To celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26th in the United States, we sat down with Fee Campbell, Vice President, Strategic Engagements at Tradeshift, to discuss what the day means to her, how leaders can make sure women are treated equally in the workplace, and how the technology industry overall is becoming more equal.
What is women’s equality day, and why is it important that we celebrate it?
Women’s Equality Day commemorates the day that women were given the right to vote in the United States, August 26th, 1920—the implementation of the 19th amendment. In the UK, where I live, we achieved the right to vote in 1928. This was a significant milestone in history. You may be familiar with some of the stories about the valiant and brave women who became known as The Suffragettes. Emily Davison was an English suffragette who fought for votes for women in Britain in the early 20th Century. She was infamous for her militant action in pursuit of equality and was arrested numerous times for setting fire to postboxes, throwing bombs, and, on three occasions, hiding overnight in the Palace of Westminster. Emily tragically died after stepping in front of King George V’s horse in the 1913 Derby. She died for the cause.
Gender equality, quite simply, in my view, is a human right. Equal opportunity for all means treating people with dignity and respect, allowing them in turn to become better able to contribute socially and economically. In Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, if female employment rates were raised to match Sweden, it would lead to a GDP increase equivalent to $6 trillion. That’s not trivial, and it's by no means the only socioeconomic impact that evening the playing field for women would achieve.
What advice do you have for women starting their careers today in terms of how to ensure they’re treated fairly?
My advice would be to focus on finding your voice, zone in on your talents and unique abilities, and find those people who can help you deliver the impact you were born to make. Champion yourself. Oh, and one more thing, adopt a stringent no asshole rule—regardless of your gender.
This could be controversial to some. However, I am personally not a fan of ‘labels.’ I have never labeled myself as a ‘woman in leadership’, for example. Language, to me, really matters. When you put a label on something, you naturally start identifying with it and all its good and bad connotations. This can be self-limiting, so be intentional about the labels you choose.
What can leaders do to ensure that women are treated equally in the workplace, regardless of the industry they work in?
According to a recent McKinsey report, women actually do more than men to advance equality in the workplace. Whilst this is not particularly surprising, it's important to note. Knowledge is power. You can only change what you know, and championing women in the workplace takes the alignment of many. In my view, I have a responsibility to encourage my male counterparts to be aware of this (un)conscious bias. Not once but always. Be each other's champions and never miss an opportunity to recognise and acknowledge contributions when they are due.
Take responsibility for building your network and driving your career. Is it in itself diverse? Not only in population but also by industry and vertical. Be deliberate about finding mentors. Many women, in particular, get stuck on how to go about this. Simply ask someone you admire if they could invest some of their time to coach you in the areas you would find it valuable. When you get a no, keep going until you get the yes! And lastly, practice radical self-candor. The more you know your strengths and weaknesses, the more you can find those colleagues to amplify the good and outsource the areas where you struggle, and they excel.
What about specifically in the tech industry?
“By teaching our girls to code, we’re not just preparing them to enter the workforce — we’re preparing them to lead it.” — Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology.
In tech, we have a pretty significant gender gap. Only 16% of engineering jobs are held by women and the percentage of female STEM graduates is about 20%. There is still a situation where men are advancing faster, recommending each other for jobs, and climbing the corporate ranks and/or founding more startups than women. Also, women leave the tech industry faster than men with 50% leaving before they turn 35.
There are many solutions to this however it is complex and interdependent. Changing how tech is taught in schools as a starting point would go a long way to opening it up as an industry. As employers, as recruiters, as mentors, as teachers, as students, as women and men in tech, as developers and users of technology, we all have a role to play in diversifying the workforce that will develop the tools for our future.
What’s changed over the course of your career—have you seen improvements in terms of women’s equality?
Enormously. When I started working over 20 years ago, it was a whisper rather than the agenda item it is now. We've also changed 180 degrees in terms of who is in the driver’s seat. It used to be that ‘the company’ held all the power, but that is no longer the case. Employers are screaming for talent in all of its forms, and the employee really has the opportunity to be a co-driver of workplace values and culture. This makes it all the more important for women to find their own unique voice and back themselves fully. The ability for women (and men) to upskill themselves has also been truly democratized. Education opportunities are limitless, from podcasts, to audiobooks, to online courses. Those who are voraciously curious, who expand their capabilities and sharpen their toolkit create opportunities no matter what the market is doing. This is incredibly empowering.
Favourite quote to inspire?
Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I am an avid consumer of all things to do with the power of the mind. One of my favourite go-to’s is Peter Crone, the self-professed Mind Architect. He is an absolute master of language and has some very simple but extremely powerful philosophies. One quote that I feel is particularly appropriate for this topic is “You’re a beneficiary of life, not a victim of it.” Be intentional with the narrative you tell yourself. And only ever, always.