As part of International Women’s Day we interview Emily Kent, on her role as co-founder at One Big Circle, women in business and what a more gender-balanced world-view means to her.
Tell us about your role?
I’m co-founder of One Big Circle – a technology company that specializes in Intelligent Video. I’m responsible for business development and operations.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the variety of each day and being able to make autonomous decisions about the direction of the business. I founded the business with 3 others and each day, week and month has been different - challenging, exciting, rewarding. We also create opportunities within our growing company for people to develop their talents and skills and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
And what are the most challenging aspects?
As a relatively new company our challenge is to become established in the traditional sectors that we have targeted. But challenges are there to be relished so I actually find it really motivating to make the inroads that we are making.
TLAs (Three Letter Aconyms!) are my personal challenge – there are far too many being used everywhere. When I get to the point of having to google them, I’m done!
What 3 things do you think you need to progress as a woman in business?
Having confidence in your ability and ensuring you make your voice heard. Be the one to pitch or present, to give your opinion, to ask the question (even if it seems obvious), to make your voice heard – especially in a room full of men. When it’s not unusual to hear a female voice as often as a man’s, we will be more gender balanced.
Take advantage of the plethora of incubators, networks, growth hubs etc. There is definitely power in numbers and huge professional and personal advantage in building a network and support mechanism.
See your life experience and other commitments as something you can translate into your success in business. As someone who has had time out of the workplace when I had children its vital to not see this as time lost in your career – see it as where you developed your ability to multi-task, be efficient, be creative. Transfer all that ability into your work and be proud of what you bring to the workplace.
What are the biggest challenges the future generation of women in business face?
I think there is a danger that people can think we’ve ‘done’ gender equality because it’s been in the headlines and public consciousness for some time, and suddenly no longer needs attention. Just paying lip-service now because it’s the right thing to be seen to do isn’t good enough though.
Equality and diversity needs to permeate every level of business, law and society and remain there. The gender pay gap legislation, for example, has forced businesses to identify and publish their pay gap but it’s the redressing of that gap that is fundamental. Keeping that in the public arena, seeing behavioral changes, and ensuring equality is being mandated for will be a challenge.
What can the next generation bring to business that previous generations may not have?
The next generation should have the confidence and understanding that the barriers previously faced were artificial and can be, and should be, broken down and disassembled. It’s the movement that the post-war generation of women really started and something that we are beholden to continue for future generations.
We marked 100 years of womens’ suffrage in 2018, we are addressing the gender pay gap, calling out sexual harassment through #MeToo, and demonstrating the economic and societal benefits of equality and diversity. Progress has become quicker and more visible which is exciting to see. It makes me believe that the next generation can and will address the barriers and stereotypes even more effectively.
What does a more gender-balanced world-view mean for you?
A more gender-balanced world would see huge advantages across so many areas, and for everyone. The evidence is increasingly clear, with data to back this, that gender and ethnically balanced environments would see stronger economies, greater productivity and more stability. The IMF revealed this week that some countries could see their economies boosted by 35% if they addressed their inequalities and discrimination laws. It makes clear business sense and it needs the right women and men in the right positions to drive this.
A gender-balanced world wouldn’t see women passed over in discussion. Only recently I was mid conversation with an older man selling their services who realized another person in the group was my male co-founder, immediately then addressing his pitch to them. Needless to say we didn’t take up further discussions after that. A missed business opportunity for them!
How can we enable more women to take a place at the board-room table?
I think the public conception of the board-room environment isn’t great. Confrontations round a big wooden table, the old boys’ network, and board positions as a reward for being in the company for 40 years! Not something you might aspire to be involved in.
Boards should reflect their society, and companies with diverse boards increase their productivity and profitability so it makes practical business sense for starters!
Research has shown that men are more likely to apply for roles where they have some of the skills and women only if they have every skill and have been encouraged to apply. Boards should take actionable steps to address this. Articulate that changes are being made, and new members actively recruited. Create shadowing opportunities to break down misconceptions and demonstrate where new input would be valued.
Be purposeful in showing who is on the board. When you can identify with someone already there you are more likely to achieve that role too.
Identify potential board members and provide specific knowledge and coaching that will enhance the skills they have. Make practical changes about meeting times and environments, as these can often be unspoken barriers. Bust the myth that everyone on a board knows what they are talking about all the time. They don’t! New perspectives, experiences and opinion are equally valuable and should come from both genders.
How can businesses evolve to be more gender-balanced?
Positive actions are still needed, large and small. Changing language, processes and ways you recruit all ensures you reach a wider and more varied audience – both internally and publicly. Addressing unconscious bias is important too in examples used, processes etc.
Properly valuing flexible working for all demonstrates that you are hiring for skill and talent rather than who can physically be in the office, daily or long term. And again there are demonstrable commercial benefits in enabling this.
The understanding of caring for your mental health is part of this conversation too and beneficial to the whole workforce and in turn to company productivity and stability.
What advice would you give to young women and men starting out in business today in context of promoting a more diverse world-view?
With young sons and a daughter I really worry about the cultural division between girls and boys clothing, gifts, books, programmes, characters – you name it! It all perpetuates the myth that there is huge difference between the genders and ingrains that division as they grow. It really affects what they feel they should and could aspire to be.
Address it head on and make positive steps to ensure the conception and languages you use aren’t discriminatory. Don’t get stuck in mindsets that certain genders suit certain careers or should be in different parts of a business – they are cultural barriers and assumptions that need to be challenged.
What women inspire you and why?
Dame Stephanie Shirley is an inspiration and a force of nature, her story is an absolute demonstration of a hugely successful company being built around practical flexible working and female coders. Similarly I love hearing anything from, or about, Professor Sue Black, her achievements and the Bletchley Park campaign.
My Mum and my Auntie both inspire me, both having trained professionally when they were older. One is now in a critical leadership role in a national transport company and the other leading a gay rights charity. All these women, and so many others I admire, balance their family lives and commitments with their professional achievement and are hugely successful because of this balance, rather than in-spite of it.
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