a business as we continue to grow, evolve, and work towards realising our purpose and ambitions.
So, I consistently challenge the perception of what 'good' looks like within our business and ensure everyone is recognised for the unique strengths they bring to the table. This means that not all our people will have the same approach as the person sitting at the top of any organisational structure. It also means that both female and male leaders must proactively sponsor and elevate those that may be disadvantaged by unconscious biases. So, I #ChooseToChallenge when I see people overlooked or undervalued, but I also advocate every day for those that deserve recognition, visibility, and support for the unique contribution they can make here.”
What are common interview questions women struggle with/do not answer as well or as confidently as men? How do we give women in recruitment, the confidence to challenge others in these situations?
Mhari-Claire - “I find women to be almost apologetic in interviews when they’re speaking about anything that comes across as really confident in their own abilities - whereas it’s the opposite for most men. Women need to be more comfortable with talking about what we are good at!”
Faith – “I think the most common thing I come across here is women who actually don't even consider putting themselves forward for a role because they don't feel they have the skills or experience. Women will typically only apply for a position if they can fulfil a minimum of 80% of the job spec - men are A LOT less! It is common for women to suffer from imposter syndrome, and I have also worked with many women over the years who are massive 'confidence-players'.
We must give women the clear message that they are valued, that there is a seat at the table ready to be occupied by them, and that once they are there, they will be respected and heard. There have been many junctures in my career where I have thought, 'I'm not sure if I can do that' or 'I'm too scared of failing with this new role/remit'. However, I have been lucky to have managers, mentors, and friends (many of whom have been male) that have backed and encouraged me. I haven't succeeded in everything, but I have learnt a lot from the failures, and even though they hurt at the time, they didn't kill me!”