This year's International Women's Day asks us to 'imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.'
And that's what we're doing at Pearson VUE and what we continue to strive for. We asked women in our offices around the world to reflect on their experiences and share their insights: as mothers navigating work and home, as new leaders in traditionally male-dominated fields, and as individuals finding their unique and valuable voices...all paving the way to create better learning and testing experiences for candidates and clients around the world.
Head of Programmes, Co-Chair of Gender Equity in Leadership & Learning UK, UK
How can we best support women leaders who are also working mothers?
Employers need to have proper support structures in place to help working mothers (and fathers) navigate some of the day-to-day challenges around raising a family while being employed. This might involve considering how job functions are organized, providing flexible hours, and offering shared parental leave as well as maternity leave.
I'm proud to participate in a number of great initiatives run by Pearson aimed at supporting working mothers and parents. In 2021, our employee resource groups, 'Gender Equity in Leadership and Learning UK', launched a new internal peer mentoring program, mPower, which provides a community of support and strength for women returning from maternity leave.
How are you supporting building a workplace where women thrive?
As Co-Chair of 'Gender Equity in Leadership and Learning UK', I'm passionate about building a workplace where women feel supported and can thrive in their careers. We're currently working on improving the parenthood journey by encouraging people to share their experiences of parental leave and their return to work through targeted surveys and focus groups. By using these insights to develop updated best practice guidelines, we can help ensure all our employees have a positive experience.
For International Women's Day, we're reflecting on #breakingthebias through a panel-led debate on how having children changes parents' perception of gender equality. This is based on the “Daughter Effect”. Research shows that when male executives have daughters, this creates a positive effect in terms of increasing female leadership and reducing the gender pay gap across companies.
Senior Product Manager, USA
What techniques would you say are best for nurturing female talent in the workplace?
I view mentoring and allyship as key to encouraging and growing underrepresented talent in the workplace — particularly for people like myself with multiple underrepresented identities (I'm a black, lesbian female). Having allies is important for creating safe, inclusive spaces that help women and other underrepresented individuals perform at work in a way that encourages creativity, collaboration, and innovation. While there's much more to be done to ensure there are safe, inclusive spaces for everyone, so much of the value I've been able to offer stems from my ability to engage with my peers in these supportive environments.
Mentoring is also important for creating pathways to career advancement that can be realized by supporting more diverse talent including women. We shouldn't assume that everyone has the same understanding of what this pathway looks like and how to navigate it. Mentors and networking partners can help women and other underrepresented individuals bridge that gap in identifying and accessing these pathways to leadership or other career success.
How do you find strength when you are going through a challenging situation?
I rely on lessons learned from my past experience and support from my peers when working through challenging situations. By tapping into what went well (or didn't go well) previously, I have a starting point for how to approach and navigate a new challenge. Additionally, by reaching out to trusted colleagues to discuss the situation, I gain valuable insights from their perspective and have an opportunity to test ideas for how I plan to handle the situation. My relationships with my peers are strengthened through this process, and I'm left feeling supported and respected. By ensuring my body and mind have sufficient time to reset after a busy workday or week, I'm able to gather strength from within. It's these important pauses and regular opportunities for self-reflection that help me navigate challenges both personally and professionally.
Content Developer, India
How have women been impacted by the global pandemic?
History shows that the impacts of pandemics or other crises are never gender neutral and COVID-19, as expected, followed suit. There is no doubt that the pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for everyone, but I believe that women bore the brunt of the economic, social, and health impact of this pandemic.
In most countries across the globe, women have been doing most of the caretaking for the household and children, more so in medium and low-income group families. Even before COVID-19, women's unpaid work in the home, though essential, was often unappreciated. But I believe that stay-at-home orders, school closures, etc., resulted in increased household work burden falling excessively on the shoulders of women.
I hope that, as we come out of this crisis, women get the support they need to heal from the added stress and that we can address these types of inequities proactively moving forward. I hope that more companies can support women and caretakers in work-life balance as Pearson VUE has during the pandemic. They've allowed everyone to continue working remotely and to work flexibly as needed to support the needs of their families.
How have you built confidence and resilience over the course of your career?
I was a reasonably confident person when I started my career 14 years ago. Presenting my ideas to my manager, managing different vendors, or interacting with clients and colleagues has always provided me with opportunities to build my confidence. My personal mantra has always been: 'What we feel inside is what we project outside'. Remembering this when faced with everyday challenges empowers me to feel more confident.
Maintaining a good rapport with my colleagues has always been of prime importance to me. By taking part in various team building activities organized by HR, I get the opportunity to build great relationships with my colleagues even outside my department. Feeling at ease with others helps me to feel more confident and builds my resilience at work as well. When you're working on demanding timelines or handling challenging situations, it's important to maintain your composure, which is no easy task. I've always believed in focusing on the solution and working through the issue with others, rather than dwelling on the problem for too long.
Stepping up and rising to the challenge has transformed me into someone who is not fazed by stressful situations. I feel like I come out stronger and even more resilient every time.
Content Developer, UK
Why is it positive to have more women in the workplace?
I think one positive to having more women in the workplace is providing role models for the younger generation. If you're coming into work and you're seeing women in a range of different positions, that's encouraging as you see there are no barriers to what you can achieve. Women bring diverse skills, different perspectives, and more collaborative ways of working to a team. For example, technology, has always been traditionally male- dominated — so to see that you have the right skills, and that this role is increasingly possible for women reduces any fear of applying for those roles. Hopefully one day we won't even have to think like that. There's still a long way to go, but a lot of progress has been made.
As a mother, I also think it's important to see successful working mothers, because it shows that work-life balance can be achieved and that it's okay to have priorities other than just work. It builds a support system, one where you know there are other people advocating for you, who are empathetic to your situation.
What does an inclusive workplace culture mean to you?
It means that everyone, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion, is not only accepted in the workplace without fear of reprisal, but has a positive role model, too. A truly inclusive workplace culture seeks to educate: to learn from and to listen to everyone.
Inclusive employers take steps to ensure all voices and views are represented; they don't just accept the status quo, but rather push boundaries to pursue progress.
VP Global Business Assurance, UK
What would you say is the most significant barrier to women in leadership positions?
There are still many barriers to female leadership ranging from balancing a demanding career with being the primary caregiver in the family through to structural or institutional barriers where there may be gender bias, a lack of visible female role models, or limited access for women to network. Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work in progressive organizations — like Pearson VUE — where the value of women in leadership is recognized and fully supported and great flexibility has been in place to allow me to balance my career and family responsibilities.
It’s common for women in certain roles, in certain industries, to feel like they’re just there to fulfil a quota or that they just got there by fluke. Imposter syndrome does dissipate as you gain more confidence, but you must be open-minded and you must be able to put yourself out there and really grab opportunities that come your way. That doesn’t always come naturally for some people, but it’s a great way of building your confidence when you find yourself in a leadership position.
Have you overcome any obstacles in your career that you are particularly proud of?
Generally, I would say I'm not particularly good at self-promotion. I have a natural inclination to slink out of the limelight, but if I feel particularly strongly about something, then I will voice my opinions.
A few years ago, at a company offsite, we were split into groups and had to present to everyone on different parts of the business. No one wanted to be the first to present and I just thought 'Well, everyone is going to have to do this at some point, so I may as well do it now when I feel in control'. It's important to have confidence and belief in your own abilities. In that same week, we also found out we'd received all our ISO certifications, which I was recognized for by our President (as I had led on that effort). I guess that was the first time I felt I really belonged. You start to realize that the things you contribute — both large and small — help boost your confidence and support the business's strategic goals.
Program Manager, China
How should employers make sure that women are treated equally in the workplace?
In business, gender equality means equal treatment as well as equal opportunities for all employees, such as having access to the same company resources. It includes equality around promotions, pay increases, and participation in key business decision-making processes. It also relates to work-life balance and employers supporting flexible working schedules for women who may have family responsibilities. When women receive respect and recognition, they're more likely to choose to stay with a company for a long time and fulfil their potential.
What does best practice look like to you for eliminating bias in the workplace?
To eliminate bias, we need to move from a fixed mindset to one of openness and growth, to learn to be more empathetic, and to see things from other perspectives.
Bias often ignores variations in people's individual circumstances. A personal example would be as the only daughter of my family, I need to take care of my sick mother. While as a program manager, I also have a lot of work responsibilities every day. I'm very fortunate as Pearson VUE allows me to work flexibly around my family commitments. My manager's understanding of my personal situation enables me to continue to meet the needs of my clients as well as to communicate with my colleagues in different regions/across different time zones. This is what best practice looks like — feeling supported in my career and listened to.
Business Development Manager, UAE
How can we best support women in the workplace?
In my opinion, the best way to support women in the workplace is by appreciating their hard work and effort, giving them enough space to grow and succeed, understanding their needs, and treating them equally to their male colleagues.
Tell us about a female role model of yours. Who most inspires you?
My female role model is not a celebrity or a historical character. My female role model is someone I used to see and talk to daily for a period of 15 years of my life: my high-school principal, Haifa Al-Najjar. I am very proud to have been one of her students. She is a very successful, visionary women who climbed the ladder of success step by step, starting as a kindergarten teacher and becoming the principal of one of the best high schools in my home country, Jordan. She was recently chosen to be the Minister of Culture in Jordan.
She is the reason behind thousands of unique, confident, and well-educated young women going out into the world, ready to fight battles and shape a bright future. She is also a great mother to five beautiful young women, who themselves became as successful as their own mother.
Senior Vice President, Product Development and Technology, USA
What advice would you give to young women starting out at the beginning of their careers?
I would advise young women to play to their strengths and use their strong voices. Not only should you use your unique voice to share your perspectives and knowledge, but you should also use it to negotiate with customers, stakeholders, and vendors, as well as to negotiate for your values, like fair and equal pay.
Another piece of advice I'd give is to find a mentor. This is a must for women in the workplace at any level. Having a supportive network around you will help you break glass ceilings and achieve greater work/life balance. A lot of women worry about work/life balance. I would say there isn't a recipe for that. You will have to find the balance based on what's going on in your life and work.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in leadership and how have you navigated these?
I've faced many challenges based on working in technology. I think technology is a field still riddled with gender stereotypes. Studies show that a higher percentage of people trust men in technology leadership roles. The bias makes it difficult for women to progress in their career. Women cannot always rely on their ambition being perceived as a positive attribute. I'm hopeful that women being strong, smart, ambitious leaders becomes not only accepted, but celebrated. I've navigated this challenge by learning to advocate for myself and being strategic about how I approach challenges and opportunities.