To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, Azimo’s Leading Ladies series explores the gender agenda, from inspirations and success stories to frustrations in the workplace and beyond. This week we chat to EU immigration expert Joséphine Goube.
How are you involved in the tech industry?
I’m co-director of a mentoring programme, Girls in Tech, which aims to help women in their 20s and 30s looking to climb the career ladder. I also co-lead Techfugees, a social enterprise designed to bring together engineers, entrepreneurs and NGOs to create tech solutions to the refugee crisis, such as developing ways for refugees to access education and legal assistance via their mobile phones.
Are women well represented within the tech industry?
The talent is definitely there, yes, but the issue is that women are too invisible in the industry, playing up to negative stereotypes and not reaching their full potential. They need more positive role models to drive them on. Female high-fliers have to give something back and we need to celebrate what we’re achieving already – Girls in Tech is helping with this.
How do you feel gender equality has improved in the last 20 years?
There was real progress during the 1970s, but that positive movement has slowed down in recent times. On a personal level, what helped me most was that my dad made the gender question irrelevant in our household. I was brought up to believe that success doesn’t depend on whether you’re male or female.
In which areas do you think progress has stalled?
Progress has definitely stalled in the education of young men. Dads haven’t changed much in how they raise their boys in the UK, but that’s no great surprise – inherited behaviour is so difficult to change. I grew up in France, where there’s not such a strong lad culture – on a day-to-day level, men and women are on a far more equal footing. The gender issue doesn’t apply there so much until you reach the boardroom, then it’s suddenly a huge barrier.
Why is change slower in the workplace than elsewhere?
I hear from many of my friends who are working mothers that going back to the workplace after having children is still incredibly challenging, from finding decent, affordable childcare to negotiating flexible working patterns and tackling the gender pay gap.
How could workplaces change for the better in terms of gender equality?
By helping working mothers with all of the above!
What do you think is the most important gender issue facing women in the UK today?
There’s huge pressure on women in this country to effortlessly combine going to work with being the perfect spouse, mother and home-keeper, which is an impossible task. Attitudes need to change.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to young women today?
Young women I meet through Girls in Tech live in fear of the glass ceiling and end up creating their own mental barriers. The best advice I’d give is to be aware that you’re building those barriers and try to break them down. But don’t even try to understand them as they’re thousands of years old. I’m a firm believer that you’re better off trying and failing than not trying at all.
Do you think that UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassadors such as Emma Watson have helped to change opinion where it really matters?
I love the UN Women’s motto, HeForShe, but sadly I’m not sure how many men are aware of it. The campaign is full of good intentions, but change needs to be happening at grassroots level and Goodwill Ambassadors such as Emma Watson should be trying to focus attention on grassroots projects.
As a successful businesswoman yourself, which women in business have particularly inspired you?
Coco Chanel, without a doubt. She created an incredibly successful global business despite coming from a very poor background. She had no money at all at the start, but she showed that hard work can conquer so many barriers. She also broke the convention about how women should dress – the use of traditional male styles such as trousers and suits in her collections broke down sexual stereotypes. Put simply, she removed the corset and broke the shackles.