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International Women’s Day – what balance means to us

08 March 2019


Friday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements, to raise awareness against gender bias and to take action to promote equality. To mark the day, we asked women at Octopus to tell us what the day means to them, and why they believe that a balanced world is a better world.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Jayne Shawcross, Head of Customer for Octopus Healthcare

It’s an opportunity to recognise how far women have come in their progress over recent decades. And it’s a chance to celebrate the contribution women make to both industry and society.

Ruth Handcock, Octopus Investments CEO

Once upon a time, I thought International Women’s Day was a bit silly. I didn’t feel we needed to make a big deal out of it. But as I get further up an organisation, I feel increasingly isolated. So, for me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating the positive attributes that women bring to organisations and recognising that this balance builds better companies.

Lisa Townsend, Head of Public Affairs for Octopus Group

It’s a day to unite around all of the initiatives and projects going on to support women, such as the 50/50 Parliament movement, a campaign to get more women elected, and #AskHerToStand. It’s also a way of highlighting smaller campaigns that don’t get much publicity. Recognising the women doing great work in all kinds of fields, from science to culture and everything in between, is a great way to demonstrate to younger girls that they really can follow any career they choose.

I also hope that International Women’s Day becomes a nice anachronism. That it passes with as little fanfare as International Men’s Day (19 November), and becomes a day to celebrate all of our achievements, and not a day to campaign for equality.

What do you think can help bring greater ‘balance’ between men and women?

Lisa Townsend, Head of Public Affairs for Octopus Group

More visibility. It is disappointing that there are more statues of men called John in the UK than there are of non-royal women, and that only 24% of people ‘heard, read about or seen in newspapers, on TV and radio news’ are female. As the American activist Marian Wright Edelman said: you can’t be what you can’t see.

To me, equality of opportunity is still the single biggest hurdle. When that has been overcome, I believe much of the rest will follow. That may mean unconscious bias training, or submitting CVs without any gender identifiers.

Finally, we need to develop a culture whereby the ‘soft’ skills typically associated with being a woman (nurturing, listening, diplomacy, etc.) are viewed as being of equal value to the attributes associated with men, such as confidence and physical strength.

Jayne Shawcross, Head of Customer for Octopus Healthcare

I think both genders need to embrace the opportunity for fairness and balance. I would love to see more women going back to work after having children – and more men managing the home – and without any judgement or comment, that it’s just accepted as normal.

We all need to embrace the conversation, and talk about the challenges we face with a positive mindset. This means not feeling scared to engage in the debate for fear of saying the wrong thing. We may not know the right language or way to phrase something, but that shouldn’t stop us. And we should all do what we can to help people feel comfortable talking about a subject that impacts or affects them.

I think we need to accept that we are all fundamentally different. We shouldn’t be defined by stereotypes or inherited biases bred from society. It’s okay that some people are physically stronger than others, some are better listeners than others, some are better leaders than others.

It’s nothing to do with gender, but to do with the skills they have which are suited to the job at hand. Let’s build each other up, learn from each other and recognise the value each of us can add.

What Octopus initiatives are you most proud of?

Ruth Handcock, Octopus Investments CEO

Flexible working is making a big difference to people’s lives. I think it’s taken a little while to ‘bed in’, but people here at Octopus are now embracing it. It’s one of the initiatives I see most talked about in our Office Vibe feedback, and it’s helping us to recruit the best talent.

I’m also proud of our flexible approach to maternity leave. My personal view is that it’s less about how long you get paid for when you’re off, and more about how easy companies make women’s re-entry to work. I’ve seen loads of examples of how having the right attitude towards this makes women feel valued and part of Octopus.