The gendered question

By Kim Furman, Synthesis Marketing Manger

Women’s Day sets the tone for August. It encourages us to us examine the advances of women in society. It inspires article upon article on what it is like to be a woman in every sphere. What always interests me is that you never see the question of what it is like to be a man? Are we being dismissive to men by not asking them this? Should they be offended? Or are we highlighting the challenges that come with being a woman when we ask them? Are we putting too much weight on this? Or is it none of the above. Inspired by these thoughts, I engaged with many of my colleagues, including Aimee McNamara, Synthesis Head of HR.

McNamara has extensive experience in the fintech/financial services and telecommunications space at both a strategic and operational management level.  She is passionate about organisational development, culture, employee enablement and diversity and inclusion.  Her moto is “Build Better Employee Experiences.”

As an expert in people and a coach, I asked her if she believes being a woman impacts how she works and leads and should it? “Absolutely not. Emphasising gender differences only entrenches the sentiment that men and women differ to a far greater extent than simple biology.  We are all individuals, and how we contribute to our roles in organisations is influenced by so much more than our gender.”

“It is my role (and passion) to enable people to reach their full potential. I believe in collaborating and engaging with the team and in doing so, maximising our success – we all have different strengths and value to add.  By being inclusive of diverse ideas we yield better results.”

“I don’t think that my being a woman influences my leadership ability or style.  In fact, in the tech space particularly, I find most leaders operate this way, regardless of gender. In order, to be innovative, we rely on balanced teams and the input of every single team member, it aids in well though through solutions.”

However, there is still the issue of gender inequality. We don’t want to emphasise gender but the gender disparity in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) space is there. I asked McNamara what can be done about this? “There certainly is a great deal more emphasis on elevating women in the tech industry over the past several years, more so than in the last few decades, but we need to improve efforts to push the needle on gender equality.”

“Many tech companies have included gender representation to the Board agenda, and there are considerable investments being made to promote female tech-talent, which is wonderful. However, the real challenge is in encouraging school-going girls to pursue studies in STEM. We must remove the gender-stereotypes that boys are better at these subjects than girls.”

“I am very proud of the initiatives that our organisation drives to improve gender parity, and the enthusiasm of our teams to give personal time to empower and enable new entrants into the tech space. As I write this, we have a Synthesis tech team working with Girl Code and providing mentoring and support to the participants of the 2020 Hackathon.”

“Given it is a systemic challenge, I believe that there are multiple stakeholders responsible for the promotion of technical skills, not just private enterprise. Ideally, we should have round-table conversations with government, education experts, NGO’s and private sector to better equip our schools with technical studies.”

McNamara was inspired to join the tech space when she worked with an applications development team in a previous role. They inspired her through their energy and passion for finding solutions to business offerings. “I decided this was the industry that I wanted to establish my career in – cutting edge, exploratory, disruptive, everything I think HR needs to be.”

So, to mention gender or to not mention gender when interviewing a woman? Often by highlighting differences we entrench stereotypes, yet we cannot ignore it; gender equality, as McNamara mentioned, has not yet been achieved. Yet how we experience the world is based on the stories we tell ourselves and the stories others tell us. Gender makes up a facet of a many faceted story and we all have to navigate the stories of others and their impact every day. Sometimes these stories unfortunately talk young girls out of the STEM space.

Ideally, we should approach people based on what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “inscape”. By this he means all the characteristics and uniqueness that makes something that thing. For McNamara it would be her Aimee-ness, her being passionate about people, her being a mother to a daughter and a person with unique self-doubts and personal challenges. To do this, we need to get to know someone, to empathise and then we can ask the right questions about what empowers them and challenges them and for many a part of this is being a woman. It is a wonderful and complex facet.

Wherever we stand on whether to frame questions around gender, we need to ensure that gender is never the blocker that prevents a person from reaching their potential or opens them up to abuse. I know I will personally be celebrating Women’s Day and thinking of the inscape of the women in my life but that does not take from the inscape of the men around me.

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