As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, highlighting the achievements of women and the challenges we still need to address as a society, we’ve been speaking to women from across the business about their experiences in the workplace and creating gender parity. Nicola McGee joined Bruntwood at the start of 2021 as Group Brand and Marketing Director after working for some time in the fashion industry. We spoke to Nicola about the importance of gender equality and the differences in working within both female-dominated and male-dominated industries.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It’s a really important day to stand back and take stock of women’s achievements and to create that sense of community, celebration and reflection. As much as this is and should be a positive day, it also represents an opportunity and platform to continue to champion the fight for gender parity and women’s rights.
What has been your experience of equality in the workplace?
Throughout my career I’d have to say it has been quite mixed. The most heightened feeling of inequality actually existed where I worked for a brand that identified itself as a role model for females and championed female empowerment. Yet I found this was only at a very surface and superficial level and not deeply ingrained in the values or purpose of the organisation. I’ve definitely been made to feel inferior, whether through language or being requested to complete tasks that my male peers wouldn’t be expected to, as they were more menial.
I think the gender pay gap reporting has been crucial in identifying and surfacing the discrepancies that exist at every level of professional pursuits and allows data to do the talking to help drive change.
How do you think businesses should be helping women who may have been affected more by the pandemic?
Overall I think empathy has been critical in the last year. Twice as many women have been impacted by the pandemic, either via the furlough scheme or the need to prioritise family and childcare over their career. If businesses are to continue to help champion diversity and inclusive cultures they need to build schemes and processes that provide flexibility and support so that women don’t have to choose between their families and careers.
What women do you admire and who inspires you?
I would love to see more women in top leadership positions acting as role models to our future generation, and for me Jacinda Ardern is a fantastic example. Through leading her country she’s used her platform to really showcase the power of empathetic, kind, humanistic leadership and created a sense of unity during a year where community has never felt more important.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Just to be yourself, because everybody else is already taken. I have often suffered with imposter syndrome and a mentality of people-pleasing. I’ve definitely still not mastered the art quite yet but it does feel liberating once you stop focusing on other peoples’ opinions and just to be the most authentic and real version of who you are.
How are you helping to forge a gender equal world?
Firstly I genuinely feel empowered to do so within Bruntwood, as it’s a company which is constantly striving to achieve that internally and has core values and initiatives laid out to tackle this issue.
I then want to take more time to educate myself on the inequalities that still exist and question how I can take action. If we become aware of issues then we also need to make a conscious choice and effort to raise them and not bury or ignore them thinking someone else will act on our behalf.
Finally I want to network more with women, to celebrate them and eventually become a role model to others so that we’re creating and influencing younger generations to be the onward change.
How prominent was talk and action around female empowerment and equality in the workplace when working within the fashion industry?
It was definitely a hot topic and one that fashion companies choose to actively promote within their campaign material and outward facing messaging to their customer base. Female empowerment campaigns incorporated body positive messaging, diversity and inclusion and really championed and encouraged customers to be their true, authentic selves. It was a way for a brand to truly connect with their audience and to link their products to an individual’s sense of purpose and confidence.
However, the experience and challenge I believe exists still is the disconnect between this customer facing proposition and how fashion companies live and breathe this sentiment internally. If a brand wants to truly drive change around female empowerment and celebrate women’s achievements, for me this has to start at the leadership level within an organisation and transcend fully throughout everything they do.
What were your expectations coming to work within a more male-dominated industry?
I actually didn’t have any preconceptions about the potential gender imbalance within the property sector before joining Bruntwood. I think this was because I got to meet some incredible female leaders throughout my interview process which gave me a sense that there was strong diversity at every level within the company and that females were really championed and supported to excel here.
What are your thoughts around how different sectors should tackle equality in the workplace?
Overall my belief is that sectors shouldn’t have to be viewed or stereo-typed as male or female oriented. I appreciate that this ultimately does still exist but where possible I’d encourage every individual to pursue their personal passions, regardless of what industry that might be.
There are so many studies which recognise how much productivity, creativity and ultimately success can be catapulted from having diverse teams and a more balanced workforce. So I’d urge businesses to look for ways to develop the right processes to achieve greater inequality and where there might be a talent gap, look at how their sector can encourage and grow future talent.
Where a female is present in what is perceived as a male-dominated sector, I think everyone has a responsibility to leave preconceptions at the door and to make any judgements based purely on merit, rather than bias.
You can read more about women in leadership and the benefits that diversity brings to businesses here. Or catch up on some of our International Women’s Day case studies with Development Surveyor, Natalie Ernest, as she discusses working within a traditionally male-dominated role and sector, and with CEO of Unify Energy, Sarah Martin about her experience in becoming a strong, female leader.