From education to employment

We need to listen to the views and experiences of women on IWD

Sian Wilson, Executive Director of Commercial at The Skills Network

As people celebrate International Women’s Day, Sian Wilson stresses the education sector needs to listen to the views and experiences of women if we want to build a more inclusive and successful future.

With today being International Women’s Day, it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness of the role women are playing within the education sector on a daily basis.

We should be proud of the contribution that women are making in a number of key roles – and all do our bit to help raise visibility of those achievements. Doing so can not only help pave the way for others to follow, but also help ensure that the learning opportunities we offer are the best that they can be, informed by the experiences and expertise of a diverse range of experts.

Firstly, it is important to say that this is not a conversation topic that should be held to one day a year – that rather minimizes the valuable contribution that women are making up and down the country.

It is easy to pay lip service on a day of celebration, however it is the actions and values of individuals, organisations and structures all year round that really matters. Are we helping to build stronger more inclusive ways of working, or are we inoculating ourselves against the difficult conversations and decisions we need to take all year round?

Personally, I am very fortunate that in my company, The Skills Network, we have a highly engaging culture which is open and supportive of individuality and equality – but that’s not the same for everyone. Through our work with Tech UK on Skills and Inclusion, Tech Women, mentoring programmes for women entering the sector and also by having positive representation of women at all levels of the organisation – we try to ensure that we live out our commitment to delivering inclusivity, diversity and fairness, rather than having them as woolly aspirations that never leave the board room. 

We all have to work together

I want to help support that change with colleagues, partners and competitors within the sector. If we want to see not only modernised ways of working, but more sustainable growth that includes entire workforces to build solutions, then we all have to work together across the sector to deliver this.

Let me briefly tell you the stories of some of the changemakers within my company and see if it resonates with your own experiences.

For example, I spoke to Sarah, our Senior Talent and Resourcing Manager, who told me that although our focus should always be on getting people skilled in their careers, that we should always be open to advice and really listen to how people have overcome situations and how they worked through them. By listening and learning we can ensure we always tailor what we do to the needs of others. Also authenticity is central – don’t try and be like everyone else, bring your unique perspective forward to help inform discussions and don’t be afraid of sharing your point of view.

Sarah’s previous experience was in agency-led recruitment, a very male dominated sector, with a sales-focused culture that was aggressive in its approach. She said she thought it was ‘assumed’ that women would not want or stay in those type of roles, but having come from being a pub landlord (a career she started at the age of 19), she had in-built resilience, determination and a drive to succeed that helped her overcome these stereotyped assumptions.

I spoke to Nicola, our Head of Business Change, who told me that when starting out in a new role or business that all of us are prone to self-doubt, especially when in your first senior management role – however you should believe in yourself and your decisions, and that anything is possible with hard work and commitment. Whilst she didn’t think there were as many barriers in place for her work as in other roles, she still thinks there is a job to do to show that business change and tech development is a viable career for women.

Safyah, our Head of Marketing, told me that being a young female leader in any business might be a challenge at times, but you should embrace that challenge and try to enjoy it. Women have won so many fights to get to where we are – over issues such as pay parity, equal rights, voting rights and tackling oppression – but we are still fighting to be equal, and we need more people to support that fight and take a leap by being a role model. Safyah comes from a family of 5 sisters and they were all empowered to do what they wanted to do and lift each other up – becoming goal setters and role models for their brothers.

As a woman, who is from a minority race and wears a hijab, Safyah feels it is important that representation is thought about in a wider context, particularly within business. She now mentors other young women across the sector to help support and encourage them in their own working lives.

Rachel, our Business Intelligence Manager, told me how a lot of women start off with a fear of failure and get imposter syndrome – and in the tech world this can be increased by the fact that technology is constantly changing, so you are constantly learning. However focusing on solutions and problem solving can be extremely satisfying, pushing you through to unexpected conclusions that also help frame the future. She really benefited having strong female role models, not least her mum and sister who also worked in tech, who helped to show a tech career was a real possibility for someone like her.

It is important to talk openly and honesty about what effects women today

In terms of general society as well as business, it is important to talk openly and honestly about what effects women today. We need to encourage women to speak up and allow their experiences to inform how we work and be the decision-makers for themselves.

I am sure that in organisations and companies up and down the UK that there are some fantastic women just like Sarah, Nicola, Safyah and Rachel who are leading the way in education. I want to hear those stories and help promote them too. We need to listen and learn from these changemakers and ensure future education is shaped by the experiences and vision of people like this.

Let’s use this week as an opportunity to start a conversation across the sector to share unique contributions to modern education and inspiring case studies and best practice – let’s celebrate together what women are achieving and ensure that we help deliver the learning experiences of the future that allow all to flourish and meet their potential.

By Sian Wilson, Executive Director of Commercial at The Skills Network

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