International Women’s Day – Celebrating SIG’s Women

This is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is Choose to Challenge. Today we celebrate the incredible and inspirational women who work for the SIG. We are so lucky to have such a diverse group of professional women who are passionate about what they do. I think the SIG is one of a small number of businesses with so women leaders. They include; our Group Chief Executive, Two Senior Director of Operations, Head of People & Culture, Group Clinical Lead, Heads of Services and the many service and functional managers.  Below is a snapshot of what International Women’s Day means to some of them.

Gill Arukpe – Group CEO

I remember in the 1980s a CEO telling me that as I already had children, I would never make it to her giddy heights; that she had chosen not to have children but to have a career instead. Yes, I am not joking! It was a woman telling another woman that it remained a man’s world, especially if you aspired to have both. During that time, female leaders were few and far between compared to nowadays. Sadly, she was probably right because when she achieved a CEO role in the voluntary sector there weren’t many other women getting to that level. It’s now 2021 and we have brilliant examples of women in power across the sector. I am glad to say not only did I make CEO but a Group CEO at that, and can proudly name other women who achieved the same thing.

Within the Social Interest Group I am increasingly surrounded by Women who are innovative, technical, professional and mange to lead a business life whilst supporting their families. But we still have to fight for parity in the salaries received by women compared to those received by men in similar roles. We also want the same opportunities to join as trustees on corporate boards, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and will ensure that we as women continue to challenge and are seen and heard.

Cassie Newman- Senior Director of Operations

As a gay woman my experience of bias and stereotypes can sometimes be conflated.  There are hundreds of examples from being shouted at while walking down the road, “god made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” to the numerous times my partner and I get asked, “so which one is the man?” These assumptions about the roles of men and women in society have driven me to continue to challenge them, and break the boundaries of those stereotypes, whether it’s the number of women on boards, or Chief Executives in the FTSE100.  My small role as part of the Global Women’s Leadership Programme (GWLP) gave me a platform to continue the debate and help influence change along with many other super talented women.

Helen Campbell-Wroe – Senior Director of Operations

Sheryl Sandburg, former Chief Operating Officer at Google, and Facebook, in her fantastic book “Lean In: Women, Work and the will to lead”, talks about encouraging women to ‘sit at the table’. She encourages women not to sit on the outside and round the edges but to take their seat at the table, ready to listen, learn and contribute.  She encourages women to ‘lean in’ to opportunities, and to look for ways and assistance to overcome real and psychological barriers.

Since day dot, I’ve benefitted from the advice, guidance and support of some amazing women over the years, from my mother, who taught me about social values and who I lost ten years ago, to inspirational school teachers who whetted my appetite for learning, to supervisors at university who allowed me to explore, debate and critique, to colleagues at work who helped me put it all into practice and to try to get it right. All these women have in common the ability to give others confidence, to let you stand on their shoulders and to let you sit with them.

So today, I pledge to reserve a seat at the table for anyone who wants to sit next to me.

Victoria Sweetman – Specialist Lead of Women & Trauma

International Women’s Day is such an important day for me. I love being a woman, celebrating all women and sharing women’s success and achievements. For me, paying it forward is a core value and the power that comes from lifting and building women is incredible.

My voice is one among so many, each as vital as the next. Together we strive to support women who have endured indescribable abuse, disadvantage and trauma. It may not always feel like it but the trusted relationships we have does make change happen. It may make people uncomfortable but that’s okay, it’s needed to shine a spotlight and give a chance for transformation. Together we can ensure that not just today but every day we strive to hear, share and champion the voices of all women.

Vanessa Johnson – Communications & PR Manager  

The many ways in which unconscious bias affects the way we are perceived and treated as women of colour, often impacts on our ability to progress in educational arenas and careers. My journey through my career has been one of constantly having to prove I am qualified, know what I am talking about deserve to be where I am. Eventually I learned that this treatment flowed from their own insecurities, fears, prejudices and dysfunctions.  I decided not to let what others say define who I am and to guard my sense of value.

The girls and women I mentor know that they have a voice and do not have to accept discriminatory behaviour from anyone, especially those in positions of authority.

I am proudly black, female, old(er), educated, and a mother (and grandmother). I am EQUAL and I have earned my place at the table.

I choose to challenge intersectional invisibility!

Gemma Harfleet – Specialist Women’s Worker

What I am amazed about, working with women who have complex needs is the resilience they show. It’s easy to get caught up in what isn’t working well, but let’s remember what they have survived and use the strength to believe in the ability to change. I have learnt so much about my own resilience in this work and been challenged more than I ever have in my career. But seeing the results is worth it. Hearing someone say, for the first time they felt understood, safe, and held, is massive for healing. The women have taught me how to be more playful and use humour in my work as well as the need for woman to help each other up not tear each other down like the rest of society. I have gained huge respect for these women but at the same time seen the inequalities, stigma, and re-traumatization our systems create for them. We can’t ignore this and need to keep fighting for change and seeing these women with the compassion they deserve.

Think about if you could get up and face the day after losing your children, experiencing abuse and violence most of your life, being refused safe housing or treatment and feeling worthless ?

Well these women do so let’s celebrate them on International woman’s day and every day!