Spotlight DataTalks Interview with Sandy Ghuman: International Womens Day
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day was founded to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women, and I am a huge advocate! It sets the scene for key challenges such as gender equality and equal pay (with focus on the workplace), as well as many other factors in day to day life.
Whilst I am not here to provide an education as to why International Women’s Day came about, it is certainly something to celebrate and take stock on how far we’ve come. I wouldn’t be sat here writing these answers if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of many. However, for as many achievements we have made over the years, we are still so far from perfect. Movements such as “Me Too” and recent headlines discussing women’s safety when out walking, or running, are all stark examples of how far we still have to climb.
And it’s these downfalls – these living breathing challenges that women face day to day – which is why it is paramount that men and women across the globe celebrate International Women’s Day. The more we discuss these things in the workplace, around friends, with family, the more we will make a difference. Without conversations from global and diverse points of view, change won’t happen.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
I haven’t personally faced huge barriers around career progression as a woman (without getting deeper into being a full-time working mum!), although there are countless scenarios where I have been wary of situations and could have let them prevent me from progress, had it not been for my character.
A quick example is when I enquired about a role a few years back, and the general bias language used when listing out a job description was starkly obvious. The hiring director, when detailing the job specification, referred to what “His” responsibilities will be, what “He” will look after, how “He” will need to, etc. Even small areas such as these can be enough to make you feel less qualified before you’ve even begun.
There are also many areas of work and life situations that have been more male dominated, and that can often make females feel less adequate. In the corporate world these situations tend to be centred around decisions made across high profile projects or to lead certain projects. More times than not, I find myself in meetings (being the only woman meetings of around 20+ attendees), attending social networking events (typically a corporate ‘boys night out’), involved on speaker panels (woman-only events, possibly a tick-box exercise), attending exec meetings (by default the exec members are male), frequenting corporate hospitality events (that are not always thought through with female attendees in mind) and so on and so forth. It has long been the norm, but I am happy to say it is evolving.
In a non corporate environment I grew up helping my parents in the markets (again a very male dominated area, in terms of dealing with wholesalers, the market operators, and the other traders). From an early age I watched my mum be the driving force in these environments competing and dealing with the bullishness around her. I was also thrown in the deep end myself to help in the family business as the eldest of three from a very early age, and at that time it just felt the norm.
I’d say some of the biggest challenges in both life and work environments are centred around cutting through the noise, getting a seat at the table in the first place, having a voice and being heard.
Overcoming (and doing myself proud) in these environments has usually been around:
- Being confident in and believing in my contributions
- Not taking things personally or allowing my confidence to be knocked
- Not allowing myself to feel intimidated and reminding myself I am here because.. I am doing this because.. although it is sad how we often justify to ourselves that we actually deserve to be here
- Trying to understand the thinking and behaviour of others to cut through the noise and deal with the tasks at hand
- Compromising and being accommodating in certain situations
- Simply talking – talking to other women, empathising, giving praise and sharing experiences.
Above all, believing in myself. Recognising I have been invited to speak, participate and share because I am talented and skilled, not just because I am a woman or even a woman of colour. It’s all about believing in who you are, and the rest will follow.
How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their career?
This is something I am truly passionate about. As with so many things in the business place, there’s no one size fits all approach. It’s a multi-layered approach that needs to be filtered from both the top down, and vice versa. The entire organisation needs to stand for gender equality and career progression; this needs to be fully cemented into the culture for progress to truly be made
How? Well, it starts with education. For both men and women. Businesses should invest in diversity and equality training, and make this a priority across their HR channels. In addition, there needs to be an active approach to pushing unbiased HR policies to ensure every interview process is neutral in its delivery.
What’s more, women need to be equal to their male counterparts, so that when they progress in their careers, they are setting off from a level playing field. And it’s this grey area where I see so many problems. I have worked with some incredible, talented women in my time, and so often they are starting the race from 500 yards behind. The balance still has a long way to go.
Whilst business infrastructures and cultures need to change, and I believe this will take a very long time to see results, there are other ways women such as myself can help encourage others to step forward. My tips are:
Be kind and open: You’d think women would support women. But on the odd occasion, you see women competing against each other. Don’t adhere to this toxic narrative, and ensure you are kind and open to all females within your workplace and industry, and encourage them on their path.
Mentor and inspire: Whether it’s informal or a more formal setting, I think women in leadership roles should regularly mentor and inspire their female colleagues – even if they sit in a different department in the business. Tips on how to present yourself, how to manage political situations etc., are all aspects of work life that can be tricky to navigate without guidance.
Empathise & Feedback: Acknowledge the tough environments we may find ourselves in and don’t be afraid to talk, share, learn, evolve and provide feedback. It can be a lot of work, but often taking on the challenges to knock those barriers down by not giving up is really powerful.
Continue to educate and increase awareness: And lastly, I guess it is about not being afraid to speak out about these issues. It’s not about blame, and it certainly isn’t about men versus women. It is about collaborating and making the discussion topic one to not be afraid of.
Take time to reflect: We often go about our daily routines and accept what we encounter as the norm. Sometimes just taking a step back and reflecting on situations can act as a stark reminder of the reality of unconscious bias that one may have experienced, or still exist, or even the enormity of change and education that is still needed.
Is there anyone that inspires you in your career?
Now, I’m going to keep my cards close to my chest, so as to not put anyone on the spot! However, during my career there have been a few inspirational women that I have been in awe of. One that springs to mind was a very senior woman who was on the executive team of a very high profile company. She was the only female exec amongst circa 12 male counterparts, and was someone whose division I reported into for five years.
Her presence and profile throughout those five years was composed, professional, calm, softly spoken, extremely passionate and unemotional (in the good sense) with a strong but fair business approach. This strong exterior enabled her to cut through the merkey male-heavy environment and seek respect from her fellow peers – not because she was a strong female, but because she was talented. And that really shone through.
On my last day I told her I was so proud of her as a woman sitting and surviving on that exec, and to my surprise she got emotional. At that moment I realised how tough it is for a woman in a senior position, despite how they might compose themselves in the workplace. I was so glad I told her how inspirational she was, but it also reminded me not to wait too long to say it next time. We need to praise each other more often – not so much that it becomes an empty compliment, but to encourage and show support.
Coincidentally, this particular lady recommended I put myself forward as a company rep (to be a spokesperson on behalf of and represent a constituency of 350 employees) and I was subsequently voted in. I owe so much to this woman (you know who you are!) and I am forever grateful.
If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Oh, fantastic question!! So many, but my three would be:
Our dear Queen Elizabeth II: I mean, why not?! As our longest reigning monarch situated in a very strict, long-standing institution you could learn so much from her and how to overcome unexpected hurdles.
Kamala Harris Vice President, The White House: She is the first female vice president and the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, as well as the first African American and first Asian American vice president. I’d love to hear her story, what inspires her and what motivates her.
My mum: Sadly I lost my mum suddenly and waahhyy too early, at a time when I was at the start of my career and juggling being a young mum myself and working full time. At the time, I was quite oblivious to the real barriers and challenges one faces due to being a woman as it was simply the norm. I also never fully recognised or appreciated her own fight to survive, to be heard, to thrive and to lead. I would love to get her thoughts on how things have evolved even ( albeit in baby steps) and also to reflect and recognise the challenges she faced, and celebrate how she overcame them.
What future do you see for women in Marketing/MedTech?
We are seeing more women in MarTech roles – and senior ones at that – and I am personally seeing evidence of this through some of my recent client engagements – which are predominantly led by women. This is really refreshing to see especially as these client engagements have turned into long term client partnerships, often based not only on the great work we are delivering and the value we create, but also the general admiration and respect we have built for each other as ‘Women in Tech’. What is even more refreshing is that the ladies are also open to talking and learning from each other’s experiences. I feel like we are creating a real community, and that is something I am hugely proud of.
I also think that some of the initiatives seen by the big players in the industry, helping their female leaders to find their voice and increase their profile in a male dominated industry, is evident.
I also see some incredible talent here within Silverbullet. Our female experts with technical minds and creative outputs are supporting the incredible growth our company is witnessing. I hope to both inspire and learn from my peers, and ensure we at Silverbullet continue to celebrate female talent across the globe.