International Women’s Day: how our conversations can create a more inclusive culture


By Bridget Lea, Commercial MD, Consumer Division

International Women's Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on where we are now. We've come such a long way in the work place, and in society – and we should take this day and this week to reflect on that.

But it's also fair to say we still have a long way to go. It's really important that we have this conversation – as women, and as men – to think about the improvements we can still make and create an environment in which everyone can thrive. We should do that for ourselves, for the teams that we lead, and for our daughters and our sons.

So, what can we change for the better?

I’m a black female in the corporate world. In my personal life, as a black person living in the UK, race is much more of an issue. But in my corporate life gender has been the bigger challenge. I truly believe that there won’t be an even playing field until there are more women in senior positions who are able to create a culture that is inclusive for everyone

It’s often the small, everyday things that constantly remind women that they have to make that extra effort to be included by the men around the table. The onus is on both men and women to make the change. Men have a responsibility to be allies, to ensure the minority woman in the room is being included and to call it out when women are not treated equally. The onus is also on other women to support each other.

We must also create greater awareness on important issues surrounding women’s health –the lack of education and understanding on these often ‘taboo’ topics is something we must all strive to change to create a safe space for men and women to have to have open and honest discussions and remove any stigma or embarrassment.

We need to create a future where we have a working environment that’s brilliant for everyone, regardless of gender. I try to be the conscience of the people around me. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but I will call it out – with care – when people are getting things wrong.

What does a good conversation about inequality at work look like?

It starts with awareness that there’s a problem. It then takes a willingness to listen to someone else’s lived experience with an open mind. From my experience, the best conversations have been when we all feel in a safe space, without any fear of repercussion and where there is a genuine want to make a change.

I have been very lucky in my career to work with some very supportive and inclusive men and women who I have been able to have very open conversations with when the need has arisen.

Organisations are getting much better at creating safe spaces for these conversations. At BT Group we have fantastic People Networks that give communities of people and their allies a space to share their experiences with the Exco and senior leaders in a constructive way. They are a huge driver of change in our business and are key to how we build our inclusion strategy.

This strategy has to be at the heart of how we operate every day. And, as I said at the start, International Women’s Day is a good moment to reflect on that. To that end, we’ve planned a week of brilliant conversations and workshops to help give my colleagues the skills they need to feel empowered in their own careers and have those all-important conversations that'll make a real difference.

I’ll be joined by some of our very own Consumer colleagues who’ll be sharing their personal career stories as women and allies in BT. And we have a great line-up of speakers who’ll be giving their top tips on building self-belief and resilience, overcoming imposter syndrome and addressing the workplace ‘taboos’ that many of our colleagues face. These are all such important conversations to have.