Jordan Brompton, co-founder and CMO at myenergi, shows her support for International Women’s Day and explains what it really means to #BreakTheBias.
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. This is the vision of International Women’s Day, which aims to unite men and women around the world to show their support for real and measurable change.
But what does #BreakTheBias, the theme for this year’s event, really mean? Well, in short, it means coming together to tackle the injustice and prejudice in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools, colleges and our universities. It means confronting gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it. This isn’t an ask for the small few, it’s a clarion call for global change.
Surely, in a world where equality is talked about so much, we shouldn’t have to worry about bias, injustice and prejudice? Surely, we’re well on the way to ending gender stereotypes and needless discrimination? Well, from my own experiences, this is far from the truth.
When I started myenergi in 2016, I saw bias and discrimination for what it really was. Fortunately, I hadn’t really been exposed to negativity and judgement in my career previously, but it became clear, very quickly, that I’d have to tackle it as we built the business from the ground-up.
From day one, I was committed to being honest. My co-founder Lee was the genius designer behind the technology and my role was to build the brand, drive the strategy and raise global awareness of the journey we were embarking on. It was hard work, really hard work, but exciting and rewarding in equal measure. I was hugely proud of what I was doing.
But it was tough. Tougher than I thought it would be. Rather than being taken at face value, I was judged – a female marketeer ‘helping’ with a start-up business. I simply wasn’t taken seriously.
I’d love to say that I simply laughed it off, but I was frustrated and it led me to doubt myself. We had an incredible vision, real potential and I felt like my gender was almost holding the business back. Fortunately, Lee has always been my biggest fan and wouldn’t let it get me down. The other male figures in my life have always been hugely supportive too. I’m so thankful for this. Their encouragement made me see that bias wasn’t everywhere, but simply something spread by the minority.
Fuelled by passion and determination, I wanted to fight back. I really pushed on my position as a co-founder and fought to be taken seriously. When I changed my LinkedIn profile to ‘co-founder’, slowly but surely more and more people were open to talk. They began to see me as more credible – no longer, in their minds, just another woman in a man’s world.
It really shocked me that I had to fight just to be seen on a level playing field. One thing I feel as a woman is that you have to work that little bit harder just to get respected (Taylor Swift sums it up pretty perfectly in her song ‘The Man’).
From that day forward, I made a promise to myself. I wanted to champion the women who had experienced similar situations. The pioneers who were battling against an invisible wall. Everyone who had ever felt like they were gender stereotyped. As we built the business, I brought in some of the most exceptionally-talented female team members I’d ever met. They helped us to move mountains and I’m eternally grateful to each and every one for creating the fabulous brand we enjoy today.
But even when you’re directing the business you work for, inequality still rears its ugly head. A few years later I felt it again, not in the same way as before, but in a situation that many will agree they’ve experienced too.
I had a baby. Bonnie was born premature and turned my life upside-down. From the first day out of hospital, I was performing a juggling act – balancing being a mum with running a company. It was hard, but it was rewarding. I had another reason to build a company that did something good for the planet; I wanted to help change the world and create a sustainable future that she – and her children after that – could inherit.
But while Lee and the myenergi team were hugely supportive, highly flexible and gave me the support I needed, what I hadn’t planned for is the bias that my husband experienced. At the time, he was working as an overhead linesman and had a pretty regimented role.
After his two-week statutory paternity leave, it was down to him to use his holiday to support a premature baby – back to work, usual hours, no movement or flex. He had to take time off as unpaid leave to support the family through a pretty traumatic time; nearly a month in NICU. It’s an issue with the system. His immediate team understood but couldn’t do much about it, other than what is offered as statutory.
Even as Bonnie grew up, it was hard for him to take her to nursery, to book off leave to spend time with her, to get into the office late or come home early to drop her off or pick her up from a day at her grandparents. We rushed around trying to make it all work, but we felt the pressure against us.
Recently, we made a big family decision. My husband quit his job and became a stay at home dad. The inflexibility of working life meant that this was the only way that we could bring up our daughter. It might sound sad, but the reality has been so positive. It has given him a new lease of life and he’s already thinking about new and exciting ways to embrace flexible working options in the future. We can take our daughter to nursery without feeling like we’re doing something wrong.
The whole situation taught me that bias remains in the workplace and that the status quo is holding us all back. It really hasn’t changed. The father goes back to work after a few weeks off, while the mother hangs up her career to become a housewife – all very 1940s thinking. But what about women who want to continue working? What about the single mums who can’t afford daily childcare?
This is a conversation that needs to be talked about. The world has changed and, as employers, we need to change with it. The COVID-19 pandemic has done one good thing – the 9-5 daily grind is well and truly dead. The future has to be about flexibility, support, understanding and collaboration. Attitudes need to catch up.
I’ve had the opportunity to pave my own way, but we need to think about the women who haven’t. We need to give them space, help them to find their identity, eliminate guilt, provide flexible frameworks to support their return to work and fight the system that doesn’t allow them to reach their true potential. Childcare needs to be equal – men need to be provided with the opportunity to do more, equal rights need to be equal and businesses need to understand that they play a critical role.
So what, at myenergi, are we doing about it? Well, for starters we understand the pressures and we’re working hard to change. Need to rush off early to pick up your child from nursery? Go for it. Need some flexibility to spend quality time with your family? We totally understand. We don’t want to be seen as a barrier, but instead an enabler – this is critical to building a global business that really cares, believes in and wholeheartedly supports its workforce.
We haven’t perfected it, by any means, but we’re trying. As a business community we all need to be trying. We need to rip up the rule book and start again. We need to be thinking about value, work/life balance and treating each person as an individual, not a number or a stereotype.
This International Women’s Day, I’m committed to #BreakTheBias. Collectively, we have the power to do something different and change the future. Progress is key and working together is the only way to achieve it. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the terrible situations that other women out there have gone through, but I’m with you every step of the way. I believe in you. I believe in all of you. You’re doing just great – don’t give up.