International Women’s Day: A Personal View

Sam Williamson

International Women’s Day is an event that, as a female leader, I have often reflected on from a very personal perspective. Growing up in a male dominated household, you might think that could have had a very negative effect but actually far from it. It is only in retrospect though that I have been able to quantify why that is the case. It is likely the result of some very strong female role models and an unusually determined set of parents avoiding gender stereotyping.

No Barbie dolls in my childhood and no different educational expectations or aspirations from my brothers. Books on Amelia Earhardt and Florence Nightingale did proliferate in my childhood, no accident I realise now! The determination from my parents that I could and would succeed without limits on my aspirations was infectious and as a result I always aimed high and in both of my careers have sought out challenging leadership-based roles with the absolute conviction and belief that I could do it.

The notion of glass ceilings, bias and imposter syndrome had not touched my life so at first, I did not easily recognise them when working with and coaching other emerging female leaders. It was a chance remark by a Year 11 student a while ago that made me stop in my tracks and fully consider the impact of very different experiences in early life and career.

We were chatting in the car park as one of our female senior leaders parked up in a very nice car. The student’s words shocked me. She said: “Wow, her husband must have a great job to buy her a car like that!” Of course, I challenged the comment but it also changed my outlook and made me much more aware of the very real issue at hand. Not all women are encouraged to embrace the fearlessness and self-belief required to aspire to the highest levels of leadership and management.

I support and promote the coaching and development of all staff to achieve their career aspirations and I recognise the need for a balanced workforce at all tiers, but I do now see how important it is for us to ensure that our young girls and female staff, especially in the early stages of their career development, can see and hear from strong successful female role models. Across my workplace, we provide accessible platforms for such role models to share stories about their journeys and reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities that we have as women leaders.

I am proud to work for Venturers Trust which I can genuinely say supports equality of opportunity for all and, this week as we acknowledge International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate our support for developing women leaders at every level of our organisation. In some respects, we buck the national trend: “Only 25 per cent of all national parliamentarians are women, up from 11 per cent in 1995.” Source: The Trust does not reflect this at all… recent statistics show that if we look solely at leadership, currently Venturers Trust is around 60% female. Even at our Executive tier we buck the trend.

I love to work with a very diverse workforce and support all emerging leaders but International Women’s Day is a time to uniquely celebrate female leadership so let’s do that and showcase all of the amazing women, from Bristol’s Princess Campbell to New Zealand’s Jacinta Ardern!

Written by Sam Williamson, Executive Principal for Merchants’ Academy and Executive Lead Secondaries for Venturers Trust.