Women at work: a study of women’s experiences across the tech and retail sectors … Moving in the right direction

Sarah Kaiser
By , - Responsible Business

We’ve been working with Women in Retail, the community for women seeking fulfilment and progression in board and senior leadership roles, to research what life is like for working women today.

Through a series of interviews with three women, we’ve examined the problems that women face and the success that they achieve in the retail and tech industries – and the comparison between the two sectors has been illuminating.

In our previous blog post, we talked about the workplace issues that hold women back: things like confidence, family stresses and a lack of female role models.

Our interviewees gave us a real range of experience.

They come from very different backgrounds, work across two different industries, and occupy different stages in their careers – from a recent graduate in her first job, to a head of a department with many years’ industry experience.

Let’s find out a bit more about them. They are:

Nerys Mutlow, Head of SaaS and CTO for SaaS solutions Fujitsu EMEIA

Nerys has been at Fujitsu since 2015, where she is now Head of SaaS and CTO for SaaS solutions. She actually started her career with Fujitsu in 1999 as an Analyst Developer, before leaving to join Thales, where she worked her way up to become Head of Applications Management and an Enterprise Architect. Nerys graduated from Bournemouth University in 1999 with a BSC in Information Systems Management.

 

Tejal Patel, Graduate Business Consultant, Fujitsu

Tejal has been at Fujitsu for just under a year, after graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in IT. Whilst at university, Tejal set up a Women in Tech Society and worked for a year on placement at IBM.

 

 

Amy Sinton, Commercial Manager, Pets at Home Vet Group

Amy is currently a Commercial Manager at the Pets at Home Vet Group, having previously worked as a Senior Marketing Manager. Before joining the Pets At Home Vet Group, Amy worked for Johnson & Johnson, and took a year out to travel through Asia. She graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in Law & Biology in 2007.

 

Our discussion this time revolved around the idea of progress.

How do we improve gender equality in the workplace in a concrete sense? What kind of policies and strategies are helpful, and what do we need to be doing more of? These were the kinds of questions we asked – and they yielded some surprising answers.

We also discussed how far working women have already advanced towards equality. This was something that came up organically in all parts of the discussion.

Our interviewees were all filled with admiration and respect for the women who came before them, and laid the groundwork for our current state.

But whilst everybody noted how much better things are now, everybody also understood that there is more to do.

So, without further ado, let’s turn back to our discussion, to hear what our interviewees had to say about progress:

Practical initiatives

When asked about what organisations can do to support women in the workplace, Nerys goes back to underscore family life.

The biggest thing a business can do, she argued, is equalise maternity and paternity leave so that both men and women can take six months off.

This solves the problem of employers discriminating – intentionally or not – against women who will leave to have children in the future.

This is a policy that Fujitsu employs, and in Nerys’ eyes has been “a game changer.”

It’s encouraged a more family-friendly approach throughout the organisation, she said, and that nowadays the men in the office are just as likely as the women to leave work early to pick up their kids from school.

Remote working and ‘flexi time’ are also an important part of this, she added, because they allow parents of both sexes to balance work and family life – and consequently get the most out of their careers.

Tejal is brimming with ideas for making workplaces better spaces for women, mostly drawn from her time in the Women in Tech society at university – a group she founded herself.

Tejal founded the society because she felt that the female IT students were too dispersed.

“There was no sense of community,” she said, “the whole idea of the society was to bring the girls together, to share stories and make friends. Pulling everyone together changed the dynamics.”

Tejal argued that the same approach should be applied to the corporate world.

She thinks that the organisations that are most successful in supporting women are those that successfully create a community, like the Women’s Business Network at Fujitsu.

Amy agreed that networking with other women is useful.

At the Pets at Home Group, employees are encouraged to attend Women in Retail conferences, and they have a working group that looks into improving equality.

Progress

The final point which became apparent in the course of our discussions was one of progress.

There was a general consensus that things are better for the younger generation of women in the workplace.

Tejal, who is part of this generation herself, said it best: “Women have come far, especially in this industry. I don’t feel like I have to push to make a change.”

Amy agreed that there’s a difference between her cohort and the young women entering the workplace now. “Some of our young execs have no fear,” she observed, “When I was younger I would’ve been very deferential to my seniors – but they don’t let this hold them back.”

But Amy was also careful to praise the work of the women who came before her. “The women who are in very senior positions now had to fight very hard. They wanted to promote and develop women, but in their day they had no help and support.”

For Nerys too, there are signs that the foundation laid by earlier generations is making a difference. “Lots of our female grads have commented on the number of women in senior management,” she noted, “so it obviously makes a difference to them.”

***

Thank you to our fabulous interviewees, who gave us such an insight into women’s experiences in retail and tech.

And another massive thank you to Women in Retail for helping us make these interviews a reality.

They have been enlightening in many ways.

The predominant message is that we seem to be heading in the right direction. Nerys, Tejal and Amy all said that progress was visible to them, and indeed, it is visible between them, as each provides the perspective for their generation.

Another lesson that seems to present itself is the importance of each business doing its own thing.

No two businesses are the same, and nobody’s experience is typical of their industry.

Amy, our representative from retail, actually found that female representation on her company’s senior management was excellent – which is not the usual story.

This means that there is no one answer to bring about equality in the workplace – although ultimately, this shouldn’t stop us from working towards this goal.

To re-cap on the first blog in this series, click here.

For more information on Fujitsu’s women in tech initiative, visit our Women in Technology web page.

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