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International Women’s Day: The women of Rufus on how we can collectively #breakthebias

For International Women's Day 2022, we turned to the women of our agency to find out what challenges they’ve faced in their careers, what advice they have for the next generation of women, and how businesses can #breakthebias...

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By Rufus Leonard

“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.”

International Women’s Day 2022

At Rufus Leonard, 48% of us are women. We’re really proud of that split and have strived to maintain it for many years – embedding fairness and inclusivity into our talent sourcing with impartial recruitment practices like blind CVs, diversity monitoring, and non-biased trained interviewers. But we know there’s always room to build and improve upon it – just as there’s room to improve upon all areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Not just for Rufus, but for the collective industry.


This year’s International Women’s Day calls on us all to celebrate women’s achievement, take action for equality and raise awareness against bias. So, we turned to the women of our agency to find out what challenges they’ve faced in their careers, what advice they have for the next generation of women, and how businesses can #breakthebias...


What challenges do you feel you’ve had to overcome as a woman in your career?

Philippa, Copy Director: “Probably a lot of my own internalised sexism – that if I pushed back or disagreed I’d be seen as bossy or difficult, if I advocated for my work or ideas I’d be seen as arrogant, if I asked for a promotion or a raise I was being entitled. I think you get to a point in your career where all the evidence points towards you being great at your job and knowing what you’re doing so you no longer care how you might come across. If someone called me bossy now, I’d take it as a compliment.”

Rita, Senior Designer: “Generally and as a society, I feel we still expect certain behaviours from women that we don’t from men, and this is something that is so ingrained we don’t even question it. Women need to be bubbly, to smile and avoid complaining or challenging the status-quo, otherwise it’s very easy to be labelled as difficult or disagreeable; I’m not sure we expect the same from men. Because I’m extremely pragmatic and determined, this is an issue I’ve had to deal with myself a few times.”

Alessandra, Board Director of Client Experience: “Overall, I think the biggest challenge has been growing up with a one-dimensional style of leadership, due to the scarce representation of women in senior roles. I remember the feeling of being inadequate to progress beyond a certain level because of the lack of examples to look up to and follow.”

Carley, Development Operations Manager: “Imposter syndrome has been something I’ve struggled with in my role. It wasn’t until I started attending Women in Tech conferences a few years ago that I realised how common it was. Being in a room full of women talking about their experiences was eye opening, and incredibly powerful.” 

What piece of advice would you give to other young women considering a role in your field?

Vanita, Director of Experience: “Try it. If you are considering a role in UX but are unsure, give it a go... I firmly believe that all businesses need seasoned leaders against the context of future generations – yes, I mean you. Because of this, don’t underestimate your own worth and what value you could bring, even as a novice. Businesses need you for longevity.”

Rita: “Confidence is everything and it’s something young women tend to struggle with the most, so don’t compare yourself to others — there will always be someone better. Figure out what it is that makes you special and hone that skill; find your voice and don’t underestimate yourself. Be humble but speak up and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Ale: “Get a mentor and/or a coach. No one told me about that until I realised a few years ago that I needed one and I got the best coach I could wish for. Also, find your tribe (of women, of course) and support each other, celebrate each other’s successes. But also expand that tribe beyond any gender: surround yourself by people you respect and trust, who have the desire to learn from each other and support each other along the journey. Finally, embrace vulnerability. Read and listen to Brené Brown, she is the best teacher on the matter.”

Carley: Women in Tech and WeAreTechWomen websites have great resources and job boards aimed at women. There’s a statistic that men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria. Girls Who Code is also a brilliant organisation working to close the gender gap in tech.”


What steps can businesses take to help #BreakTheBias?

Vanita: “We should be open to everyone to being a part of the conversation, regardless of gender. A few years ago, I attended a woman’s only networking and speaking event. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go because of its exclusivity, but curiosity prevailed. There were three main speakers on stage – all women, and they were good – I was privileged to hear alternate insightful, intriguing, and compelling points of view. I remember thinking, what a shame that men can’t hear this or be a part of these conversations that foster deeper understanding.”

Rita: “I’m a big advocate for equal maternity and paternity rights, and I’d go as far as making them mandatory. I think only then would we see a real change in how we view female workers since possibly the biggest impact on the gender pay gap is linked to motherhood. 

“I would also love to see more women occupying leadership positions so I think businesses should also focus on qualities like emotional intelligence and collaborative skills which are extremely valuable in such roles and are usually more female. If young people see more female leaders (same for LGBTQIA2S+ and POC) then it becomes the norm, as opposed to an exceptional event.”

Alessandra: “There is so much that needs to be done, and the most important thing is to get started and keep going with commitment:

Unconscious biases are complex. Everyone has them and they evolve over time so it is critical to raise awareness about what they are and where they come from so that everyone can manage them better, at work and in life

It is fundamental to keep an open dialogue about the issues, rather than pretending it is all fine or be overcome by shame. That won’t help to solve the issues, but rather perpetuate them

It is critical that businesses have D, E & I policies but also that D, E & I is included in business strategies and objectives, that require regular measurement and reporting. Businesses need to set clear accountability at every level, starting from senior management. D, E & I is not an issue for HR to solve, D, E& I  is everyone’s responsibility

Embed D, E & I in every fold of the business. In our sector, inclusive design plays a significant role in shifting people behaviours so we are in a privileged place to contribute to the relevant behavioural shifts

Businesses need to encourage and support education, but also each one of us should put in the work to increase our own self-awareness. No one who is marginalised should be asked to do the hard work. The work needs to start from those who are in a position of privilege vs. a minority.”

Emily-Faye Duncan, Head of People and Culture: “The first thing is about education, then making sure that if you recognise a certain behaviour or you know you’re not playing your part to help women – admit it and work with others to fix it. There’s strength in numbers but there’s also strength in vulnerability.”


If you’re interested in joining the talented women, and men, of Rufus Leonard, check out our current vacancies at:

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