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Gender balance in the workplace

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, we share our colleagues’ experiences of gender balance in the workplace, women who have inspired them and the importance of celebrating achievements.  

Colourful graphic of women

At Cambridge University Press & Assessment, we are committed to providing a supportive, safe and inclusive working environment for all colleagues. International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on 8 March, aims to ‘forge inclusive work cultures where women's careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated.’ This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, asking everyone to “actively call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping’ to help forge an inclusive world. 

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to colleagues across the globe to hear about their experiences of gender balance in the workplace and to explore why having an equal, diverse and inclusive society is so important. 

Inspiring leaders  

Kaya Spencer, in our employee experience team, has been at Cambridge University Press & Assessment for almost seven years, starting out as an apprentice in our recruitment team. She says: “For me, employee experience is about creating a great work environment for our people. Giving our employees, from all backgrounds, a voice and ensuring our culture creates a sense of belonging for everyone.” During the early stages of the pandemic, Kaya had a particularly difficult period in her career: “I personally felt the effects of inequality for several reasons. As a young black woman, without a degree, my sense of belonging hung by a thread. I reached out to Mandy Hill, our managing director of academic. I’ve always been inspired by her honesty and willingness to share her own experiences. I really appreciate Mandy’s ability to make time to listen, show understanding and genuinely care for others. As someone so early in their career, this has had a huge impact on me, and will be something I remember forever. It has demonstrated how poignant authenticity in leadership can be, and how listening to someone else's perspective can really make a difference.” Kaya said Mandy’s support and advice inspired her not to give up and she has now reached a new milestone in her career with Cambridge. 

Our managing director for South Asia, and board sponsor of our Women in Leadership network, Arun Rajamani, believes International Women’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge and recognise the impact and contributions females have had in our lives both at home and at work. Arun Said: 

“I am eternally grateful to my family, my women colleagues, managers, and mentors for shaping my thoughts, values, and my life. Without them, I would not be where I am today.”

“In many cultures and regions across the world, including the one that I represent, women continue to be discriminated against, socially, economically, and professionally. In such patriarchal cultures, masculinities at the workplace continue to be barriers for inclusivity and gender equality. I truly believe that all of us at Cambridge have a strong responsibility to improve gender diversity and to create a healthier and safer work environment for women,” Arun continued. “We must empower our women colleagues and make them feel valued and respected so they can aspire, grow and inspire more colleagues.”  

Equalising opportunities  

Ana Luisa Bartholo, head of marketing at Cambridge Assessment English in Brazil, has been exposed to gender challenges ever since the beginning of her professional career: “In College, when I was getting my BA in Business Administration, women were only twenty per cent of the class. After graduation, I worked for the financial industry and later, for the sports industry, both male-dominated, at least in Brazil. Looking back, I think about these experiences as opportunities that made me more prepared and raised my awareness towards the need for gender balance in the workplace.” 

Pinky Magadla, product data & website lead in our Cape Town office in South Africa, has had a positive experience of gender balance in the workplace. “I’ve had one of the best experiences of gender balance in the workplace. I’ve been given equal access to resources and opportunities regardless of my gender,” she said.

“I believe celebrating International Women’s Day is important because women should be treated and respected as equally as men. Having an equal, diverse, and inclusive society will also create a place free of unfairness, categories, and imbalance. Each and everyone will have a sense of belonging and importance.”

Pinky is most inspired by women in entrepreneurship and entertainment, including the likes of “Bonang Matheba, Ntombezinhle Jiyane (DJ Zinhle), and Shauwn Mkhize. “These women have worked towards what they wanted, and they seem to have broken the bias,” she said. 

Esther Qin, assistant marketing manager in our Beijing office in China, said: “Women often have to take a harder road to gain equal respect and achievement in work and life. There is always choice, balance and sacrifice to be made. I hope we are not only required to be a good daughter, wife and mother, but also to know and develop ourselves independently and become a person of multiple values.” 

Lorena Camargo is senior customer services administrator in our Mexico City office. “My story as a professional began when I graduated as an accountant, a career with a job field predominantly full of men,” she recalls. Despite this challenge, Lorena worked her way up to senior positions and later obtained a master’s degree in business administration. She continued:

“I believe that International Women’s Day is such an important date, because us women get to commemorate our accomplishments and to reaffirm the power and capacity we possess.” 

Female role models  

It might be a parent, it might be a partner, it might be a mentor or coach in the workplace. Many of our female colleagues say they have gained from a role model to help them break the bias.   

Sarah Taylor is publishing and operations executive at Cambridge English and co-chair of our Young Employees Network: “I’m lucky to have been mentored by incredible women at every opportunity – by my mother, schoolteachers, university supervisor, and line managers in various roles – and I’ve always had female peers who encouraged one another to be their best. These examples of women’s achievement and empowerment mean I have never considered my gender a barrier to my success. That’s a privilege of my background and the culture fostered by my workplace(s), but my hope is that as a society we can create the same experience of gender balance for all young women. It’s important that we celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity not just on International Women’s Day but in our everyday lives”, she said.  

Abigail Barnett, deputy director, curriculum programmes, Cambridge Assessment, said: “I don’t feel I’ve encountered much bias in my career although I’m well aware of the barriers and biases that persist. In my role I interact with lots of women in leadership positions, in ministries of education around the world and leading curriculum development teams.” Reflecting on her upbringing, Abigail said: “My mum was absolutely determined that her children would have the opportunities she didn’t. At 15 she was told she had to leave school and start bringing some money in for the family. Working as a secretary, she was valued and respected, however, she undoubtedly experienced both casual and institutional sexism that prevented her from achieving her potential. My mum encouraged and supported me from an early age to work hard towards achieving my ambitions. I believe that everyone benefits from someone like that in their life."

International Women’s Day gives us the chance to reflect, to be grateful and to resolve to keep improving our working culture and conditions for everyone” 

Serita Bonsignore, Global Director of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, also reflected on the women who have inspired her: “Starting with my mum who worked whilst raising a family and with the support of my dad encouraged me and my five siblings to pursue education and instilled a strong work ethic in all of us. My most inclusive manager continuously encouraged me to be my best at work and my best friend has built her own business advocating for better standards in education." Serita said: 

They all remind me that in our homes, workplaces, and communities we can all take action to support women’s equality.

"This year on International Women’s Day at Cambridge I hope our colleagues across the world feel inspired by the programme of events the Gender Balance network and Women in Leadership network have co-ordinated and think about the actions we all can take to break the bias,” Serita continued. 

How we support female colleagues   

We recognise people are different and each of is unique, so we offer a range of support for our team to foster inclusion and belonging in the workplace.  

Our internal staff networks contribute to creating inclusive environments and building a sense of community. These are a safe space for our members and allies of each network to discuss their inclusion needs and identify ways to improve equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace.  

A recent initiative to support women at work is our menopause guidance, now available to colleagues globally. The need for this was identified in conversations with colleagues as the menopause can be a difficult time for individuals, but the right support at work can help to reduce or eliminate some of the challenges. The guidance explains the support available to our colleagues who are experiencing menopausal symptoms and informs line managers about how menopausal symptoms may impact on work. It aims to encourage open, comfortable and clear conversations.   

Challenging unlawful and unwanted behaviours in the workplace is another aspect of the support we offer to all our colleagues. Our Speak Up Portal enables our people to report any discrimination or harassment in the workplace they have experienced directly or witnessed, and they can choose to do that anonymously. Our Employee Assistance Programme offers a range of confidential support, which can include sessions with a qualified counsellor.  

Marking International Women’s Day 2022 

From 8 – 11 March, our Cambridge colleagues can take part in a global programme of events that aim to inspire and to think about what each of us can individually do to make a positive difference for women. Events include talks from inspirational external speakers, a talk about the bias non-native English speakers face in the publishing industry, as well as several panel discussions with colleagues from our offices all around the world. 

As well as supporting our own people, an important part of our mission is spreading knowledge and raising awareness of important issues around the world. In recognition of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we have curated a selection of free-to-read book chapters and journal articles to aid understanding across a range of topics. View the collection on Cambridge Core, the online home for our academic publishing. 

Will you help break the bias this International Women’s Day? Get involved in the conversation by tweeting us at @CambPressAssess and using the hashtag #BreakTheBias.   

Cambridge colleagues striking the 'Break the Bias' pose