You Don’t Have to Choose: Better the Balance, Better the World
‘You don’t have to choose,’ the words are still ringing in my ears. Nobody had ever said that to me in my whole working life, but it is exactly what I’ve done since I graduated with my D.Phil. in Physiology from Oxford University. Years ago, I deliberately stepped down from a global role with a fast-track to the top at a major pharmaceutical company, so that I could dedicate time into building a relationship with my future husband. Later, I stayed in a role well below my experience and capability, while I faced an agonizing 10 years of IVF and recurrent miscarriages.
However, these challenges do not only exist in the distant past. More recently, my seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with coeliac disease, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, but unlike any other time in my life, I was told by the founder of JPA, ‘You don’t have to choose between being a leader and your child’. Like so many women, I hadn’t raised the topic, but she proactively gave me the opportunity to talk about it. She built in flexibility where it was needed for paediatric hospital appointments and allowed me to continue doing what I am passionate about – making a difference in the world – for people living with health conditions through strategic communications. This is precious to me, as it’s important to me to contribute to the greater good by reaching people with information about new innovations and educational resources about their condition.
International Women’s Day emphasises the need for a gender-balanced world. In some cases women come up against a ‘glass-ceiling’ seemingly impossible to rise beyond. At other times, it’s subtler. I’ve worked in places where management see a lack of ‘putting yourself forward’ for a role as ‘lack of ambition’, which closes the door to advancement. Sad, when a simple conversation could reveal a self-imposed barrier for that individual. One example might be that she is worried about frequent international travel. By talking about it, alternative solutions could be put in place, such as replacing travel with regular video conferences.
It is important to distinguish gender parity from gender equality. Gender parity is a statistical measure that provides a numerical value of female-to-male or girl-to-boy ratio for indicators such as income or education or even progression through the ranks. However, ‘gender parity’ can only be achieved through ‘gender equality.’ Ratios of women in education or applying for new positions cannot step-change without removing existing barriers. In my experience, yes, the women’s leadership councils or training courses at leading academic centres are great and should continue, but equally important is taking the time to understand why that capable, consistent high-performer isn’t putting themselves forward. We need to address these barriers systemically and learn to recognise when an employee is about to step-down as they feel they ‘have to choose.’
This philosophy applies across all levels of society and geographies, seeking to understand at a grassroots level the barriers that exist in order to address them and make progress towards equality. I am proud to work in a company that has an ethos of inclusivity across all manners of diversity, whether that be gender, being able-bodied, sexual preference or ethnic background and truly embraces the goal of International Women’s Day, ‘Better Balance’.
Diane Wass is the Managing Director of JPA Health Communications, London Office