International Women’s Day 2021: Discussing empowering women in the workplace with HR Director, Sarah Whittle

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration that takes place on 8 March every year. It is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Freshwater’s HR Director, Sarah Whittle, outlines what we do to empower females within the organisation.

So Sarah, what does International Women’s Day mean to Freshwater?

“At Freshwater, we welcome the date as it gives us all the opportunity to remind ourselves of the many achievements of women not only in our business but also in society as a whole. We are proud to have a diverse workforce that is creative, passionate, flexible, adaptive, agile, enthusiastic and full of energy.”

How does Freshwater approach gender inequalities that may be prevalent in the workplace and beyond?

“As we continue to develop our talent and capability across the business, we place a focus on ensuring diversity of backgrounds being represented at every level.

“Building a strong and sustainable female talent pipeline is essential and this is a key consideration for us when we review our talent plan. We continue to review our strategies to ensure they are supportive, offering flexible working and ensuring career paths are transparent, and undertake a six-monthly equal pay audit.

“We celebrate and support diversity in its broadest sense and fully support a workplace that promotes equality for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, religion, disability, race, educational background, caring commitments, class, neurodiversity, nationality or life experience.”

And how do you approach this from an HR perspective?

Our HR policies are designed with equality and diversity at their very heart, and this informs everything we do. We support colleagues to develop as individuals, helping to build their confidence and project their personal brand, both internally and externally. This starts from the outset – at the onboarding stage – and continues throughout their time with us. It’s achieved by our mentoring and buddying system, having a sophisticated talent and succession plan, giving individuals exposure to different areas of work and trusting them to get involved with complex projects that really challenge them.  Our aspiration is that this approach will help colleagues to progress so that they feel empowered to seize future opportunities at work.”

So can you give us some hard stats as to how Freshwater fares, and what you measure in terms of demographics?

We report quarterly on all areas of HR from labour turnover to the number of training days we’ve supported.  In relation to gender, out of a workforce of 50+ staff:

  • 72% of Directors are female
  • 50% of the Senior Executive Group are women
  • 67% of Managers are female.”

That’s pretty impressive. Can you give us a few stories that lie behind these figures?

Where do you want me to start? There’s too many to mention individually. But, just by way of example, our Account Manager, Yasmin Akbari, started with us in 2017 as a Marketing Assistant Intern, and in December 2020 was rewarded with her third promotion in that period. Meanwhile, our CEO, Angharad Neagle, joined Freshwater as an Account Director in 2008. Ultimately however, it’s talent that’s rewarded – regardless of gender or, indeed, any other factor.”

Finally, what will you be doing on International Women’s Day this year?

“The theme for IWD 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge, so we will be busy promoting the importance of the cause remotely to our staff based in Cardiff and London. We have asked staff to reflect on how they can challenge gender inequalities and these responses will appear on our social media feeds throughout the day, adding our voice to the campaign.”