The women we thank: a few of Portland’s female leaders reflect on their workplace inspirations to mark #IWD2019
The theme of this year’s #InternationalWomensDay2019 is #BalanceforBetter: the idea that gender balance makes for a better working world. That seems self-evident to us, working at Portland: this business wouldn’t be what it is without the women who help power it at every level. But we also recognise that the global picture remains very challenging: the World Economic Forum estimates that, at the current rate, it will take 108 years to achieve global gender equality.
Today, to mark #IWD2019, five Portland female leaders reflect on the women who have inspired us. Seeing how other women have excelled in, and in many instances shaped, the workplace has helped each of us along our own career paths. The support and encouragement they have given us has been a vital motivator. So we wanted to take this opportunity to thank them:
- “I worked closely with Dame Athene Donald when I was at L’Oreal following the international For Women In Science prize she was awarded in 2009. Athene is one of the UK’s most eminent scientists. She also happens to be a female (and mum of two) in an industry (physics) that is heavily dominated by men. Athene taught me the importance of never giving up on your passion and to never allow your gender to limit your ambition.” Louise Winmill, Partner, Corporate
- “One of the really refreshing things for me since joining Portland has been being surrounded by clever, creative, driven women who are brilliant at making our company run and at being strong, vocal, fun and yes feisty (even though I hate that word) women at the same time.” Victoria Dean, Partner and Head of Brexit Unit
- “I’m very lucky that Sue Farr took me under her wing early in my career and has been a mentor ever since, offering advice and encouragement every step of the way. She inspired me to start a network for female future leaders in communications which has now been running for seven years and brings together a diverse group of brilliant women to support each other as we progress our careers agency side and in-house.”Mary Pollard, Partner and Head of Purpose Unit, Global Impact
- “I started my career in a research agency which was 70% female with two female Managing Directors so it wasn’t just one woman who shaped my career but a whole team of them. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by strong, opinionated, impressive women. So as a result, I never questioned what women could do or how far they could get. It was evident to me.”Eleanor Dickinson, Director, SPARC (Strategy, Planning, Analytics, Research, and Creative)
What advice, then, would Portland’s women offer to the communications professionals of tomorrow?
- For many of us, the answer was about making the most of the qualities that women can bring to the workplace: ‘dogged determination’, coupled with ‘humility’ and ‘empathy’. In the comms sector specifically, “emotional intelligence and empathy are two of the greatest assets a good comms person will have. And women tend to have these skills in abundance. See this as a special skill and trade on it.”
- Confidence is also key: “The main difference that I notice between genders in our sector is the confidence with which people put forward their ideas. Be persistent in getting your ideas across… don’t be cowed, don’t apologise, don’t minimise or underplay your thoughts.”
- And, of course, building and growing your network, which should include your supporting peers and your sources of inspiration. “Surround yourself with brilliant people, and brilliant women in particular, and not only will you go far, you’ll have a lot of fun getting there. ”
But we recognise that progress on workplace equality isn’t achieved just by looking ‘up’ the hierarchy to inspirational leaders. It’s also about peers acting as ‘workplace allies’ and making sure they #LeanInTogether. And of course men also have a vital role in advocating and promoting female leadership: just look at Portland’s map of the global spread of the #HeforShe hashtag.
In our workplace too Rebecca Gwilliam, Partner, pointed out: “I’ve always had incredible support from my female colleagues and I have had plentiful inspiration and advocacy from many male senior leaders or advisers.”
Today is also an opportunity to look beyond individual efforts and achievements to situate ourselves in the wider sweep of women’s history. March is Women’s History Month, and we recognise that the women of 2019 – certainly in Western economies – are indebted to the generations who’ve worked towards #GenderEquality. The word feminist may be unfashionable, but our 1970s forebears needed guts to push for the opportunities we now enjoy.
We also recognise that we are fortunate to have the avenues open to us to fulfil our potential through our careers. Western women’s choices remain constrained – “there just isn’t the flexibility in the workplace, or the support available outside of it, to make it work for everyone” – but from a global perspective, we are the lucky ones. Worldwide, 2.7 billion women are still prevented from having the same jobs as men. As the ONE campaign notes, poverty is sexist. Portland is proud of its long track record in advancing the rights of women worldwide, working with Global Impact clients on women’s rights:
- With Girls Not Brides, campaigning to #endchildmarriage
- With Women Deliver on their Deliver for Good campaign in Kenya
- And with UN Women, launching their global flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, back in 2011.
Today is “a moment to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come, but [also] how far we still have to go.” Thinking about the women who’ve inspired us is a reminder that what we do, both through our individual careers and in wider advocacy on behalf of all women, lays the foundations for the women of the future. We hope that #InternationalWomensDay2019 will inspire men and women alike to recognise the opportunities of a more equal world.
Find out more about Portland’s female-focused offer, ‘Portland Executive’, which supports female leaders to maximise impact in the boardroom and beyond.