8th March 2021

International Women’s Day! – #ChoosetoChallenge


Today marks International Women’s Day and by coincidence today it is also the day that the majority of children start to return to school. Given this link, we thought we would celebrate our working Mums, as across the Practice we have a significant number of mums in different roles. During the pandemic, the effects on women and their careers in particular have been well documented. We asked them to tell us a little bit more about how their coping mechanisms and in line with this year’s theme, how they believe we can start to forge a gender equal world?

Forging a gender equal world.

Suzanne Mack, Bid Manager, “I think that it means changing attitudes at a global, national, regional and even home level.  It starts with the thought that being responsible for child bearing leads to having full responsibility of child rearing, which seems to be an age old thought that society is struggling to shake.  If anything comes out of this pandemic I hope it’s a serious look at the gender roles in the family and a commitment from governments and employers to redress these to allow males, and in particular dads, take a more equal share in home responsibilities and child rearing.  The breakdown of some of the barriers that mums face in re-entering the workplace after child birth would also help.  I feel lucky to be working for an organisation that promotes and encourages flexible working, but a lot of organisations are less open to allowing it.  Childcare is also expensive and more government support to allow returning mums to access more affordable childcare would help more make the positive move back into work.”

Leah Stuart, Director, “Work is part of my own sense of self and really important to me, and so is being a mother. The challenge is that both these things happen at the same time.  I am both a professional AND I have children. I’ve been asking myself how can we design a world that works for people today? How can our systems flex to accommodate people like me and allow us to enjoy time with our children every day? Everyone will benefit from this. One way we can forge a gender equal world is by being more flexible around start and finish times so people can do the school run. Just a half hour tweak to the day means that I can walk my children to school, spend a bit of quality time with them, engage with our wider community. It doesn’t affect my productivity at work, and it does have a significant positive impact on me and my kids.”

Hannah Keighley, Senior Engineer, “We need to be better at recognising gender bias and normalise calling it out when we see it, even though that might feel like an uncomfortable thing to do to start with. Mandatory unconscious bias training would be a great start. We also need to challenge the male default; there is a huge gender data gap with respect to women, which perpetuates and accelerates already-existing discriminations.”

Caroline Todd, Head of People, “Looking after children, the house and other family elements has to be shared. It shouldn’t be assumed that the woman will stay at home juggle the kids, home and work, it has to be distributed fairly. Working part time should be seen as an attractive option for both genders.”

Jess Foster, Associate, “I think it will be interesting to see how men come out of the homeschooling / pandemic experience having perhaps been exposed to far more of the childcare and behind the scenes at home life.  Women can’t forge gender equality alone, men have to do it too, so how we all move forward from here is going to be critical.”

Kat Dewell, People Adviser, “It has to not become a female only issue and must be the responsibility of everyone. Looking at skills and knowledge rather than years of experience.  Not seeing part-time as a barrier for progression, think about value and output rather than the physical number of hours.

Maura Shilton, Studio Co-ordinator,  “I am hoping that this pandemic has helped to highlight that presenteeism is not the only way and that allowing flexibility for real life does not mean people aren’t working as hard. I hope that more men find confidence to speak up about the demands of family life and their desire to be a part of it – the school drop offs, the school awards, plays etc…I hope that men see participation in their children’s life as a right not a tag on at the end of a working day. I also think there needs to be change at a higher level structurally and institutionally – such as questioning if school hours/ holidays, even childcare – is it fit for purpose? Does it work for a modern society? Addressing what stops women re-entering the workplace and how can changes be made – which no doubt would benefit everyone not just mothers.

Lockdown coping mechanisms

Monica Holling, Design Engineer, “My strategy was keeping them the kids busy with house chores (dishes, vacuum etc). Now I go downstairs to get a coffee and they scatter to their rooms before I can see them and are not easily bored. Win-win! Oh, I did buy an extra TV to cater for competing agendas – I could not handle the remote control arguments any longer.”

Caroline Todd, Head of People, “Work has given me consistency and structure when everything around has felt like shifting sand.  My coping strategy has been to try to get out every day and reading each night.”

Maura Shilton, Studio Co-ordinator, “Walking each lunch time has really helped me, even if it has been a quick 15 minutes. It helps to clear my head and allows me to focus a little time on my family during the day, which in all honesty has been a great – although not without its many challenges.”

International Women’s Day! – #ChoosetoChallenge