Taking the lead - celebrating women at the top

Linda's story

The female lead - celebrating women at the top

Breaking the bias is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. With a 50:50 male-female split on our executive leadership team, and above-average female representation in leadership roles, we’re celebrating the powerful women who are setting the tone for our continued growth.

"Have a sense of humour. Sometimes I’m asked a question and I don’t have a clue how to answer – in these situations it helps to say something funny about the situation. You’re not any less of an expert for not knowing absolutely everything."

Linda Murray, Director of Strategy

Linda's story

“If I look at the last 30 years, I think things have changed in terms of gender equality in the workplace. However, there’s still deep-seated societal perceptions about jobs and people’s roles that can hinder hiring some brilliant talent.  

In the last two years, long held assumptions about work – where and when it happens – have been challenged. Many businesses completely re-imagined their working practices and saw real benefits in productivity and staff morale. In some cases there was a much wider talent pool to draw on than they’d been tapping into previously.   

So, breaking these perceptions and biases in Scotland’s workplaces gives us the opportunity to be much more innovative, competitive and ambitious. It'll allow us to develop businesses and grow Scotland’s economy in ways we’ve never done before.  

Encouraging team diversity

When I began my career in the voluntary sector (my first job after university), I was one of three women in a training centre of 150 men – my job was to help those men get into full time employment. I don’t remember bias so much as how some of the men would act differently with me when they thought I was a receptionist, when actually I was responsible for getting them a job.

After a year there, we expanded and I became manager which enabled me to hire a far more varied team of people – more women, more minority ethnic groups, and those now would identify as LBGTQ+ which, in the 1990s, no one talked about. In opening the doors to diversity, we gained a whole network of lived experience that informed and enhanced how the team worked.  

One thing that strikes me most in my career is the bias surrounding age. Particularly for young women. A lot of my work has involved responsibility for managing budgets and in the early days, I’d experience perceptions about what young women were – and weren’t – capable of doing.

I’d quite often be in a meeting and the guys would speak to me like they’d speak to their daughters, they wouldn’t have high expectations about what they were going to get. It was great when the penny would drop, and they’d realise I was person who’d say yes or no to the support they needed.  

Changing the conversation

On other occasions, I’d go to a meeting with a man from my team and the other people there (usually older men in their 50s) would focus on him, thinking he was the decision-maker. That happened a lot in the past but even a few years ago, I experienced something similar. I was at a meeting on behalf of Scottish Enterprise and the man beside me insisted on answering questions for me – he didn’t even work for the organisation.  

After a while, even the other men in the meeting started to notice but no one said anything. I had to firmly tell him that we’d make more progress if he just let me speak for myself – that's a confidence thing, being able to challenge situations like that. You need to be comfortable with being direct. It’s not that you’re being aggressive, you’re just asserting your right to be heard as the person who has the best experience and knowledge of the subject in question.  

I think any organisation that’s got more of a gender balance and generally more diversity in its makeup, especially in leadership roles, is tapping into a talent pool that’s so important. I think we’ve still got loads to do but we’ve got a broader range of live experience that we didn’t have before and with that, you have different voices and perspectives driving change. 

A place of worth

One area that I’m very interested in is the type of language we use in the recruitment process. There’s lots of studies that show that the language of a job ad can instantly turn people off applying  – at a glance, your ad can dissuade huge swathes of people from applying.

These days, the younger workforce is driven by a sense of the company’s worth, not in financial terms, but there’s a greater consciousness surrounding the good a company is trying to achieve. They want to be able to imagine themselves in that role, and that’s something we're working hard at.  

My advice to the younger generation – of all genders – is ‘be yourself’. Authenticity stands out by a mile, especially when you’re presenting. I still get a flutter of nerves at big events, but being your true self draws people in and helps them to understand the point you’re trying to get across.” 

Get to know more of our inspiring female leaders

Alyson-Russell Stevenson, Head of Marketing and Engagement

How the pandemic has highlighted the need for flexible working.

Elaine Morrison, Interim Director of Place

Finding your voice and trusting your instincts.

Michelle Kinnaird, Head of Investment Management

How building ecosystems with entrepreneurial diversity boosts productivity.

Ana Gallardo, Team Leader, Entrepreneurial Development

Start-ups, social enterprises and how women are making a difference.

Encourage diversity in your workplace

Be empowered to make your workplace more innovative, productive and profitable by reading our Team Optimisation and Workplace Innovation guidance. You can also use the Fair Work Employer Support Tool to assess your own company's practices. 

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