March 8th is International Women's Day and we spoke to Danaqa CEO David Thomas about his thoughts and male perspective on this year's campaign theme #PledgeforParity. Danaqa specialise in international development projects with a focus on developing small business and financial services to rural communities, working with farmers, women’s groups and local businesses. They also have a lifestyle brand showcasing craftsmanship and women-led projects in developing countries.
What is the most valuable way in your experience, to help women and girls achieve their ambitions?
This is a difficult question to answer - for me there are two sides to it, one on a very individual level and the second more general. The general answer to this question is to provide opportunities. This can mean lots of different things, and for me goes beyond the idea of providing a level playing field. That idea is passive, I think the most valuable way that we can help women and girls achieve their ambitions is more active than that. In whatever it is that you do you should think actively about providing opportunities to women and girls. This can be on an employment basis, or for us on trade, or can be on an education level. To give a funny example, there is a social media movement about “All Male Panels”. The idea being that so often at workshops, meetings, events, on TV shows and on the news a panel is put together and all the participants are men. There are two ways of dealing with this. Firstly, the passive way is to say “we just looked for the best people, without prejudice to be on the panel, and they happen to all be men”. The active way is to say “we cannot have one perspective on this issue, we need a range and we need to make sure that there are women on this panel”. I believe that we should be actively providing opportunities to women.
Secondly, on an individual level I think that confidence is a large factor in helping women achieve ambitions. There is a gender lens that we see the world in, and this impacts lots of things and impacts girls as they grow up in their confidence to do things. Everytime I see this gender lens I think of the negative impact it has on the confidence of my daughter. At Christmas she wanted a remote controlled car, but said she shouldn’t because only boys play with them. I asked her why she thought this and she said it was because of the adverts she saw on TV. She is 4. The effect of these things on her confidence I think is real, and this will change her ambitions.
What conversations do we need to be having with men to close gender gaps and create more inclusive workplaces?
I genuinely think that workplace dynamics need to be dealt with starting with a more societal change. The remaining narratives of things “boys do and girls do” changes so much in how we see everything. Women make dinner, men do DIY, blah blah. I still hear constantly of the idea there is a primal male instinct to be the breadwinner -surely this is an everyone instinct. All of those elements feed into the way workplaces run. I think there needs to be a complete rethink on all of this within households. We should have more conversations about roles within the household, and why we do things. I genuinely think that if the answer to a questions is “because that is the way it has always been” we should look to do something different. I think if households change their thinking on the everyday issues of things like doing the school run, the shopping, the cooking, looking after sick children, parents etc then workplaces will soon follow.
Within the workplace specifically I notice things in friends works that concern me. The types of traditional networking events that happen at a corporate level - Golf events, boxes at football and rugby games, that sort of thing - are still prevalent. I want to know if these are important? Can the organisers of these see the gender barrier of them? If they are important, shouldn’t the “event” be more inclusive and if not then why bother?
How can we increase women's leadership, especially in developing countries?
I am not sure that there are too many actions that are unique to developing countries beyond making sure access to education is genuinely equal. Whilst not perfect, a lot of developing countries have pretty good track records for women in leadership roles when compared to countries we think of as being “developed”. Not perfect, but not bad. The big one is that women’s education levels are on the whole lower, this cannot and should not be the case.
What is your favourite personal experience of seeing a woman's potential unlocked?
These are very personal rather than professional, but my mother only really focused on her career after all of her kids had gone to university. She is a teacher and had always worked, but as soon as my younger sister had gone to university she became a deputy head, then a head teacher - now she is a magistrate. I feel as though her potential was only unlocked when her traditional household responsibilities were finished. Now if the roles within my household growing up were different, would this have been different? This is not to say my father was some raving misogynist, but simply that we had a traditional family life. I actually remember my father telling me about “positive discrimination” being a good thing when I was a kid, though I don’t think that term is used much now. I really hope this idea of the traditional is different for future generations.
How you do make your work/life/relationship balance work in as equal way as possible?
I try my best to be mindful. I have spent most of my professional career being the “trailing” spouse. This wasn’t done for gender reasons, but it wasn’t “not done” for gender reasons too. Meaning, as my wife and I have had different opportunities we have tried to look at how they are best for us as a family ignoring the gender roles we are supposed to play. That meant that after maternity leave was done, I did a large part of the child care for our daughter, and will do again when we have our next child (soon!). I try to remind myself of defined gender roles a lot and my deep desire not to have them influencing my children. It is really tough as they are part of my upbringing to think in “traditional” ways too. This doesn’t mean that we have an unequal relationship the other way, my wife sacrifices a lot for me as well, but the reasoning is never because “that is how it is supposed to be”.