IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Susan Ball

Author Matthew Gravelle
April 7, 2021

​​Disclaimer: Please note that all comments and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

We are not yet an equal society. The gender pay gap among all employees in the UK was 15.5 per cent in 2020 and women only hold 34.5 per cent of FTSE 100 board roles; which needs to change. If we don’t choose to challenge, how can we enact such change? Sometimes it takes bravery, confidence and guts, and it isn’t always easy. Brave people have been challenged to rebalance societal views on diversity, but there is still more to do. It can be easy to feel small and insignificant and think we can’t do it; however, recently we have seen some powerful examples our how large groups of people can take small steps to generate awareness of an issue and enact change, such as the Black Lives Matters campaigning.

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? 

Challenge, be bold and ask. It took me a long while to realise the way to get promotions was to ask for them and ask what I, not anyone else, had to do to get the next one. Work on those areas that have been suggested; keep evidence; build up a portfolio but also think about how you can stand out and increase your visibility to get yourself noticed by influencers. As someone who has taken a seat at many board tables, I can tell you I have received various reactions over the years – both positive and negative; and learned from trial and error. You can’t change who you are, but you can work with it. In my experience, you have to believe in your own abilities and face every new situation with determination and lessons learnt from past experiences. Early in my career, I can recall occasions finding myself discounted, or not as powerfully at articulating a point, while men sitting next to me were not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up, ask the question even if it might feel stupid. I learned to sit at the table and contribute.

What is one thing women don’t talk about enough? 

Ourselves. We are not often as good at self-promotion or talking about the challenges of managing work and life. A few years ago, a survey of professional women around the world, found that business leaders must focus on three key essential elements – strategic support; tackling work/life balance challenges and calling out bias, discrimination and toxic cultures. Taking these steps will advance gender equality and help women’s career advancement in the twenty-first century. In addition to these elements and barriers, as women, we need to take ownership of our careers. Planning and managing it as we may do other parts of our life. However, it should be remembered that we don’t have to do it alone. The events of 2020/21 have turned workplaces and our home life upside down. And early research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing disproportionate pressure on all women, irrespective of income and seniority, and risking the progress that has been made in years past. But it’s not just women who have been struggling to do their jobs in these current times. Many of us have felt like we’re ‘always on’ with no boundaries between work and home, with homeschooling for some. As we move out of lockdown, I think we will see employers considering how this period has changed the future of the workplace, and many employees will want greater flexibility. Let’s face it, there has been a perceptible shift in attitudes, so rather than a return to old stereotypes, women need as much as men to speak up to make sure their voices are heard in the debate.

Read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe. 

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