Creating Change, how to break the bias this IWD
Today we celebrate International Women’s Day and the theme of #breakthebias. But what’s the best way to turn a hashtag into action? We spoke to five women from across our Kea community and asked them how much things have changed in their respective industries and what they would say to those women following in their footsteps.
Dr Michelle Dickinson – Co-Founder and CTO, Nanogirl Labs Ltd
I’ve always loved being an engineer, being able to build solutions and problem solve brings me so much joy. When I started work I was the only female engineer in my company. This has meant I’ve come up against some challenging stereotypes through my career and have felt lonely and isolated. I’ve attended many meetings as the only female in the room where the assumption was that I was there to take minutes for the meeting and make the tea rather than being the engineer there to lead it!
However over the last decade there has been an increasing number of female engineers graduating and joining the workplace, which is helping to change the perceptions around engineers and gender. My advice to other female engineers would be to actively seek out the support and mentorship of other women in your industry. Building a network of people around you can help to build confidence, find new opportunities and create a safe space to problem solve any issues.
It’s interesting to note that research shows gender stereotyping starts from birth, with some studies showing how toddlers are spoken to and picked up differently, based on their gender. One of the reasons why I work so much with young people is that I see society is still setting these biases and limiting beliefs early, not realising that in doing so we might already be deterring girls from thinking about careers in science and engineering.
Chelsea Winstanley – Film Producer and Director
It is an exciting time to be a female filmmaker right now because we see the balance of power in the decision making of what gets made changing. The generation before me paved the way, they fought very hard for me to be where I am and I do not take that for granted. In fact I use that as a driving factor in every decision I make. I want to carry on their legacy so that my daughters have it easier than me.
In the filmmaking industry if you do something well you are an exception. The biggest misconception is just that, you are only an exception because there has not been fair representation. We make up 50% of the population but that is not represented across the industry of ‘makers’ so you are singled out. We wouldn’t be an exception if we had the same opportunities as men because we would be represented just as fairly. Therefore the exception only exists because we have been shut out for so long. If men were willing to share the power there would be no bias. It is on them to change this situation, not us.
My advice to others would be that you deserve to be exactly where you want to be. Find a community of people who share your same dreams because no one makes a film as an individual, it just cannot happen. You need good people in your life, find the people who want to champion you. The only bias that exists is the bias men have towards women. It’s their problem, they need to fix it.
Jessica Mutch-McKay – Political Editor, 1 News
When I first started in politics it was definitely more of a man’s world. In 15 years that’s changed dramatically, and now the Political Editors of TVNZ, Newshub, RNZ, The Herald and Newsroom are all women. I think strong people still struggle with women being strong and challenging and confrontational but that’s changing too.
I remember when I was working as the Europe Correspondent for 1 News and I had to cover the Northern All Blacks tour. On that tour I was the only woman and the only non-specialist rugby reporter, and I felt I had a lot to prove. I did a lot of reading and researching to show that I could hold my own with all the experts. Nowadays you see a lot more women covering all aspects of news and sport including Rugby.
The ability to be a Mum in this industry has changed over the years too. It’s still not easy but Parliament is a lot more family friendly. Being a Mum adds a whole other layer to things. Gosh it’s a juggle. I have become the Queen of picking my battles and saving problems to deal with later. I think like a lot of women I feel a lot of pressure to do it all and maybe that’s something that we need to work on changing.
My advice to other young women looking for a career in journalism or politics would be to work hard. Set your own standards and make them high. Be prepared. Do your research. Be fair. Be considerate. Manage your stress. Hold your ground. Make your voice heard. Ask for what you want, after all nothing changes if nothing changes. But at the end of the day it’s such a fun industry, so soak it all up.
Laura Scampion – Managing Partner, DLA Piper
Law has historically been a male dominated profession – particularly in leadership roles. It certainly was when I started out from University. With so many more women entering the profession now from law school, there is a duty on female leaders in the legal field to open more doors to more opportunities for those young women. I’ve been given an opportunity as a leader to reshape the profession (or at least part of it). Importantly, when I entered the profession most of the buyers of legal services were men. That’s not the case now. A huge proportion of my clients are organisations run by women or with a significant number of women in leadership roles.
In the early days when I was a junior solicitor in my first firm, I recall one incident at reception where the client refused to believe I was a lawyer because I was a woman. The partner I was working for asked him to leave the building after he requested a ‘real lawyer’ work the file (a man).
My advice to other young women wanting to work in Law is that if even for a moment you are being held back or treated differently at a workplace because of your gender – get out of there as soon as you can. There is no place for that in the profession now and there are plenty of firms that celebrate female leadership and in fact recognise that it is instrumental for success.
Successful progressive workplaces are constantly reviewing, monitoring and checking in on bias (in whatever form that takes) in order to own any flaws and ensure improvement where it is needed. A lot of this stuff can’t be measured though, it doesn’t always work to operationalise it. So we need to keep swapping stories about any bias we encounter. Measurements won’t change bias in our culture. Stories must be told as well – that humanises it.
Chantelle Nicholson – Chef and Restaurant owner
Being a female chef is still somewhat of a minority. For me, this means an emphasis on supporting those who are in the industry, and also encouraging young females to join. The perception that it is not a role for a female has changed considerably in the last 10 years, and the younger generations have a much more open view.
For me personally it has been mostly unconscious bias and not necessarily in the kitchen, but more in terms of media and business opportunities, also leniency on certain behaviours from male counterparts. On the flip side, there are opportunities that I have been consciously considered for due partly to the fact I am a female.
My advice to other young women is to just do it, and try not to overthink it all. Do what feels right, trust your gut, and challenge yourself to get a little out of your comfort zone in terms of taking opportunities you may feel you’re not experienced or skilled enough for. I think it is important to stand up for what you believe in, and to show yourself due respect and care. There are times when we take more time and effort with other’s thoughts and feelings, and sometimes forget to give the same to ourselves, so we need to keep this front of mind.