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International Women's Day 2022

Interview with Laura Aguiyi, divisional Head of Legal and Chair of the Women in EQUANS network

Laura Aguiyi

What does ‘breaking the bias’ mean to you?

I think the theme is spot on this year.  At the end of the day, bias exists – it always has and always will, whether conscious or subconscious.  We can’t stop it and we certainly can’t eradicate its existence, but we CAN try to break it and change people’s perspectives.

Bias is particularly pertinent in our industry, especially the construction and FM sectors as certain roles have been dominated and only really associated with males for decades. It is therefore understandable that perceptions have formed, and we must appreciate why a level of bias exists, while affording people the right to change their views without judgement.

How can we start to break the bias then?

There are many levels to this but first and foremost, we must ensure women have the same opportunities at their disposal, as men.  We must support and mentor women who want to apply for promotions or enter male centric sectors; while educating and supporting employers to recruit and promote more senior women. 

When we have this system in place, awareness is key.  Only when we start to see women taking on atypical roles, can we start to see a step change breaking existing bias.  I also think it’s incredibly important to not let the bias that exists within society, overshadow the men and groups that are already supporting this agenda.

I firmly believe men championing women and speaking up about bias and equal opportunities is incredibly powerful.  It will act as something of a domino effect by inspiration; encouraging people to think differently and be champions of change.  I’ve seen this first-hand, and it adds a level of cohesivity to this day of celebration for women and makes the challenge seem less vast and more achievable.

How does the Women in EQUANS network support this work?

As well as providing day-to-day support and mentoring, we have recently launched a leadership course with Manchester University and are working with the relevant teams to change the way we work.

When we launched the network, we were very clear that this was to be a positive and practical platform.  We want to advocate for tangible change and not focus on the reasons we are where we are.  To look at why bias exists is counterproductive and lends itself to negativity.  Our network is centred on mentoring, supporting with development and promotions, while providing a compassionate and non-judgemental environment.

We’re lucky that the executive and senior teams have been incredibly encouraging of our work and have used their positions within the company to elevate the messaging and assist with cascading it across the business.

How would you encourage your friends and colleagues to support in breaking the bias?

While ‘breaking the bias’ is the theme for this International Women’s Day, it’s actually a message which is adaptable for any prejudice that exists. 

I would ask everyone to speak up when they can and when they feel it’s necessary; listen with compassion and patience to varying opinions and if you are in a position of power and have the authority to make changes, do just that.

It’s not something we can break over night, but by keeping the conversation active and holding people, groups, or employers accountable, we can make significant in roads.  More importantly, by sharing the success stories, showcasing women that are thriving in senior or stereotypically male careers, we slowly start to re-evaluate what we view as ‘normal’ and change the status quo.