Digital Women: Emma Ramsay, OMD EMEA’s Head of Research & Insight
16 March 2023

Emma Ramsay is a research strategy and analytics department head, with over 19 years of experience. She leads the Research and Insight function for OMD EMEA and is skilled in quantitative and qualitative research methods, both as a practitioner and commissioner. Her experience has seen her work across a variety of sectors for clients including Daimler, Disney, Bacardi and Google.

As a senior lead and a working mum, Emma here shares her views on Gender Parity and hopes to show young women such as her daughter can ‘have it all’ with the right support network in place.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, what key challenges have you faced in your career?

Unfortunately, our reality as women is that we still face workplace challenges. While nobody should ever have to deal with them, the issues are magnified for women working in male-dominated industries.

Like many women the challenges I have faced over the years have often been rooted in the underlying assumptions surrounding my gender. I have been subject to ‘old boys clubs’ being perceived foremost in terms of sexuality and appearance as well as sexism in the workplace. I would say these challenges have eased over the years as I became more assured in my own ability, and less likely to stand for an environment that allows toxic masculinity. But early into my career, I did have some interesting moments, and was expected to roll with the punches when it came to banter and the ‘alright darlin’ kind of attitude.

As I progressed and had a family, I found that this pivoted to more pervasive stereotypes. Whether that be being treated like an outsider, feeling like I had to prove myself again as a mother or struggling to make my voice heard. Whether it’s overt discrimination or more subtle forms of bias, male-dominated industries can pose challenges for women. One example that always sticks with me, was a colleague who pre-covid thought it was ok to say “I see your clocking off early” when I was running out the door to pick my daughter up from nursery despite being in the office from 7.30am.

I have since made it intrinsic to all the women I work with, that I create an environment that allows them to thrive both as women and as mothers. For line managers it is often a case of listening to the concerns of female employees and taking them seriously. In the case of support, allying concerns and reassuring them that we take flexible working practices seriously. As well as creating a nurturing culture and environment in which peer support is encouraged and freely given.

What are the main barriers to Gender Parity in your industry?

Many studies show that the pushback—or “motherhood penalty”—women experience when they have kids is the strongest gender bias. Motherhood triggers assumptions that a woman is less committed, and less available to her career, and naturally this accentuates the gender pay gap

Also, we cannot carry on talking about women’s parity in the workplace and the gender pay gap as if they were disconnected from stubborn views and realities of gender inequalities at home.

There is deep-rooted societal expectation that happens once you become a mother — and by society at large — to be the primary parent and to look after the household.

Many of my friends had to exit the workforce due to a combination of having to do the lion’s share of the chores, the parenting in their home, and working. For me real allyship in gender parity began at home. I’m currently writing this article during half-term and listening to my husband play “house” with our 6-year-old, so I have the capacity to think.

Partnership demands that your partner do their fair share of childcare, household chores, alongside the emotional labour of planning and tracking activities despite the gender pay gap. When men genuinely enact equal partnership at home, it accelerates gender parity at work. We only have to look at the Nordics to see this in action.

Of course, if women had equal pay it would further strengthen this argument (women are paid on average 3.5% less than male workers at agencies); but if you are less concerned with salary discrepancy, the impact of your job on family responsibilities and are able to focus and commit more fully to work, it’s no surprise that you can be more productive and able to take advantage of growth and advancement opportunities.

Did you worry that becoming a mother would have a negative impact on your career prospects?

Probably my biggest challenge is the one all working mothers face today: How am I going to balance all the demands now? – both professionally and personally.

The phrase “you can have it all” is a bit of a fallacy that sets you up for failure. I think Shonda Rhimes summed it up brilliantly during her Dartmouth College commencement stating, “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life. “Ironically doing-it-all isn’t something we expect of Dad.

But for me, being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is. It’s who I am. Despite this I’ve never felt more comfortable about where my value is to OMD and what I’m good at, and indeed where I need support to fully commit to my career and my role as a mother.

What more can employers do to support and develop the working mothers on their team? 

Female leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance without allowances to participate in family life in a meaningful way.

For me, choice is critical. Working mothers who can choose to work in the arrangement they prefer—whether remote or on-site—are less burned out, happier in their jobs, and much less likely to consider leaving their companies. This points to the importance of giving working mothers as much agency and choice when possible; a ‘one size fits all’ approach to flexible work won’t work for everyone.

Getting it right also has real rewards for companies. Studies have found that women work more hours each year than men on extra tasks outside their roles. These tasks include sitting on committees, DEI work, and jumping into problem-solving for other colleagues.

Alongside this Fortune 500 companies with more women on boards do better financially with higher sales and profits being synonymous with gender-diverse teams. The advantages of working mothers in the workplace don’t end there. Experts say that women’s effective communication skills improve collaborative work efforts, while their intuition, and emotional intelligence (EQ) help create a balanced workforce. So, there is a real benefit for organisational change to support and enable working mothers.

Could women do more to support each other?

The most important thing we can do is rally around each other, supporting, embracing, and encouraging each other without judgment. Personally, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and inspiration of other women––from those I’ve known personally, to those who’ve simply inspired via their expertise, perseverance, and ascent in the workplace

Also ‘seeing what I could be’ really helped— Vicki Hardy (formally the VP of Research at Disney) is one of the most aspirational women I have worked with.  She fostered an environment that celebrated women, left ego at the door, and favoured coaching over control. She also championed our ability to lead, but more importantly ensured we all felt worthy to be future female leaders.

Now as lead in my field I work to ensure I lead by example by setting goals for the proportion of women in leadership roles, insisting on diverse slates of candidates for senior positions, and developing mentoring and training programs that work.

I’m proud to say that 80% of the people in my team are women. To further this upward ascent, however––and don’t get me wrong, we have a long way to go––we must continue supporting each other, and create a culture of belief and support, where female talent is recognized and rewarded for all employees.

What more can men do to help, both at work and at home?

Help is probably the wrong term. It implies that women need men to help them in order to be successful. Maybe in the short-term men do need to do more to foster a true equal opportunity environment. However, what we really need to do is establish a mindset change where equality is just the normal state, rather than anything that needs to be worked at or helped to happen.

I’ve already mentioned more organisational change but, at home, there are some pretty basic things we should do right now that will speed things along. Removing the concept of or any language relating to ‘the breadwinner’ is a start. I also cringe when I hear male friends saying they’re on babysitting duty when it’s just doing their share of the childcare. Both are somewhat flippant points but go to illustrate how language continues to reinforce negative traits and behaviours.

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