To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) and our Digital Women Lunch 2023, we’ve been speaking to some of the industry’s leading female voices to get their thoughts on how digital can truly achieve equity. Today, we chat with Lexi Clarke, Agency Director, ActionRocket.
The theme of IWD 2023 is equity. How far has our industry come in achieving equity for women rather than just equality?
I think gender equity is a much better goal for the industry than striving for equality. It shines a light on the unfairness women have faced for millennia and highlights that opportunities for women are limited because of the social constructs of our society.
We need more emphasis at school on the skills required to succeed in the new digital world, we need to break down stereotypical career advice and we need opportunities to train teenage girls on how to build the bridge of their career.
Like some kind of perfect pyramid scheme, for every opportunity you as a woman get in your career you need to make 10 more opportunities for other women to follow you. If your People Plan does not include building roles, opportunities and promotion for women from diverse backgrounds at every level, then we will never see the benefit of gender equity.
Are you worried that macroeconomic issues could have a negative impact on diversity initiatives in our industry?
Yes, I can see key macroeconomic issues will affect women at every life stage:
- Cost of Education: We need to enable girls to have equal opportunities. However, school funding cuts will have a direct impact on what additional innovative teaching is provided. The rising cost of higher education, especially universities, will see a decline in women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds having the funds to go.
- Traditional society roles: Girls and women are more likely to fall into caring roles society expects of them. This will see girls looking after siblings while parents have to work more to pay bills and older women making the choice to stay home longer and not return to work because of the rising cost of child care.
- Competitive job market: There will be fewer jobs and opportunities for promotion. Which will not help the latest statistics from Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, which found Men and women ask for pay raises at the same rate but men get them more often.
What is your advice to anyone in a junior position who wants to engender change within their own organisation?
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo to help support your company to change the culture; it will help them to remain more relevant. Just ensure that you have an open and honest discussion as to why you’d like to make change and how it would benefit your team. Don’t be afraid of risk and rejection. If you feel you are not being listened to expand your network at work, connect to senior members of the team and have discussions around your ideas.
It’s important to join an organisation whose values you align with, which may mean compromising on pay or joining a smaller less known brand. But you will learn more and have more say in an organisation that challenges and respects you. You will be tomorrow’s leader, so ensure people around you can teach you, listen to you and are empathetic to your needs.
What is the biggest opportunity for women in your sector of the digital industry today?
As an industry, we need to collectively come together to face inequality and injustice. We need to set about change and do more, in our teams, in our culture and in the work we produce.
One thing the digital industry needs is smart, intelligent, empathetic, diverse women, to go and be whatever they choose to be. In return we must give women the space and confidence to grow. We must nurture raw talent and teach the next generation of data scientists, strategists, coders, marketeers and designers. If there is one thing the world needs it’s women at the very core of the digital revolution. Relatable, real humans with real life stories, leading the way and making the most senior decisions.
What is the biggest challenge to you as a woman in the digital industry and how are you overcoming it?
I have two challenges. I am dyslexic, and with dyslexia new changes are a challenge, along with self-confidence. This has meant I have not taken opportunities that I could have throughout my career. Having dyslexia until now has been something I have tried to hide but I am now challenging myself to speak up about it especially when I need more support.
The second challenge is the Big Juggle. Motherhood was a shock to the system. Roll on nine months and trying to get back to work was hard. I’d just got to grips with motherhood and then I had to get back to my leadership role and the roller coaster ride that is growing a people focused business in a post pandemic world. I was lucky that my partner could take shared parental leave. However, if he had not been worried that he would be overlooked for a promotion by taking time off, he could have shared the parental leave more.
I am now openly talking about my struggle as a new mum and I hope to inspire the women at work who may be planning to have children to save up and take a full 12 months off and get their partners to look at sharing their parental leave too. I’m busy succession planning for the business so we are ready and happy when our amazing team takes some extended time off.
What three things could employer companies do to make the digital industry better for women?
Good, forward-thinking businesses are making work culture completely inclusive, flexible and supportive so women can feel fully supported.
- True flexible working that’s available for all: You should be open to what the women on your team need and what you need as a business and be able to honestly discuss solutions. The 4 Day Week Campaign Is the latest trial in the UK that saw 61 companies enter for the six-months. 56 extended the four-day week beyond the trial period and 18 have made it permanent. It’s great to see the shift in trying out new working weeks.
- Mentorship and community: Make space for women to be mentored by other senior women across the organisation. This will help inspire and nurture talent across your organisation.
- Review your team’s package: From regular salary benchmarking or pay equity analysis. Keep your offering current, include support for people undergoing fertility treatment and review a better paternity leave package for women and men. By supporting families there will be more opportunity for women to return back to work if they wish to do so.
What support structures and organisations are most important and effective to you as a woman in the digital industry?
Organisations are changing the way they manage teams. Gone are the days where we stick at a job and are told what to do daily. Instead, more space is given to the two-way exchange of what employees need and what employers want. And coming to that exchange with trust and honesty is key to job and team satisfaction.
For me at work, this has translated into having access to a female leadership coach, to help me step away from the everyday and have space to think, talk and plan. In my personal life, this has meant group therapy and one-to-one therapy through the amazing charity MummyShock. This heady mix helped me define what I needed to manage life as a new mum and a leader. I’m not saying businesses should fund therapy, but recommendations, support and an open environment is important to have.
What is the biggest misconception about women and by women in the digital industry?
We compare ourselves too much to each other. I see super successful women and I question why I can’t be like them. But I know this is simply a negative thought pattern and I tackle it with my favourite piece of writing called, ‘Desiderata’:
“Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself.”
Women come in all shapes and sizes and talk, act and think differently, we need to break down stereotypes and challenge our own misconceptions. I was inspired by Lilly Singh’s idea of building a new table instead of taking a seat at the old one. I’d like to see us create a new table that’s bigger and better and has all different types of chairs made for everyone.