Spotlight on Women in Business: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

  • July 6th, 2018
  • Blog

This week, we spoke to Dr Terri Simpkin about overcoming  ‘the Impostor Phenomenon’. Terri is the Higher and Further Principal at CNet Training and a Visiting Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University.  She is actively involved in developing programmes to advance the status of women STEM occupations including her own Braver, Stronger, Smarter programme to diminish impostor phenomenon.  Terri is also working on a suite of research to inform emerging workplace structures in the ‘Second Machine Age’.

Her comments resonated deeply with so many of us, and we hope you will take away the same reassurance and sense of power that we did.

Can you tell us a little about your current research in to women in STEM? How did that come about?

My current project came about with a move to develop a master’s degree in leadership specializing in data centre management. At industry seminars or at panels, I’d look out over a sea of white middle-aged men, and I’d find myself thinking ‘where are all the women, why is there such a visible lack of representation in operations, IT and engineering at all levels but particularly in key roles?’ I started looking at imposter phenomenon- there is so much good work going on in STEM to get women in to the industry (as graduates, girls in schools) but that doesn’t seem to be making a difference fast enough – I ended up asking ‘what’s going on? Why are we not seeing a marked shift in terms of women occupying non-traditional and higher level posts?’

So, I replicated a piece of research done in 70s using the same diagnostic to see if there was a problem in the data centre sector. Ironically enough I couldn’t collect enough data from women in these centers for me to complete the study, so I re-expanded it to include women in broader STEM occupations. From that work I discovered that 89% of women were experiencing, or had or experiences of the imposter phenomenon.

What is the Imposter Phenomenon?

It’s mostly fear. A fear that, at any given point in time, someone is going to tell you ‘we should have given the job to someone else’, or experiencing a sense of crushing fear of failure succeed despite a track record of past achievements. There are so many women who want to occupy Senior Leadership Positions but feel totally exposed by the pressure of having to meet their own incredibly high standards of absolute perfection.

But it’s not about ‘fixing women’.  We’re taking these findings into work places to try and raise awareness of how the systems and processes are stopping women from making progress. This idea that ‘you must be perfect’ is a fear so many of us relate to, and that is common across so many types of work. Every time I run a session I stay behind for a good hour as I have so many women suggesting I’ve put words on everything they’ve been feeling. Putting a name to Imposter Syndrome is important: diminishing this preconception that women need to be more confident, that the fault somehow lies with them, is even more so. Women have confidence but sometimes they don’t have a sense of self-efficacy. They’re confident they can progress in leadership but less sure about whether they’ll be able to make the situation work for them, and whether the systems in place and the odds at stake can work in their favor, and that’s an entirely different narrative to women lacking confidence.

Why is this such a common phenomenon? How is it that so many of us will be able to relate to the scenario you’ve just described?

At lot of it comes back to socialization, and that’s a big problem to solve! The way women and girls are raised, treated in schools and at home and in the public media. Generally speaking, a lot of us are taught to be one way: even if you challenge those ideas the social messages and expectations are still pervasive. Challenging those preconceptions means pushing against pre-determined ideas about how (and what) women should be in the workplace, and how they fit into the workplace. Things like rewards, recognition and promotion plans are geared towards a typically ‘male’ kind of management. I’m often asked by very well-meaning men why women don’t apply for senior management positions. Often it’s because those job descriptions identify what’s still seen as a typically male profile  (out there strong, visible, assertive, aggressive). Yet for most of living memory, women have been told that ‘nice’ girls don’t do that kind of thing. It often comes to a choice between being seen as being more masculine or not putting yourself in that role. High profile leadership positions are highly visible, open to criticism, and many women are saying ‘you know what, I’d prefer not to put myself in a position where I am open to ruthless criticism, I don’t want to fail in a very public manner’ even though the chances of them failing are actually very slim indeed.  It’s robbing people of career progressing and our organizations of some outstanding talent.

So do you think the problem could lie in the type of working environments women find themselves in?

The workplace structure still carries a gender bias, and a socialized imposter syndrome exacerbates it. When you break it down people are socialized in a certain way, and when it’s challenged that causes people a lot of discomfort. The fact remains that in many cases this bias prevents people doing the jobs they could do, particularly in STEM which still has a huge gender disparity.

They are still generally engrained of ways of looking at confidence. Women are still expected to be liked, women who are confident and competent are not liked.  It’s the old adage, a man is considered strong and decisive, women are considered ‘bossy’ and ‘bitchy’.  It’s a classic double bind.

That’s sort of where the image of the 80s, power suits and padded shoulders alpha female came from, wasn’t it?

Exactly! But we’re still seeing those kinds of attitudes today. Look at the scrutiny that May and Merkel get in comparison to male counterparts (look at what Boris Johnson can get away with…)

Our sense-making comes down to what we see and what seems plausible. Ultimately women are approaching these positions with a lack of plausibility- high level, successful women in business and politics for example are not visible due to being in the minority so it doesn’t seem likely to others. If we look In to STEM occupations for example, we see very few women at a high level, and as a result we tell ourselves that it is not probable that we could get that position. What’s plausible and what’s real are two different things.  Sadly, when we make sense of the world, plausibility, no matter how wrong, eats accuracy for breakfast!

What can we, and our readers, do to feel more plausible? What would your top tips be?

Know it’s not in your head, it’s perpetuated by the way our social structures and workplaces are set up. This is not about fixing women. Look at your achievements and successes from the past. If, despite a raft of successes you continue to believe the next task will be a failure, sit down and really critically look at all the success that have gone before.

Write up your CV, take your name off it and ask someone else what they think of the achievements identified.  Take note of their rational, unbiased account of successes and talents on the CV. The key thing is to critically examine your achievements and previous successes and accept that the success is yours and, more than likely, replicatable.

Stop saying ‘but’ when someone says you did a good job it can be too easy to say ‘thanks, but I just got lucky, or it was someone else…’. Just accept the praise! No buts! Once you start setting up changes in language you set up  changes in behaviors, so accept that praise. This sort of thing is easy to say, but harder to enact, so maybe think about getting a mentor (someone who has no vested interest in being nice, but who can give constructive, personalized feedback that’s rational and honest).

How can organizations and  businesses,  take steps to eradicate Imposter Syndrome?

We need to going back to the beginning to strip out gender bias. We need to advance women on non-nebulous terms (feedback grounded in measurable terms). People with imposter phenomenon are experts about making themselves right about how inadequate they think they are, so we need to present them with clear measurable proof to the contrary.

We also need to change the narrative around it being women’s responsibility to change themselves, workplaces haven’t adapted to changes in the industrial landscape and systems are still founded on the values of postindustrial age. With things like VR, robotic path automation, artificial intelligence expanding at a rate of knots these values aren’t tenable. I feel that if you’re going to break the traditional system you ay as well rebuild them in a guise that strips out a pervasive gender bias.

My own research is moving towards looking at how organizations need to prepare for the 4th industrial revolution, where many traditional systems don’t work anymore. I think that If you’re challenging male structures you also challenge female structures and move towards a working culture that dismantles this gender binary and gendered expectations. I disagree with the statement that ‘the future is female’ however well-intentioned that might be. We need to move past that. The future is collective, human, and it’s up to us to work towards it.

Finally, Post  #MeToo, do you think the tide has started to turn for women in business, or do we still have a long way to go?

Well, we’ve still got 217 years to go until we reach gender parity if we go at the same rate we’ve moved it since (some) women got the vote in 1918. It’s true that women are gaining more traction in terms of getting their views across, and men, broadly, are questioning some of the things they’ve learnt implicitly. Most people don’t set out to be bigots or anti-feminist or sexist, they’ve been conditioned into a way of thinking. The challenge is looking outwards to the world as opposed to looking at the individual in front of us. If we take the example of the Brock Turner case, I think many men started to ask, why is his future more important than the future of the woman whose life he has irreparably damaged? It’s not on women to adapt or modify themselves, but for individuals to be held accountable, as we’ve also seen with the Harvey Weinstein backlash. I think those examples are challenging these ingrained perceptions of women’s place in the world. It’s making people realise how stupid and damaging this archaic mindset always was.

Momentum is gearing up. People, not just women, are questioning some of the values and ideas we’ve taken for granted. That can only be a good thing -and it can’t come quick enough.

[photo credits: Terri Simpkin]

GenPol for EUobserver – EU needs comprehensive sex ed

GenPol’s research associate Nathalie Greenfield has been featured on yet another major international outlet, this time EUobserver. Nathalie has written before about the need for better sexuality and relationship education, and she makes a strong case for a comprehensive European effort.

Read more by Nathalie


[image credits: EUobserver]

GenPol & University Women in the Arts collaborate on major new education project

We are delighted to announce that GenPol will partner with the University Women In the Arts, a mentoring scheme to help improve women’s transition from studying the arts to working in the arts, on an exciting new project for 2018 – 2019. This twelve-month study aims to help female arts student, as well as organisations that support them, to deal with, tackle and help eradicate abuse, bullying and harassment within the industry.

Read more about it in this piece by Rachel Hall for The Guardian.


As pointed out by Jennifer Tuckett, Director of University Women in the Arts, “Research conducted as part of recent discussions around abuse in the arts has shown that it is often those at the start of their careers who are affected by abuse. We hope our 12 month project will allow us to provide a platform for female arts students to share their views and experiences of abuse, bullying and harassment, as well as providing a toolkit in partnership with GenPol to help teachers at school and university level to equip their students to deal with this issue and help tackle and eradicate bullying, abuse and harassment in the arts. In terms of equipping the next generation going into the arts, education has a huge role to play in tackling this issue”.


Our CEO Dr Lilia Giugni added: “As shown by GenPol’s latest report, over 50 million European women have experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence in their lifetimes, and education is crucial to prevent these abuses. While the #metoo campaign has made the world aware of the extent of gender-based violence, especially within the art industry, we now need to move the debate forward and talk solutions. Wonderful resources for effective education in this area already exist, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel. However, we do need outlets and network to exchange good practices, and more funding for research in this area. Our collaboration with the University of Women in the Arts is an exciting step forward in this direction”.


The project begins with a call out to female arts students studying at universities across the UK or who have graduated in the last two years to submit work inspired by their views and experiences of abuse, either in the arts or more generally. Chosen submissions will be published in a book to provide a platform for female arts students views and experiences, alongside a tooklit for use by teachers at school and university level or for use by students on their own.


The project will be advised by Professor Pamela Burnard, Professor of Arts, Creativities and Education at the University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading experts on arts education. Co-editors of the book to be published as a result of the project include Jingan Young, who recently edited Foreign Goods,a book of work by British East Asian playwrights published by Oberon Books, and Titilola Dawudu, Learning and Participation Manager at the Ovalhouse Theatre who was recently selected for the Artistic Director Leadership Programme’s “Leaders of Tomorrow” scheme.



[photo credits: Malaika Shaw was a winner of the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music fund. Photograph: PRS Foundation]

GenPol for SOS Music Media – Men and #MeToo

[Live podcast] What role can men play in advancing gender equality?

We’re proud to be featured on SOS Music Media amazing podcast series! There will be a live recording on June 25th 2018 at 5pm in central Cambridge.  Our CEO Lilia Giugni will be in conversation with Tanner Taddeo of SOS Music Media, discussing ways in which men and boys can contribute to the struggle towards a more gender equal world in the wake of #MeToo.

If you’re interested in learning more about the underlying issues of gender equality and meeting individuals working on the front lines of the issue(s), then this event is for you. Come and listen to the live podcast and then discuss the issues afterwards with thought leaders on gender equality during the drinks/networking event.

Book your tickets now on Eventbrite. See you there!


In partnership with the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation

[image credits: SOS Music Media]

GenPol for Euractiv – Europe needs better sex education

We are delighted to share a great piece written by our Research Associate Nathalie Greenfield for


“[…] Data gathered from across the EU reinforces that gender-based harassment and violence is prevalent in Europe. One in three European women (33%) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; nearly half (43%) of women in the EU have experienced some form of psychological violence by a current or former partner; and one in twenty (5%) has been raped at least once. This needs to change.

Good quality sexuality education has the potential to drastically alter the harassment, assault, and violence that women experience, yet it is rarely made use of across member states.”

GenPol presents a clear case for action and proposes a number of recommendations, which must be prioritised:

  • Coordinating best practices
  • Legislating on sexuality education
  • Inclusivity
  • Tackling online abuse “


Read the full article here.


Read more by Nathalie:


[image credits: Shutterstock]

The Role of Business In Bridging The Gender Divide: GenPol Partners With The African Technology Business Network

  • June 4th, 2018
  • Blog

On the 17th of May, GenPol partnered with the African Technology Business Network to host a round table on the ‘Role of business in bridging the gender divide’. Bringing together a wide span of participants from across the aid, development and technology sectors, GenPol CEO Lilia Giugni and ATBN founder Eunice Baguma Ball delivered two main keynotes, which encouraged participants to think about ways to make the technology sector a more inclusive space. By shedding light on the barriers preventing African women from engaging with tech-led development, the talk asked what opportunities that might arise for women in tech if we were to remove them?

Does the tech industry have a gender problem?

In short….yes! GenPol’s research on Gender & Tech (in line with our broader work on Gender and Social Entrepreneurship) has identified, there are still a lot of misconceptions and  die-hard stereotypes present in the technology sphere. As both Lilia Giugni and Eunice Baguma Balls’ keynotes highlighted, the tech sector is plagued by gendered assumptions  that create an extremely hostile environment for women in the industry. This is made particularly clear when  we consider the lack of women in mid-level positions and in management positions across the tech sphere (both in Africa and beyond).

GenPol’s Lilia Giugni also touched on the fact that women are (too) often perceived to be ‘less tech-savy’ or as less likely to benefit from technological innovation- a problem not helped by the lack of support available for women beginning careers in the tech sector. There is too often an assumption that the gender gap in the technology sector is due to women being naturally more risk averse, and therefore less interested in/accepting of innovation, or to their being all about ‘people’ skills.

What steps can we take to solve it?

As GenPol’s research has consistently demonstrated, gender differences are not ‘natural’ or given, different forms of intervention can help address the gender gap in tech! Infact, women’s risk propensity and trust in technology increase in the case of higher potential pay-offs, of increased exposure to technological innovation. In simple terms, visibility and targeted initiatives do matter, as they help women to feel empowered (and crucially, safe) in a cyber sphere.

Through our work with ATBN, GenPol aims to harness this potential by using tech to empower women at several levels, dispelling gender stereotypes in the tech space, enabling businesses and other stakeholders to unleash and make the most of women’s potential and the opportunities that this can create in a digital economy.

We believe that developing engagement between private and development sectors is crucial towards embedding gender concerns in this field. By shedding light on the barriers preventing African women from engaging with tech-led development, Eunice and Lilia both touched on the need of businesses, incubators, accelerators, investors and other stakeholders support women in tech in the African context, and (as such) enhance inclusion and diversity in African digital economy.

Takeaways from our roundtable  

Following lively participation from members of our roundtable, a number of important key takeaway points were raised. Firstly, it is important to consider that when such huge opportunities of development arise, like the digital one in Africa at the moment, we must be weary of leaving behind less privileged groups and widen even more the existing gaps. Dialogue on this subject needs to be translated into action. Whilst the number of female start-up founders is growing steadily, there needs to be a concentrated to ensure a large and diverse range of women (and non-men) are being given opportunities to progress in the industry. 

Secondly, it is important for organisations like GenPol to harness the thirst among investors for data and research on why is good to invest in women, and what needs to be done to increase digital literacy among a wider range of women. To do so, participants agreed that there needs to be a conscious effort to examine the state of the ‘digital divide’. It is important to ask who is being granted access to technology (and where), and how geographical and socio-economic factors can intersect with the role women play in the technology sectors. It is for this reason that we must not overlook the role of gatekeepers and enablers who can support (and advise) women trying to enter the digital/tech sector.

Amidst all of the success stories (and events like these), it is important that we ensure that as much of it as possible it’s translated into  ongoing, long-term action. GenPol and ATBN were thrilled to see so many participants engage with this need, and are looking forward to see what exciting opportunities to celebrate (and promote) women in tech will arise from this event.

To keep up to date with GenPol’s ongoing work (or to collaborate) please consult the our page

Chiara De Santis
Chief Policy Officer

Are quotas the answer to workplace equality?

  • May 27th, 2018
  • Blog

In 1993, the British Labour Party introduced a new concept: All Women Shortlists (AWS). For the then-upcoming 1997 election, only women would be presented as Labour’s parliamentary candidates in 50% of the Party’s target seats. A measure driven by Harriet Harman, the aim was to increase the proportion of women MPs. As a result, Labour’s 1997 landslide victory saw the number of women Members jump from 37 to 101. Such an increase simply would not have happened without the introduction of AWS.


Harman, in her 2017 book A Woman’s Work, argues that quotas are necessary for women’s progress in politics. She is absolutely correct. Indeed, the need for women’s quotas extends beyond politics to all areas in which women’s representation is far from equal to that of men: from the political chamber to the computer science lab, the professional sports field to the professional kitchen, the newspaper editing room to the cockpit.


Correcting the underrepresentation of women is not a given. It requires changing the status quo, which means challenging established mentalities and practices. Women make up 50.7% of the British population and 46.5% of the workforce, yet are far from constituting half of UK STEM employees (24%), FTSE 100 CEOs (28.0%), or, despite Harman’s best efforts, elected politicians (32.0%) Reflecting the gender pay gap, women are also more likely to live in poverty than men. Though we have made much progress in the workplace towards equality for men and women, the continued existence of pay disparity, gender leadership imbalance, and the absence of women-focussed HR policies in many workplaces shows that we still have far to go.


Ensuring that women are proportionately represented in all fields is widely regarded as instrumental to tackling social, economic, and political inequality. This is a cornerstone of feminism: women should be in a position to make decisions about their lives and the hugely varied issues that affect them. Implementing quotas for women in key areas in which they are underrepresented across a plethora of organisations is a simple yet effective way of achieving this goal.


The Council of Europe’s gender parity threshold lies at 40%. That is to say that if a company board constitutes 40% women then it can be said to be gender balanced. This being the case, why should we not implement quotas to ensure that women represent at least 40% of our political, economic, and social leaders, and at least 40% of employment categories in which they are greatly underrepresented?


Harman states that without quotas, progress is too slow. The snail’s pace at which we are moving towards gender equality is proof enough of that. Targets and workplace policies only go so far before they stagnate and plateau. There is constant resistance to fostering female talent in many industries and women still struggle to shake the biases that have a detrimental impact on their careers. Quotas move us beyond the ‘sprinkle approach’, in which structural change is avoided and a sprinkle of difference in an otherwise homogenous group ticks the diversity box. We still live, and work, in societies designed by and for men. If we wait for the current chipping-away-at-the-patriarchy strategy to deliver equality, we’ll be waiting a long time.


Inspiration can be drawn from Northern Europe, as is common with many issues of gender and social equality. In 2006, the Norwegian government introduced legislation that required women to make up 40% of public and state-owned company boards. Iceland swiftly adopted similar quotas, and now women now hold 44% of corporate board seats. Much closer to home, we can see the success that AWS brought to women in the Labour Party, and to British women in general: women MPs were instrumental to the design and passing of the 2004 Domestic Violence Act and the 2010 Equality Act, to name but two examples. Implementing quotas in a variety of sectors would see women brought up and valued for their contributions to society, instead of waiting slowly and patiently for equality to dawn.


No, introducing quotas does not paint women as weak. No, quotas do not suggest that women need help in the workplace because they can’t get to the same positions as men. No, quotas do not constitute discrimination against men. Quotas simply acknowledge the structural issues in place that hold women back in employment and seek to redress them in a proactive and effective way. They acknowledge the importance of women’s proper representation, and correct institutional imbalances so that our workplaces reflect society, instead of a skewed version of it. Quotas strive to achieve what is naturally given in the gender make-up of all societies before patriarchal values interfere: equality. Carving out space for women to assume what should be naturally given would surely see tangible progress, as it has done in the instances where quotas have already been used.


Increasing women’s representation in order to pursue equality requires a firmer commitment and stronger action, but also for women to be in a position to assume equality across all areas of the workforce, including management. We need to have working conditions in place which facilitate equal access to opportunity, which sadly is not always the case. Limiting the talent pool for management recruitment in this way does a disservice to women and we all lose out. Thus, measures such as quotas that seek to increase women’s representation must be thought of in tandem with greater work-life balance and women-friendly policies, and must always be tackled in the context of addressing domestic inequality.


Nevertheless, actively creating space for women where they are underrepresented is important to protecting the rights and progress that so many before us fought to make a reality. As the election of the world’s number one delusional narcissist on the other side of the pond shows, these rights are fragile and require our ever-greater commitment. Of course, the idea is that one day such quotas and measures to institute equality will become redundant. But – to paraphrase one of my favourite Lord of the Rings moments – that day is not this day.

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

Women’s Solidarity – reviving the Sisterhood within Women’s Networks

  • March 30th, 2018
  • Blog

The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet” – Adrienne Rich 

Within my research, I focus on men’s support for gender equality, and I am convinced their support is crucial. We need those men that affect gender equality by means of holding power positions to support the cause, and we need all men to take over an equal share of household chores and childcare, so that women are less restricted and can excel to their full potential in other areas of life.

Lately, however, I have returned to the roots of feminism – a collective movement of women standing up for their rights. Attending last year’s women’s march I walked close to a group of women singing “As we go marching, marching, We bring the greater days, For the rising of the women, Means the rising of the race”. I felt inspired and felt that the sisterhood was alive and well, somewhere. What about women’s solidarity within the workplace, however?

Women’s Relationships in the Workplace

Numerous contemporary articles and books discuss workplace relationships among women. Oftentimes, authors focus on the detrimental nature of these relationships, signified by titles such as “Why Women Are Their Own Worst Enemy“. The existence of terms such as “cat fighting” (an altercation between two women), or “Queen Bee” (a female boss who is perceived as harsher to junior women than male bosses) further emphasizes the relevance and the tone of this discourse. “Women gossip about each other, and judge each other with very critical eyes”, a female employee interviewed for the purpose of this article confirmed, “we sometimes envy and then create problems for each other in the workplace.”

At a closer glance, however, this narrative might reveal itself as a little one-sided.  It is unlikely that all relationships among women are tainted by behaviours of malevolence and rivalry. Almost all women I spoke to could indeed recall moments of female solidarity. One woman working in recruitment reported: “If I think that a woman has the right attributes I inform her directly about an open position that I know about”. Similarly, several women reported that they encourage their female co-workers to apply for challenging positions. One woman reported that a co-worker would happily take over her work when she needed to leave early to pick up her child, and others remembered colleagues who introduced them to valuable members of their professional networks. Lastly, some women mentioned that they might speak up or advocate for other women in difficult situations.

Women Networks

Whilst these individual efforts are absolutely worthwhile, a more structured approach might accelerate the pace of change. Throughout the past decade, official networks for women have become increasingly popular.

Alexandra Ekkelenkamp, board member of the the BrusselsNV network for Dutch-speaking women, is convinced of the important role that networks play in empowering women. She explained some of the benefits to me: “Within our network, we organize trainings to further develop our members’ skills and we provide women with powerful female role models”.

Carmen Vera Garcia, leader of the Leadarise network for young women, emphasises the importance of providing women, and especially younger women, with the opportunity to connect with others in a way that suits them: “In our network we make sure that everyone feels welcome, and we facilitate conversations among the members. Our events are less formal than common networking events, and might therefore make it easier to connect. The reason is that we understand and promote networking as a way to build meaningful and sustainable relationships, and to help each other”.

Similarly, the Gentlewomen’s Club focuses less on career development but rather on providing women with a safe space. Co-founder Sabina Ciofu explains the philosophy of the network: “Ultimately, we challenge mentalities and help our members create meaningful and supportive relations with other women – we aim at replacing competition with collaboration, envy with admiration and judgement with understanding”.

Functions of Women’s Networks     

The board members’ philosophies converge with current research: exposure to role models, safe spaces, and networking opportunities have been identified as essential ways of fostering more female success stories.

A lack of role models, i.e. individuals who provide an example of the kind of success one may achieve, is a key reason for the under-representation of women in positions of prestige and power. In the words of Chelsea Clinton: “(…) it’s really hard to imagine yourself as something that you don’t see (…)”. Indeed, role models can positively impact on success beliefs, attitudes towards the self, aspirations and values, especially when role model and role aspirant share group membership. Getting acquainted with more senior women in women’s networks might hence have a positive impact on the careers of junior women.

All-female environments might make it easier for women to share their thoughts on workplace conflicts. Other women might have experienced similar problems, and can give useful advice. In the form of formal trainings or informal gatherings, women’s networks might provide this safe space that is often absent in an ordinary workplace environment.

Women’s networks further offer great opportunities to connect to other women in one’s field. Members of one network can actively and consciously suggest each other for speaking opportunities, projects, or job openings. Considering that in 2016 70% of people were hired at a company where they knew someone, these connections are invaluable. Currently, men might experience an advantage in this regard due to the so-called old boys’ network: men find it easier to connect with those in high-level positions who are predominantly male. Sharing similar experiences, interests, and after-work activities that women might have less access to results in the kind of natural bonding that women’s networks are trying to simulate.


Solution to gender inequality?

More critical voices lament that women’s networks cannot simulate these organic bonds that men form, and will therefore always be lacking. Moreover, it is justified to ask whether a focus on women’s groups unfairly places responsibility for change on women, and whether we should rather aim for more holistic and inclusive solutions. Laura Bates, founder of everyday sexism, noted that it is indeed a problem that “it tends to be mainly women who are involved in diversity projects and mentoring networks”.

After hours of interviewing female employees and women’s networks board members, I conclude that it is useful to tackle the issue from two fronts. Whilst we must not exclude men from this conversation, women’s networks have their own place in women’s empowerment, and provide one route towards more gender equality.

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

Spotlight on Women in Business: Where Does It Come From?

  • March 19th, 2018
  • Blog

This week GenPol sat down with Jo Salter, founder of the ethical clothing brand Where Does it Come From. We talked about ethical fashion, the simple steps we can all take to live more sustainability (cut down on plastic bottles, everyone), and the importance of women empowering each other. Jo has been kind enough to offer all our blog readers a 10% discount on an item (or items!) of their choice using the code Gen10. Have fun browsing her beautiful collections, and we hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.

What was it that first inspired you to set up Where Does It Come From back in 2013? Tell us a little about your journey

I’ve always been a questioner – some might say too much so!  I’d been involved in Fairtrade and ethical business for a while but when I had my children I became even more aware of the total lack of traceability in the products we buy. I wanted answers to questions on who was making their clothes – was it other children making clothes for my children to wear? What was in the fabrics I was putting on their skin?  As I looked into it more and more I was amazed about not only the lack of information available, even to brands, on the working conditions of the garment makers involved in their products, but also the environmental impacts of clothing production such as pesticides, polluting dyes and even overuse of water and carbon.  I determined to pull together a brand that would be as eco and fairtrade as possible and totally transparent to customers too.

If you could go back to the moment of founding your business and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

I was naive about reaching customers! My advice to me would be to concentrate much more on fearlessly getting the message out there.  When working on your own business it’s too easy to be modest and avoid shoving the message down people’s throats.  It’s really important to be evangelical and let your passion shine through.  I do avoid preaching however, no one wants a sanctimonious brand!  Also I would have advised myself to be more patient – but that is never going to happen 

 The notion of ethical and sustainable fashion has been attracting increased media attention over the past few years, how much progress do you think the fashion industry has made?

There are some really positive developments happening in ethical fashion – big names such as Stella McCartney and celebrities like Emma Watson and even Meghan Markle are making it cool to dress according to your values.  Fashion has moved further and further along the ‘fast fashion’ model in recent decades – a downward spiral of bargain prices, cheap fabrics, poor working conditions for both garment makers and the environment.  We are now seeing a backlash against this.  Information on working conditions coupled with disasters such as Rana Plaza have inspired many of us to change our shopping habits.  Big brands such as H&M are seeing their customers demand more ethical alternatives and there are many new brands, such as Where Does It Come From? who are stepping up to meet the demand.  

 Making ethical cool is a key way to influence shoppers but the fashion industry still needs to address a number of areas, such as the whole concept of trends and being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion. Transitory styles will just encourage people to discard clothes in favour of the latest craze, leading to increased landfill.  The fabrics being used and the huge amount of unrecyclable and non-biodegradable plastics in clothing needs to be explored.  I would also like to see more of a focus on the stories and heritage around fabrics and garment making not just how they look.

One thing that particularly impressed me about WDICF was your commitment to zero waste and zero plastic. Do you have any recommendations for the sort of swaps/changes our readers could make to try and reduce their own waste footprint?

This is something we feel really strongly about – I want to have minimal negative impact on the environment.  For Where Does It Come From? this meant that every decision taken has to be questioned as to its impact, from farming and clothing production to the labels and packaging we use.  We even have our website hosted on a wind powered platform!  This does require a little effort and often means not taking the cheapest option but the benefits are far reaching and also very satisfying.

For your readers I would suggest starting with small steps – start consciously questioning yourself in choices you are making – do I really need this new t shirt?  Can I bring my own cup with me and re-use through the day? Can I buy second hand?  Can I walk rather than drive this short distance?  I think we are all aware of our options but have ingrained habits.  Every little change has an impact and if you fall off the ‘ethical wagon’ don’t despair – just hop back on again!  If everyone created once less waste cup or bottle per day, just imagine how much smaller the plastic mountain would be!

I love the Trace Your Garment feature available on your website. Where did the idea for that come from?

That was literally a ‘middle of the night’ moment! I had been thinking through my business plan and woke up with the traceability concept and the business name in my head! I had to wake my husband and tell him…. 

I wanted to find a way to easily communicate to customers the story behind their garment, and I wanted total traceability, right back to the core components. Too often we are told that a cotton item is ‘made in Britain’ – we don’t have any cotton fields in the UK! 

As well as the obvious ethical benefits around our production I believe it’s good for us as consumers to know the stories – it helps us connect with our products better which hopefully inspire us to love them more and generally be happier so good for our mental health. It’s also very educational for children. 

 Collecting the information was a bit more challenging as we needed to find partners throughout the supply chain who met our ethical values and were able to be totally transparent.  This took some time as we are really selective about who we work with and want to build long term relationships.  Our Indian partner, Moral Fibre Fabrics, works with local co-operatives to empower rural women and we have now done 7 productions with them. It took several years to build the relationship but when we visited the supply chain we stayed in the family home of the founder and attended a family wedding of one of the designers!

The fashion industry has historically come under attack for the pressure it places on women to conform to a certain set of aesthetic criteria, but has been your experience of the gender dynamics in the industry?

As an ethical brand owner I work closely with many other ethical clothing brand owners and I’ve found that many are women – often women who themselves want to take hold of and change the perception of women and fashion. Brands owned or co-owned by men are equally looking to promote consciousness in clothing. Due to the whole ethos of thoughtfulness, quality and re-usability of ethical fashion I’ve found that women (and men) who are targeted as ethical fashion customers tend to be of a much wider age range and economic dynamic.  These are people looking for style with individuality and longevity.

 The wider fashion industry does appear to have assigned certain values to women in the past, around size and, dare I say it, a certain shallowness around how they look.  I don’t think that this reflects the majority of women which is why we have felt alienated from it.  I believe this changing in the wider fashion area but not perhaps so much in fast fashion.  Hopefully this will develop as the younger generations are certainly very switched on to environmental issues.

I also want to see change in the sexual stereotyping of children’s clothing generally. There is no simple solution here but the polarisation that currently exists is very confusing and segregating for many children, as well as influencing them in their self-image from a young age.

A shift in attitudes has been felt across almost every industry when it comes to gender equality in the workplace in the aftermath of #MeToo and #TimesUp What are the biggest changes you think we need to see?

80% of garment makers in fast fashion are actually women, and when it comes to shopping for clothes the proportion is about the same – as many women buy the clothing for their husbands and families.  Women have the power to change the situation for their sisters in the garment industry who are enduring poverty, awful working conditions and family separation just to bring us cheap clothing.  I would like to see a movement whereby women support women in the garment industry, through their shopping choices. #womenforwomen

What would your advice be for entrepreneurs looking to start out in the wake of these movements? What would be the main message you’d want them to take away from your experiences?

 The main message I would give to new entrepreneurs is not to hesitate to shout about what they are doing.  Collaborate with other brands to get your message and products out there.  It’s much easier to work with and share ideas with others than to try and work all alone.

You have been kind enough to offer GenPol readers a 10% discount using the code Gen10. What would you say is your ‘must’ have item from the WDICF collection? Why?

 Personally I believe that our scarves are a MUST.  You can wear them to brighten up and add your own personal touch to any outfit, and tie them in lots of different ways too!  Ours are 100% khadi handwoven cotton and then hand printed with our unique designs.  We make them long so they work well as a wrap too, and they’ve been used as a breastfeeding aid too.  I love taking mine on holiday as a couple of scarves don’t take up much room and can be worn in so many ways.  We’ve done quite a few custom scarf designs for businesses too, using their logo’s to make a gorgeous print.

Where do you see Where Does It Come From? in 10 years’ time?

 Just as right now, we will be focussing on three beneficiaries – our makers (fair trade), the environment and inspiring our consumers.  Generally the plan is for Where Does It Come From? to be grow our partnerships so that we work with more and more social enterprises and artisan groups globally, setting up supply chains to create livelihoods and uphold and reinvigorate traditional skills where needed.  We will continue to grow our range of basic items and sharing their stories with our customers and hopefully inspiring them to connect with their products and to shop more and more according to their values. 

We love collaborations too so I can really see us working with other brands and also charities, to raise the issues around the garment industry and ethical consumerism and to support communities around garment making and the farming of fibres such as organic cotton.

 What do you hope will have changed by then?

 I really hope that ethical shopping will have become the norm. The ethical market in the UK is growing steadily each year but is still under 10% of all shopping.  Part of the challenge is that consumers expect their products to be cheap – prices haven’t really risen for many years, especially in clothing.  When faced with a choice between a cheap product with unknown provenance and an ethical product that costs more, most people still buy based on price.  I believe that this will change when consumers are made more aware of what is happening to bring them their cheaper products – most people don’t want others to suffer to bring them a bargain.  Legislation also has a part to play.  The modern slavery act of 2016 will be just the start I hope, with measures coming in to ensure companies monitor their supply chains for abuses.  Looking for the cheapest suppliers will no longer be the best strategy and this will also lead to prices becoming more realistic with less of a differentiation between ethical and non-ethical products.

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

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