An empowered woman is… whoever and whatever they please

An empowered woman is

For International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke to nine inspirational business leaders from around the world about breaking the gender bias – the theme of #IWD22

Here, they explore how we can better empower all women worldwide, and what still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace. Find out what empowerment means to these nine influential women.

Ronke Fashola Ronke Fashola, Founder, Love Your Look

Course director, style icon, mum; unashamedly empowering all women through sustainable fashion.

“An empowered woman is… able to uplift others around her to follow in her footsteps.”

Ronke Fashola is the vision behind Love Your Look, an ethical, sustainable clothing company that ‘unashamedly embraces female empowerment and inclusiveness.’ Love Your Look expresses empowerment through bold, colourful clothes and provocative prints, and we absolutely LOVE what they’re doing for the world of fashion.

In her spare time, Ronke can be found lecturing, teaching and supporting other business leaders to thrive. She’s also a new mum and all-round style icon. We’re delighted to share her insights. 

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does this mean to you as a woman in business?

As a new mum, I think we need to shake the biased judgement that once you have a baby you can’t work any longer. That’s total rubbish. We can still be strong bosses, if not stronger.

We need to break the bias and welcome more diverse female leaders who represent what the UK looks like in 2022. Not everyone has wealthy friends from Notting Hill or family members who can invest in an idea. Give people like me, from working-class backgrounds, the stage to show the world what can be achieved with hard work & passion.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

We need more visibility of change to make room for more change. The more we open the doors for women, the more change will become organic and natural.

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Do your research about your market. What’s your USP? Find it and stick with it, don’t get confused by others. Believe in your business plan. It takes hard work and hustle, not just Instagram. You need to get out and make shit happen.

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

Giving them the tools to be the best bosses. Not only through education, but with practical skills. I would love to hire a female home renovation team, or a female engineer.

Give girls more information from a younger age about what they can do if they are not academic. How can they equip themselves to be independent, strong women? Visibility is also important for this to happen, so young women can be inspired and aim for the same level. When you see others like you smashing it. You know you can do it too.

Masami Sato, Founder & CEO, B1G1 Masami Sato

Visionary, social entrepreneur, change maker. Leader of business for good. 

An empowered woman…. knows it’s OK to be imperfect.”

Masami Sato is the founder and CEO of B1G1 which she launched in 2007 from a simple idea: “What if every business could make a difference in their own way, just by doing what they normally do?”

Since then, B1G1 has come together with more than 3,000 businesses from all industries around the world, creating 240+ million giving impacts. B1G1 is our giving partner at The Joyful and we love the buy one give one ethos, while knowing exactly where our resource is going. 

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’,what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

To collectively ‘break the bias’, we can actively consider and accept our own biases (because we are all biased in some ways). It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with others, but it’s powerful to admit one’s own limited understanding first and try to understand why people in different positions think differently. When we remove judgement, it becomes easier to find new ways forward together. 

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

All businesses (at least those that are aware of the need for change) can consider constraints and status quo within their own companies. There may be things that are making it harder for people with certain backgrounds to join their workforce or continue working. 

Sometimes it is about the work benefits we offer, or policies that are making it easier for some people to prosper but not others. If companies understand the real power of diversity, making it easy for everyone to contribute their unique qualities for creating collective success will become a no-brainer. 

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

To leverage on one’s own strengths and be ok to be imperfect (this may be a biased view but I think some women may try to be too perfect or care too much about supporting everyone).

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

In some societies, things are much more challenging for women. 

It will take time to gradually shift some of the fixed thinking about gender, race and even caste systems in some of those places. Women who are in societies that are already open to female leadership can do more to set examples of how we can add value to long-term success. For example, issues like sustainability and global warming require long-term thinking and patient action. I think women’s natural role as mothers and protectors of people can play a great part in creating long-term future prosperity for the world too. 

Annie Murray Annie Murray, Founder, Edit Sweet & Horizon

Charity leader, beacon of what’s possible for people dealing with addiction and recovery.

An empowered woman…. empowers other women.”

Annie Murray is the founder of Edit Sweet, a socially-minded film production company, and Horizon, a film and media training charity for people in recovery from addiction. 

Having spent over a decade dealing with alcohol addiction and street homelessness, Annie spends her days supporting others to create a new story for themselves and their lives. 

Our co-Director, Sophie, is also the co-host of Horizon’s podcast project, Through the Lens of Recovery, and we are continuously blown away by Annie’s courage, insights and high energy pazazz. She is a beacon for all people for what’s possible on the other side of adversity. 

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

I personally don’t start my day or end my day thinking, I’m a woman. I wake and live simply knowing that I am human, a human with gifts, talents, knowledge and experience. My gifts in business are just as strong as the next person, be it male or female. I don’t sit in a room and think someone is better or worse than me because of my gender. Or any reason. What matters is that I am passionate about my work, and good at my work. I believe that shows in my business.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

Respect. Just raise the respect. For each other, as humans. Promote one human in business because they’re good at their job, not because they’re male. I wonder if businesses could hire people without the knowledge of their gender, whether outcomes would be different?

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Be fearless. Love what you do and let it shine through. Smile about it from ear to ear when you talk – don’t become hard-nosed because you think you’ll be taken more seriously. Act with honesty, always. Don’t hide your passion, don’t hide your pride. Be tough, stand up for yourself, prove your worth only unto yourself.

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

Shout about the amazing women you know who have achieved great things! Hold each other up, shine each other’s lights and shine lights upon each other. Offer opportunities where you can. Champion one another. Share the passion. Share the drive. Unite, and we will be seen and heard together.

LaQuinta Jernigan

LaQuinta Jernigan, VP North America, mdgroup

Global leader, mother, fierce advocate for diversity in clinical trials and healthcare equity worldwide. 

“An empowered woman is… an unstoppable force.”

LaQuinta Jernigan currently serves as the Executive, Vice President, Commercial/North America for mdgroup, a global digital and patient health services company that provides a patient-first approach to clinical research. 

LaQuinta advocates both at work and outside of work for diversity in clinical trials and is passionate about addressing the many disparities that exist in healthcare for people of colour. 

The patient experience is very important to her and ensuring all communities are represented in clinical research is something she strives to improve every day.

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

To me, it means challenging everyday norms, especially those that depend on social privilege. Traditional views of women in business have been challenged for more than 60 years, yet organisations and executives are still confronting serious bias in the workplace. As a woman, I’m not trying to compete with men. Instead, I want the many different contributions that women bring to the table to be valued equitably.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

We’re at an incredibly important historical moment. We can’t lose momentum in the fight for fair and equal pay for women as well as equal opportunity for advancement. This means strengthening our laws and government policies and not dismissing the struggle for equality as a social or cultural change that can be left for the history books. 

The pandemic has also highlighted all the different responsibilities we have as women. Some people, particularly in business, assume that treating women and men as equal means ignoring the fact that many women hold important responsibilities in childcare and eldercare. I think ignoring the many facets of women’s lives contributes to inequality in the workplace, at all levels and in every area of business. American business culture has popularised the idea that corporate priorities should supersede the needs of individuals, including their social, physical, and familial needs. That’s not a sustainable path to success for business or society.

Again, fairness and equality aren’t about treating everyone the same. We have to acknowledge our differences and then create an environment in which everyone is fairly represented, has the opportunity to succeed, and feels respected as a complete human being with their own personal goals and values.

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Be your own bold self. As a young woman, you’re still discovering who you are, but never downplay your ideas, your values, or your personality. Don’t force yourself to fit into the mould of others’ expectations. Black women in particular know how deeply social norms can be internalised, so keep cultivating your self-awareness, no matter what. Don’t be afraid to find and use your voice.

Rachael Mole Rachael Mole, Founder & CEO, SIC 

Academic, thought leader, fearlessly and fiercely closing the disability gap in the workplace

An empowered woman is… inevitable.”

Rachael Mole is on a mission to close the disability gap for disabled people in the workplace. As a disabled woman, Rachael has had to overcome many barriers to get to where she is today – the CEO of SIC, a national movement and the number one learning platform for people with disabilities in the UK. 

SIC is also here to help companies become accessible and inclusive employers, helping their bottom line while starting a circular economy that benefits everyone. We’re extremely proud to be working with this incredible organisation to grow their vision and their mission and enrol more purpose-driven businesses into the cause. You can pre-register for their business centre here.  

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

As a disabled woman in business, this is a huge area for me. I feel like I have to prove myself not just as a young woman, but also as a disabled person. As a woman in business, it’s also about being able to open doors and make space for other women and disabled people to show up and make waves.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

True equality is recognising that there isn’t one solution that fits all, and we are fighting against a consciously biased society. Getting women into management is a great first step, but we need to look at what barriers are in place stopping this from happening… childcare, career breaks, pay gap, work culture – it all plays its part. I’m not a ‘sheEO, I am a CEO, infantilising and ‘girl bossing’ female leadership in my opinion is a form of minimisation that perpetuates the belief that women are incapable of being effective leaders. 

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Fear is your friend. Failure is not the bad guy. Pivot quickly and reactively. Trust your gut. Ask for help. Surround yourself with women who are where you want to be. Ask a woman in business you admire to be your mentor and meet regularly. Nail your elevator pitch. Network regularly. Don’t listen to people who you don’t respect. Listen to people you do respect. 

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

Dismantle the systemic barriers to women’s equality. Fund education and vote women into politics who are fighting for equality. As long as the only voice in our worldwide governments are men, women’s bodies, choices and futures will never be equal. It’s not about removing men from power, it’s about putting women up there too. 

Sophie Cook Sophie Cook, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster & Photographer

The first transgender woman to work as a photographer in the Premier League.

“An empowered woman is… the future.”

Sophie Cook is the very definition of ‘many strings to your bow.’ She’s a fierce mental health, addiction and LGBTQIA+ campaigner, self-harm and suicide survivor and author and is in the process of writing her second book Not Today… Losing My Addictions.

Dr Sophie Cook FRSA became the first transgender woman to work in football’s Premier League as club photographer for AFC Bournemouth following her transition in the summer of 2015. Europe’s first trans TV newscaster, Sophie has also hosted her own TV and radio chat shows and is an experienced broadcaster.

When we asked Sophie for her insights into IWD22, she did her ‘usual trick’ of answering all of the questions in the first. She must have known this article was getting mighty meaty!

Here’s Sophie Cook’s all-in-one…

We live in a world that has been shaped by 6000 years of human history, unfortunately, the vast majority of that time has been characterised by exploitation, inequalities and injustice. The fight for equal human rights has lasted but a fraction of that time. In the UK slavery was only abolished in 1833, less than 200 years ago. 

Votes for all women 1928, still less than a century ago. Homosexuality partially decriminalised 1967, in my lifetime. The millennia before these advances left a mark on the collective human psyche, one which has ensured that any and all advances in civil rights and equality must be hard-fought as those with the power have always been unwilling to give it up readily. 

Today, women and girls are still denied the opportunities of their male siblings, in education, in employment, in life. 

In the same way that we fight to ensure that racism and homophobia are unacceptable, we must keep pushing to ensure that gender equality is taken seriously in our society and our workplaces. Equal opportunities, equal pay, equal rights, because until we are all equal, no one is.

Roxie Royale Roxie Royale, Burlesque Dancer & Teacher

Body positivity empowerer, “the Yorkshire lass with a regal ass!”

“An empowered woman is… bold and in charge of her own life.”

Roxie is a qualified dance, aerial, and flexibility instructor, teaching both in Hull and around the country and founder of Hull-based burlesque training, House of Royale. Whether it’s in ballet class or burlesque, she loves to empower others to find what they love. 

She told us, “pouring your soul into what you love keeps your flame alive and helps to find a group of like-minded people who share your passion”. We love everything Roxie stands for and have experienced first-hand the power of burlesque for body positivity and claiming of one’s power.

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

Let’s judge people on their merits, not their gender. I am fortunate to work in a majority female-led industry, however, the industry as a whole is often not taken seriously. 

Dance/pole/aerial/burlesque is seen as a hobby, not a business or a job, by many people who are outside of the industry. I would love to be able to educate more people and bring the art of dance to their lives! I am keen on creating an inclusive space where people of all genders, sizes, shapes, and abilities feel welcome.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

Having more women in leadership roles would be a great start. What can we do to ensure women have the skills they need to make it to the top?

Make sure our feminism and empowerment are intersectional.

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Do it! If you have an idea, go for it. Take all the classes you need, devote time to honing your skills, and don’t let anyone put you off.

My second piece of advice is you don’t have to do it alone. Seek advice where you need it, ask for help, and don’t try to manage every part of your business solo. There are people out there with the expertise you need, and often they are willing to help if you just put yourself out there and ask. 

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

Take women’s health seriously. Support other women-run businesses. Include trans women in the narrative.

Kirsteen Denro Kirsteen Denro,Creative Director, Studio KICO 

Socially conscious design, impact-driven leader.

An empowered woman is… a powerful force. And in my opinion, more empowered women will make the world a kinder, more compassionate, conscious and thriving place.”

Kirsty is the creative director and founder of Studio KICO, a socially-conscious design studio that specialises in creating brand identities. 

Kirsty is passionate about working with industry innovators and purpose-led businesses and is also the creative vision behind The Joyful branding. We love her! She combines her creative expertise and strong commercial knowledge to create impactful brands that make noise and have a positive impact on people and the planet.

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

There are still so many ways that the playing field is not even. One of the most insidious, I think, is the expectation of women to behave and be a certain way and holding them up to higher standards than men. 

As a woman in business, I challenge myself to see where I have internalised that prejudice, to catch myself when I am being biassed, and to call it out when I see it in others. So many small things, seemingly insignificant, happen every day create the bias and keep it alive. We have years and years of stereotypes and conditioning to strip back. I see it as my responsibility to keep educating and challenging myself to play my part in creating lasting change. 

I love that we live in an age where women are questioning and refusing to accept and abide by traditional stereotypes. We have too much to give and to do to be limited by what people think we should be.

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

I’d like to see total transparency when it comes to company salaries. I think that would force more action in terms of the pay gap. 

Also, workplaces and cultures designed to help everyone thrive as their needs change throughout their lives – taking into account challenges women face such as having children, menstrual cycles and menopause. I think the pandemic has created some really positive movements towards a more balanced work life, and I hope it’s the beginning of a workplace revolution.

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Don’t let anyone else tell you what you can and can’t do. Take the time to know yourself, know your worth and don’t accept anything less than you deserve.

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

More women in leadership roles – leading companies, running schools, movements, countries and the world. Helping to raise other women’s voices, and continuing to fight for change until we have equality, for all. 

Helen Davies Helen Davies, Clinical Lead & Coach

Neurodivergence champion, mum, leading the way for trans healthcare. 

“An empowered woman is… authentic to who they are, and not ashamed to shine their light brightly.”

Helen is a clinical lead for the NHS, proud neurodivergent, and fierce advocate for trans healthcare access and rights. When she’s not saving lives, she’s helping neurodivergent parents or those with SEN children find more joy and ease in the day to day through their organisation, Practical Wisdom.

The theme for IWD 2022 is ‘break the bias’, what does it mean to you as a woman in business?

Being neurodivergent and having dyslexia and ADHD can have a certain amount of stigma. But it also can be a superpower. I’m fortunate enough that, for me, that ended up being the case and empowered me and gave me the fuel and the skills to get where I am today.

In women’s spaces, neurodiversity is actually quite prevalent. There’s a gender difference and women are often diagnosed later. ADHD, for example, can often be misdiagnosed as mental health issues. No disrespect towards mental health issues, but misdiagnosis isn’t very helpful when you’re trying to find out your coping strategies.  

For women, there’s a gender difference in the workplace anyway. There’s already that glass ceiling, and then you add learning difficulties, or trouble understanding social cues into that, it’s a double whammy.  

What more still needs to be done to create true equality for women in the workplace?

One size doesn’t fit all, we need to look at needs on an individual basis.  

For women, tackling gender bias means making sure they get opportunities. So for example, you are not penalised should you become a parent and need to work.

I think we’ve done some work in levelling that with different workplace initiatives, but there’s a hell of a lot more room to grow. It’s also very important to build a culture of acceptance for all people, including those with learning disabilities. 

What advice would you give a young woman starting out in business?

Find your way, the way that works for you.

How can we better empower women worldwide? 

Supporting each other is one of the best gifts we have in the sisterhood.

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You can do your bit in supporting the incredible, eclectic array of diverse women who’ve shared their insights with us today by following and engaging with them on social media and sharing this article with your own networks. 

Here’s to breaking ALL biases, today and every day. 

Sophie Turton

Sophie Turton

Sophie is a branding and communications specialist with a decade's experience in journalism, content creation, copywriting, PR and brand creation.

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