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IWD 2022: a Q&A with Hoa Ngo, Comensura’s UK Managing Director

What does it mean to ‘break the bias’ when it comes to gender equality in the workplace? How can businesses, and society at large, create a world of work that doesn’t disadvantage people because of their sex or gender?

These are the themes of International Women’s Day 2022. To celebrate IWD 2022, I spoke to Hoa Ngo, our UK Managing Director, about what’s being done - and should be done - to eliminate gender inequality from the world of work.

Here’s what she had to say.

Jay Motondo (JM): Hi Hoa. As a starter for 10, can you tell us a bit about the importance of gender equality at Comensura?

Hoa Ngo (HN): Developing an equal and inclusive culture has always been one of our top priorities for Comensura. We’re always looking for ways to improve, but I’m proud that 50% of our heads of service, for example, are women.

As a managed service provider, we’re also in a unique position to influence the wider world of work. From removing gender-biased wording from job ads to ensuring our vendor management system screens candidates objectively, our commitment to eliminating discrimination underpins everything we do.

With our industry experience and expertise, we can also educate and inspire. In one project, we supported female ex-offenders and those coming towards the end of their prison terms by teaching them interview skills and supporting them into permanent roles with our customer, Veolia.

JM: Why do you think we, as a society, haven’t made more progress on gender equality?

HN: I think a disproportionate amount of working women are also carers in some capacity; they have responsibility for ageing parents, grandparents, kids. And when you take this into account, a lot of women are actually working two jobs - and only being paid for one.

Getting 50/50 representation would also be a great start. But in order to progress and get true gender equality we need to see women in the right places and ensure their experiences and ideas can be heard. There needs to be a diversity of thought and experiences throughout the organisation.

“There’s also a problem with assimilation. Women often feel trapped into behaving in a way to fit into the status quo, which means either being more ‘masculine’ or less yourself in order to shine - particularly when you get to board level.”

We have to challenge the idea that there’s only one type of successful leadership. We have to empower female leaders to innovate and push boundaries - but most importantly to be themselves. We have to celebrate and recognise that being ourselves is why we’re here.

JM: What can employers do to improve access to leadership roles for women?

HN: Promoting male allyship is an important step. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of female leaders to support other women to the top, which is what we need to achieve parity. Male colleagues, particularly those in positions of power, must proactively identify and support rising female talent.

Part of this is allowing and encouraging female voices to be heard and women to progress. In some pockets of society, women are still raised to downplay their achievements in a way that men aren’t. So it’s important to create a working environment in which women feel safe to succeed, and to celebrate those successes.

“Flexibility is another crucial tool. We must support more women to manage the professional/parental conflict they encounter as their careers mature.”

How can we build more flexibility into senior leadership roles? Through job sharing? We currently force huge numbers of incredible, experienced working mothers into a career back hole for about five years because we’re still not working flexibly enough.

JM: What does IWD and this year’s #BreakTheBias theme mean to you?

HN: International Women's Day is a really important reminder for women to shout loudly about their achievements, and for us to profile and promote individuals and their stories.

It’s also a really great opportunity to have open female to female conversations. This year, I’ve had chats with senior colleagues and came away thinking, ‘Gosh, I didn't realise you encountered this, or thought this way.’ We need to have these conversations with men too, so they can understand that perspective.

“Understanding is key. Understanding the things that make women feel uncomfortable at work, or the unconscious biases that hold them back. This is the only way for us to call it out in a safe way, and then we can support each other to make progress.”

I think the pandemic really highlighted the gender imbalance that still exists. On video calls, I’ve been struck by how many senior women are running around trying to juggle their homelife and homeschool the kids, in a way that the men I speak to generally aren’t. There's a lot of stuff that very powerful, successful women have hidden from the rest of the world. The pandemic has lifted the veil and made it much more okay to be vulnerable and talk about these things. Talking is essential to break these biases.
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