Banging the drum for flexible working. Promoting women in technology. Championing art for everyone. These are women who are radically, and bravely, rethinking the way we work and live.
WORK THAT WORKS
Journalist, editor and radio presenter Anna Whitehouse founded the Flex Appeal campaign in 2018, when she had finally had enough of the impossible juggle of full-time work and motherhood. She has worked with businesses to change the way they offer flexible working, submitted petitions to parliament, been cited in the House of Commons, and gathered barristers to challenge the UK government to ‘look at overhauling this entire area of law’.
his is for the next generation,’ declares Anna Whitehouse. ‘I want [my children] to learn about the reason I haven’t been there as much. To know they’ll see the last five years as something on paper means the world. Here’s to changing history for our girls and boys.’
The goal for the Flex Appeal campaign is for ‘all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one’. This, she believes, will stop the penalising of women who happen to have children. Eight per cent of jobs in the UK are desk-based, and most can be done from anywhere and at any time. So, Flex Appeal asks, as long as the job is done on time, what does it matter when or where that happens?
Currently, employees can apply for flexible working once they reach twenty-six continual weeks for the same employer, but the decision is at the latter’s discretion. The pandemic shifted the dial slightly but, for most workers, things haven’t changed at all. And that doesn’t only affect women. ‘Flexible working isn’t just about parents,’ Whitehouse notes. ‘It’s about people. Closing the gender pay gap isn’t just about supporting mothers through birth and beyond. It’s about supporting women at every stage of their lives. Let us work around biology instead of pushing us out because of it.’
With ninety-four per cent of her 355k Instagram followers being female, Whitehouse has tapped into a demographic raised on the idea that they could do anything: study, travel, work, raise a family. Yet, inevitably, they had to make the same impossible choices as generations of women before them – only they found it more difficult, because they were told that they could have it all if only they tried harder.
Whitehouse is beginning to change the narrative –in the media and in everyday life – with quiet conviction: ‘I never raise my voice. Being heard isn’t about shouting the loudest. I put placeholders in conversations, making it clear I want to speak. I make sure to correct people firmly and never patronisingly whenever I hear “Daddy daycare” – he’s caring for his kid – or “Did you have a nice holiday?” It’s maternity leave, not a break.’
Change isn’t as fast as Whitehouse would like. ‘We need more male allies,’ she says. ‘We need cultural change and legislation, and that has to start at home. We must not accept what we’ve been told to accept.’ And she urges us to do the same.
SMASHING THE CEILING
One of the UK’s ‘most influential women in tech’, a multi-award winner for her services to industry, and the founder of Women Who Code, Sheree Atcheson is a vital voice in the fight for diversity, equity and inclusion. Her book Demanding More spotlights deliberate exclusion in systems and society, so we can move forward purposefully.
Glass ceilings exist for some women. Concrete roofs exist for others.’ Luckily, Sheree Atcheson fights for all of us. Born in Sri Lanka and adopted as a baby by a Northern Irish family, she describes herself as ‘a woman of colour in senior leadership who came from a very poor economic background’.
To understand her outlook, her book Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion Don’t Happen and What You Can Do About It is a good place to start.
Described by the Financial Times as ‘necessary reading for anyone who is alive’, it teaches us why deliberate exclusion is so entrenched in our policies and in society, and provides a toolkit to make meaningful change.
‘It’s easy to think we can start challenging that bias from knowing things aren’t great,’ she notes. ‘What is really important is delving into what has happened before now – the decisions that people like us have made to deliberately exclude people – before we try to move forward.’
Lauded as one of the UK’s most influential women in technology, Atcheson is currently global vice-president of diversity and inclusion at Valtech, having worked at Deloitte, Monzo and Peakon. In 2013, she led the award-winning UK expansion of Women Who Code – a nonprofit dedicated to women in tech – and is now an advisory board member.
We need to measure data, Atcheson says, ‘to understand what is happening in organisations on employee support, engagement, management, learning and development. We can track that across genders to make sure we easily understand the discrepancies, then fix them.’ She would love to see a future in which ‘organisations are very clear on where they’re at and where they’re trying to go’.
Atcheson is passionate about ensuring no one is left out or forgotten: ‘It’s key that we see the access points are simply not there because of the avenues that are not open to, for example, women of colour. For me, it’s very important from a business perspective but also a personal perspective. Doing your best may not be the best, and we have to do more.’
PUSHING FOR CHANGE
Author of Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women, Octavia Goredema is also the founder of TwentyTen – a coaching company that advances the leadership of underrepresented and BIPOC employees. She has coached at Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike and Dow Jones, and in 2018 was featured in Women Who Dared, a University of Oxford exhibition celebrating women who have made an impact on education, business, science, politics and the arts.
The work we do,’ says Octavia Goredema, ‘is the most personal and important investment we’ll ever make.’ She believes in doing work that you love and, more importantly, supporting those who have to work harder to get there.
Born in England but based in California, Goredema wrote her book Prep, Push, Pivot during the pandemic. Looking back, she realises she was juggling more than any woman should. But, she says, that’s the reality for many women every day. ‘My mother,’ she told the Double Espresso with Dee podcast, ‘told me that I would have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get ahead.’
Prep, Push, Pivot aims to help women develop the confidence to find their own unique space in the workplace. The book focuses on pushing for what you want. It covers self-belief, knowing your worth and identifying your values, preparing for promotion, taking career breaks, changing paths and empowering those around you.
For Goredema, the goal is to open a path to leadership for women and BIPOC, providing underrepresented people with professional development skills. She works with companies and individuals to change the industry from both sides, via mentoring, stress management, career roadmaps and developing a work/life balance for working parents and caregivers. She’s changing the conversation, person by person. ‘Don’t be afraid to use your voice,’ she says. ‘Your voice matters.’
ART FOR THE PEOPLE
Founder of the Art4you Gallery in Dubai, Jesno Jackson’s mission is to encourage artists from diverse backgrounds, especially women and those from marginalised communities. By providing a creative environment for newcomers, and curating more than 200 exhibitions in five years, Jackson creates a space in which work can be seen, shared and sold, and a network and community that supports artists as they grow.
Born in India, Jesno Jackson began painting at a young age. She remains an artist today, but is most passionate about her work with women and girls at the Art4you gallery, which she founded in 2004, and at art classes that she leads. ‘In the face of inequality and conflict,’ she declares, ‘marginalised women in our programs rise up and take control of their lives.’
Promoting artists isn’t just about getting them access to shows and sales – though that’s a big part of what the gallery does – but being there from the beginning of the journey, offering support, motivation and appreciation:
‘Simply saying, “You are awesome in what you do,” works wonders. Artists lose confidence and get demotivated when sales don’t happen. We need to be on their side, hold hands and teach them that monetary gains come down the line; establish yourself as a frontline artist and success will follow.’
Jackson is passionate about art: ‘As the world gets faster and shallower and more bite-sized, retaining our ability to take a deep dive into art is more and more important.’ And she’s rigorous about diversity and inclusion: ‘I have helped women reinvent themselves, to be everything they dream of. Each of us can make a difference, in big and small ways. ‘Only by listening to women, and recognising their enormous potential, can we live up to our global responsibility to build a more peaceful and equal world.’
OWN YOUR THRONE
Life coach, TEDx speaker and author Pirie Jones Grossman has translated hardship and pain into resilience and grit. She cohosts the Own Your Throne podcast, which empowers women to embrace challenges and emerge stronger. And her book Conversations With Pirie: 30 Stories of People Who Reinvented Themselves is filled with inspiring stories of diverse people who transformed and began new endeavours after the age of forty-five.
challenging and unstable childhood preceded Pirie Jones Grossman’s career as a host for E!, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC. She was married four times, before a breakdown saw her channelling her experience into inspiration for other women.
‘I feel so blessed that I survived a suicide attempt, a mentally ill mother who tried to kill me at five years old, four failed marriages, a life with no self-esteem, zero self-love, seven miscarriages and so much trauma,’ she says. ‘I’m here today, incredibly happy, fulfilled and so grateful that I have learned to heal, forgive and live my dream life.’
Now she works with women healing from events such as divorce, trauma, financial instability, illness, and stressful work or family environments. She helps them develop their resilience, shift their thinking, and learn skills and strategies to overcome challenges.
Crucially, she wants to arm her clients with the power to change their lives: to reinvent, rethink and redesign the life they truly want, at whatever age and in whatever way.
‘Now, my life is an authentic one bolstered by compassion, motivation and productivity, and founded upon family, community and humanity,’ Grossman says. ‘This breakthrough continues to influence my daily habits and has aligned my meaning in life, which is to become a source of healing for souls who believe their lives are valuable, yet lack the switch and need the tools to turn them from dark to light.’