Opinion

How I can use my influence to ‘Count Her In’, this International Women’s Day

- March 8, 2024 3 MIN READ

 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Kerry Kingham, founder of the Chooze Shop shares her thoughts on why we should be following this call to action every day.

Despite my belief in IWD’s goals, I have a conflicted relationship with it. I’m always torn between supporting it and feeling like it’s often a way for organisations to take part in a once-a-year show of solidarity, yet not actively walk the talk for the remainder of the year. The recent report on the gender pay gap unfortunately reinforces my concerns about this.

Instead, my take on the theme for this year is to look at how to use my influence (personally and professionally) to actively invest in women and ensure my actions in this regard are ones that I’m proud of.

It’s taken me much of my working life to weave my way through the glass labyrinth that faces working women—the maze that encompasses career and family, juggling them both, finding a partner who supports the same goals you have, career breaks, parenting leave, re-entering the workforce, keeping career development on track, the accompanying mental load……the list goes on.


I vividly remember conversations when I was in my 20s, where women were not sent on development courses because they were “likely to get pregnant soon, so don’t send them” and then in my 30s where I struggled to juggle the needs of two children, my desire to work full time and the constant worry about sickness, holidays, and childcare availability.  In my 40s I had more freedom within my career and committed to a long-term development path.

When I turned 50, I undertook my MBA, developed career confidence, and then left a senior corporate role to begin my own business at 52. I did that for four years before my most recent career shift.

I turn 58 this year and am now in a role where I CAN actively influence decisions that positively impact women.

As a female CEO in her 50s, in a startup e-commerce business, it would be easy to think that the odds would be stacked against me!  However, I’ve seen first-hand what happens when there is an investment in a female-led business.


Our investors valued my experience, supported my approach, and backed me (their words) to make the business a success. Interestingly, our investors are more than 90 per cent male.  We now have a team of six – five of which are female – working flexible hours in a fully remote set up. There is no gender pay gap, and salaries, job requirements and career opportunities are openly discussed within our leadership group. Trust is what drives performance (along with clearly defined KPIs) and my one key rule is “don’t take the piss.”  In other words – do the right thing by me and the business and I’ll do the right thing by you – try the alternative, and it’s another story!

This reinforces what I fundamentally believe – leadership is what will drive the change we are all seeking around gender pay parity, recognition of the contribution of women, flexibility in working arrangements and locations.  This is where the influence and impact will come from – and it can’t only be from female leaders.   It certainly won’t happen from a Global Day of Recognition.

As the CEO and MD of our organisation – I can influence this – I can make sure we have salary parity, I can make sure we have flexibility, I can make sure all my team can experience work/life fit (I don’t say balance – I’m more focused on how all aspects of their lives fit). I can focus on equity and respect based on their individual needs, rather than a standardised one size fits all approach. I can ensure that where a woman needs to carry more of the mental or childcare load, they know I have their back and will flex wherever possible to support that. This commitment is what will continue, to accelerate the progress of women in our business – and I’m committed to keeping this focus as we grow to a larger organisation.

I’m fortunate – I don’t have to fight for this in our organisation.  However, I’m not so naïve to believe that it’s like this everywhere – because I have absolutely worked in organisations where I had no influence, where there wasn’t an interest or motivation to invest in me or accelerate my progress.

Now that I have a voice, and influence, I will continue to use my voice to model ways in which other organisations can, if they choose to do so, make the same investment in women – no matter the size of their business. I’ll continue to champion women and their achievements, helping to pave the way for others.


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