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Working to overcome barriers and bias: Informa Markets celebrates International Women’s Day

Article-Working to overcome barriers and bias: Informa Markets celebrates International Women’s Day

© Informa Markets IWD RS.png
Despite the progress that has been made, creating a work-life balance is still a daily challenge for many women who may be juggling parenting, housework, caring responsibilities, and a career. Six women from Informa Markets share their pain points and success stories.

Around 91% of women with children spend at least one hour a day on housework, compared with just 30% of men who have children, according to 2021 data from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), while working women spend around 2.3 hours daily on housework compared to 1.6 hours for employed men. The burden of unpaid care work – looking after children or older parents, for example – also falls on women to a much greater extent, according to EIGE. The mental and physical strain that this places on women means they are often on the backfoot compared to their male colleagues.

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2024, six women from Informa Markets – the publisher of Fi Global Insights, Vitafoods Insights, and Ingredients Network – came together to discuss their experiences and share best practice advice for both women navigating the workplace and the organisations that employ them. 

Maintaining a work-life balance: The importance of flexibility

Kitty van Hensbergen, senior marketing manager Europe, said she preferred to take a long-term perspective when trying to maintain a work-life balance.

“There will be moments when you can be dedicated more to your career, you can travel a lot, and you can work overtime. But then there are also sometimes where you’ve got to say, ‘OK, I'm taking a step back and I’ve got to focus on the other areas of my life as well’.”

But how can corporate organisations and businesses that often have very fixed expectations of how and when their employees should work, manage this? 

Angelique Cachia, senior content and digital director, highlighted the dichotomy between what works for employees versus employers.

“Basically, to make your life work for you, you need to be able to switch things up - so, flexibility is key. [But] organisations unfortunately scale up [and] they want uniformity, they want predictability. Switching things up and predictability are not exactly each other's best friends.”

She said that companies should empower all their employees to manage their own workloads. If employees have the flexibility to decide when they do their work – as long as the work gets done within the set deadline –, this will help them create a balanced work life, Cachia said, adding that there have been huge advances in this regard since the Covid-19 pandemic.   

According to van Hensbergen, being open and transparent with an employer from the very beginning can be empowering.

“In my interview process, I was very clear: ‘I have a commute, I have kids. There are going to be days when I'm not going to be able to come in [to the office],” she said. “That really helped me [to] set those boundaries and manage those expectations, whereas if you're not clear about it, it can actually set you back and create some barriers.”

Speak up: Overcoming prejudice, obstacles, and bias

Women in the workplace often face barriers fuelled by other people’s prejudices and stereotypes.

Rochelle Hazebroek, event operations executive, described how, when she worked in the IT sector, many of her male colleagues had preconceived notions of her role within the organisation. She would enter a room to join a meeting, for example, and men would ask her to bring coffee and tea. Hazebroek said she dealt with this by clearly explaining her actual role and shaking hands with everyone in the room as an equal.

Cachia also described her experience of working in the very male-dominated environment of academia around 20 years ago.

“The criteria for anything I did were way higher than for my male colleagues and that was very difficult to deal with. But I also never figured out whether it was because I was a woman or because I was gay. Being gay is a minority; being a woman is not a minority.”

Sherma Ellis-Daal, brand director, said that, as a black woman, she empathised with this.

“… especially with race, it is challenging when you haven't had or seen anyone go before you, and you sometimes feel like you have to work twice as hard to get just 1% of what your male or white counterpart is getting,” she told attendees.
Ellis-Daal also highlighted the importance of speaking up when a situation of bias or discrimination arose.

“I really want to speak to some of the minorities in the room as well: you might feel like [you’re] being too sensitive. No, you're not. If you're uncomfortable, you need to speak up. You need to say something and find that ally.”

Speaking up does not necessarily mean flagging the situation to that person’s manager; it could also be having a personal conversation with the individual in question and finding an ally who can provide the necessary support, she added.

Creating a supportive work environment: Mentorships and role models

The importance of women and men coming together to foster a supportive working environment resonated with the panellists.

For Silvia Forroova, director of partnerships and sustainability, this came about by participating in an Informa Markets mentorship programme that allowed her not only to advance in her career but also make friendships and forge future allies.

Senior content producer Lucy Whittaker said that, while it was not an example of formal one-on-one support, she found the best type of mentorship to be indirect “modelling of behaviours”.

“I think we did a really nice job in this office with everyone being themselves and I think that's so important. Especially being young and just starting off my career, it's helpful for me to see people who might be above me just really being themselves,” she said.

A supportive working environment should also be embedded in the relationships between managers and direct reports, according to Cachia.

Speaking as a manager, she said: “… it's our responsibility to understand where people are at in the different phases of their career, in their different phases of their life. It's really important that we have that empathy and connection: that we ask questions and understand where they're coming from. It's a managerial responsibility.

“It's not just about people coming to you and telling you, ‘I need this or that’, but you asking them, ‘What do you need? How can I help you? How can I support you’?”