7th March 2022
How can we #BreakTheBias for good?
This International Women’s Day, we brought together a group of Civica’s leading women in tech to discuss the issues
- Amy Williams, Head of Service Design
- Dawn Pollard, Managing Director, Cashless
- Michelle Chin, Home Service, Libraries
- Rachel Steenson, New Business Development
- Shadeen Warner, Head of Customer Success
- Sian Roberts, Executive Director, Democracy and Governance
Q: What are the best ways for everyone to support breaking the bias in the workplace – who’s really responsible?
Amy Williams: “We must all look within and reflect on our own biases and challenge our views. It’s important we become aware of our bias and its impact by taking onboard other people’s feedback, creating empathy to connect and improve our interactions, and listening to others’ perspectives. We’re all responsible for taking action and being consistent and deliberate in managing our bias and perspective. This will allow us to help challenge and call out bias when we see it and challenge ways of thinking respectfully.”
Dawn Pollard: “I think this is all about awareness of bias and how that impacts our decisions and judgements. Everybody should be conscious that they have bias, therefore it’s everybody’s responsibility to be aware, educated on bias and understand how it may affect how we act or communicate. We will only reduce bias and see how it might be influencing our behaviour and judgment through awareness, discussion, challenge and education.”
Michelle Chin: “We must be self-aware; only then can we acknowledge if we possess any kind of prejudice. Unconscious bias is especially subtle and can undermine an organisation’s culture. It’s everyone’s responsibility to break the bias, but an organisation can take proactive steps such as awareness training, fairer hiring processes, encouraging team members to speak up when they encounter biases; and implementing inclusion and diversity goals.”
Rachel Steenson: “It’s everyone’s responsibility to tackle bias in the workplace. I know it can feel uncomfortable, but to really break bias down it’s going to take some tricky conversations. To do this, we can make sure everyone is included, whether that be a team meeting or in informal settings. We should also avoid going to the same team member when an opportunity arises, so someone new can step up and take on a new project.”
Shadeen Warner: “We need to actively seek to promote and support women into senior roles. We must seek to provide equal progression opportunities across all our teams and be inclusive. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak out and help eliminate bias.”
Sian Roberts: “To make a real difference, we all need to see it as our responsibility to support breaking the bias in the workplace. Leaders can set the direction, but it’s about each of us as individuals and within our teams seeking to challenge bias, stereotypes, and discrimination where we find them. We need to be proactive about creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. That might be as specific as mentoring a team member, but it could also be about working more collaboratively to get a wider range of input on a project.”
Q: Who has supported you to feel empowered in the workplace, either colleagues or role models outside work?
Amy: “Working in IT can bring its share of diversity and inclusion issues and I’ve been exposed to a limited number of negative experiences across my 18 years in the industry. What’s made the difference is the strength of those around me, those who seek to challenge and model behaviour that is respectful. I’ve had some amazing managers who’ve recognised my skills and ability.”
Dawn: “Many colleagues and managers have supported me in my career. However, I was influenced early on by a senior leader who encouraged ideas and provided me with the support to take my ideas forward, which led to opportunities and empowered me to find my voice. I’ve also been fortunate to have coaches and mentors throughout my career to help me through challenging periods, providing an external point of view.”
Michelle: “My managers at the libraries I’ve worked in have always been wonderfully supportive. They’ve given me the freedom and empowerment to improve the libraries for the better and to be as creative as I can. It’s our director in particular, Rica Lim, who has encouraged me to push myself further. She’s a force to be reckoned with, taking on a whole host of tasks, be it high stakes negotiations or hands-on work.”
Rachel: “My mum. She believed in me and told me that I could achieve anything I wanted if I was prepared to work at. It’s her voice in my head when I need a pep talk. I am lucky enough to know a number of amazing women in Northern Ireland in the tech sector who have been a great source of inspiration and guidance throughout my career. You know who you are!”
Shadeen: “My line manager; he sees my true potential when I sometimes don’t, pushes me when it’s right and gives me the opportunity to shine and be my best. My Civica mentor is a wonderful inspiration, a female divisional leader to look up to and aspire to be. She empowers my thinking and encourages me to be bold and fearless but challenges me when she should. And finally, my husband – he’s my cheerleader, a very proud sponsor of my career and encourages to me to progress and reach for the stars!”
Sian: “I’ve been fortunate to have some really supportive managers in my career, but it’s not just about the bosses. I’ve worked with colleagues, both male and female, who were brilliant at embracing the different strengths others had to offer. Administering ballots and elections is very much a team effort, so collaborating in a way that makes the most of everyone’s contribution helps deliver even better outcomes.”
Q: When it comes to breaking the bias, are there examples from your wider life which have helped you or taught you useful lessons?
Amy: “I lived on dairy farms until I finished higher education. There’s a real sense of community in the farming industry; everyone supports each other and does their fair share of work, whoever they are. I grew up with some amazing women too – there was no definition of ‘men’s work’ – you milked the cows, fed the animals, helped with hay baling until 1am, drove tractors… the list goes on! This has influenced my beliefs and values and I’ll be forever grateful to these women and the farming community for the experiences I’ve had to help shape the person I am today.”
Michelle: “I’ve always looked up to my older sister who is an incredibly generous and high-achieving individual. Being a senior counsel has cemented her status as one of the leading lights in the legal field and a real inspiration for future female leaders across any industry. She’s balanced having three daughters with a flourishing career, proving we can actually have it all, a family life and a fulfilling work experience.”
Dawn: “My personal experiences, both in and out of work, come from a place of not being afraid, embracing new opportunities even if they are out of your comfort zone, speaking up if something is not working for you and looking for resolutions. Events don’t need to just happen to you: often it’s how you react and look at how you can get the best outcome, even if the odds are stacked against you.”
Rachel: “One simple example from a previous role was when meeting with new people, my male colleague always introduced me as his boss (I was). He gave me my place and it avoided any awkwardness of people getting it wrong.”
Shadeen: ““I’m one of six siblings – five girls and a boy. As children, we had a wonderful upbringing and I saw how hard my dad worked to provide for us all. He was my role model (and still is); I wanted to work as hard as he did, have continued opportunities and choices into adulthood ensuring that my future family could have everything I was lucky to have and more. Because of this, I started my career early, went on to marry and have children as my career was in full flight. My children went into full time nursery from six-months old; I encountered some negativity for this as I was the first woman within my family to have a full-time career and children. But today they are all very proud of me and my career success.”
Sian: “I love playing netball; the team is a great example where combining different strengths can be the key to winning. Everyone has a part to play, but we’re not all doing the same thing. Understanding and valuing different skills and perspectives is a big factor for success. I also have to say that my two teenage daughters keep me on my toes every day and make sure I be my true self!”
Q: If we can achieve a more gender balanced workplace, what will the future workplace look like?
Amy: “The more diverse and inclusive a workplace, the greater opportunity for growth and development of our people, teams and business. It brings new perspectives and encourages us all to think outside the box and escape our own bubbles. Civica is in such important industries with the products and services we provide, that we need to be the best for our customers to support the amazing work they do for our communities.”
Dawn: “For there to be more gender balance, the stereotypical nine-to-five week will change, with more flexible contracts which support people with caring or other responsibilities but still allow people to work ‘full-time’. We need more ‘real’ leadership opportunities, not just ‘glass cliff’ opportunities, which come with the financial support and resources offered to people who are capable of roles. I also believe organisations will need to look at what capabilities and skills people have and play to people’s strengths to support careers being more enjoyable.”
Michelle: “I hope for a future where gender isn’t the issue, but a person’s merit and what they can bring to the table. This is not just in the short-term – it means all of us will have to become lifelong learners. We may have to unlearn things and keep on being curious about what is happening around us.”
Rachel: “To me, the future workplace will be a place where all feel welcome, where different points of view and ideas are actively encouraged and are the norm. We need a workplace where younger women can look up and see not one, but many role models and various career paths open to them and they feel empowered to succeed on their terms. Ultimately where we no longer need to have the conversation about bias or quotas because our workplace reflects the population in all its diversity.”
Shadeen: “I can’t say it will look directly ‘equal’, as in a 50/50 split of male to female in the same roles, but the future workplace and the employees in it will feel ‘equal’. Younger women will feel more empowered to join more male dominated industries; they’ll know that they will be accepted and supported and that opportunity is within their reach.”
Sian: “I hope a more gender balanced workplace would be a vibrant, lively and stimulating environment, where the focus would be on what people can contribute rather than their gender. It’s vital that younger women coming into the workplace can see more opportunities than obstacles and colleagues who are allies, not opponents. A workplace where everyone is supported to be the best they can be, to stretch themselves and achieve their true potential will help everyone, regardless of gender.”