Fresh from hosting Retail Week’s Be Inspired virtual conference 2021, TV presenter and Wonder Women founder Ria Hebden reflects on how businesses must empower women and underrepresented groups to fulfil their true potential or risk both losing talent and alienating consumers
Women make up 46.9% of the global workforce, hold the buying power in most households and as Hillary Clinton once said, “Are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”.
This is why it amazes me that businesses do not do more to support the abundance of diverse female talent that exists in all industries.
How I woke up to the diversity problem
My job as the entertainment presenter on ITV’s Lorraine, talking about the latest TV programmes, film releases and new music live, really is a dream come true and a privilege that I don’t take for granted. For as long as I can remember, my passion for storytelling, matched with an inquisitive interest in people, set me up for a career in the media where telling stories to mass audiences was always on the cards.
“I started to notice women were not returning to the workplace after becoming mothers”
After graduating from Brunel University, I started my TV journey working in production at Talkback Thames on shows like The X Factor and Big Brother, before moving into publicity, where I worked as a publicist for brands such as Twentieth Century Fox and Channel 4.
It wasn’t until I had my first child, that I started to notice women were not returning to the workplace after becoming mothers, while those who were in senior positions either didn’t have children at all or rarely saw them.
I grew frustrated at the absence of women sharing how they made family and work life possible and so I decided to create Wonder Women – a community of diverse women who work in TV and creative industries, as a way of sharing positive stories of how women overcome common barriers to career progression. This includes negotiating maternity leave or securing a job promotion or pay rise, as a way of championing the existing female leaders and inspiring the next generation of women coming up behind them.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing the business you created is empowering others to fulfil their true potential”
The brand has quickly evolved into a series of Wonder Women Live! events, a monthly podcast and earlier in 2021 I launched the Wonder Women Mentoring Programme.
It pairs 17 incredibly talented women from across the UK with formidable female leaders who work for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Audible, Pact and ScreenSkills among others, who act as mentors for a whole year, alongside receiving monthly online master classes which are taught by executive coaches with the sole aim of elevating them into senior positions.
Just five months in, and we’ve been nominated for a National Diversity Award, which was a wonderful surprise and acknowledgement of the positive impact we are making. When I heard how one mentee has had more job offers since being on the programme than she’s had in the last four years, I do have to take a moment to pinch myself. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing the business you created is empowering others to fulfil their true potential.
Now it’s time for businesses to wake up
As women and those from under-represented groups climb the corporate ladder and continue to battle the societal and cultural barriers that exist, it’s imperative that organisations do more to nurture and develop mid-senior level talent so they retain and elevate them to the highest level.
“Women hold the most buying power”
It’s also crucial that businesses do more to support female colleagues should they choose to take time out of their careers to start families, so they feel supported and confident to return to a job they love without having their future career prospects compromised.
We know from the data insight captured by McKinsey and Company - as shared in Be Inspired’s Diversity DNA report - just how much businesses benefit from having a diverse and inclusive workforce at every level.
“Companies with more diversity of thought have the power to truly change the world for the better”
Not only because this benefits the company’s work culture and creative output, but because businesses with diversity embedded in their DNA also perform better and achieve a larger bottom line. It’s just good business sense.
Companies with more diversity of thought around the leadership table have the power to truly change the world for the better and influence creativity, innovation and ideas beyond our wildest imagination, which is why it’s imperative to support and champion both women and people from underrepresented groups within our organisations loudly. Their success is your success.
Do you want to make real change?
While businesses all over the world reflect on the impact of Covid-19 and review their current working policies, this is a moment for us all to re-evaluate what we want our work cultures and brand’s legacy to be.
We must question our values and ask, what do we really care enough about to make real, authentic change?
The choices we make today will have a lasting impact on diversity & inclusion and gender equality for decades to come – so please choose wisely, the generations to come will thank you for it.
To learn more about Wonder Women and its brand portfolio click here.
Ria Hebden hosted the Be Inspired virtual conference on June 8 which explored how we can open our eyes to the privileges and unconscious biases we hold and how as an industry we can navigate obstacles that prevent promoting inclusivity.
Watch the conference sessions for free, on-demand here (scroll to the bottom of the page).