Why we’re choosing to challenge

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Date Published


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3 mins read


Joanna Brown & Gillian Channer

As we approach International Women’s Day in March, one thing is depressingly clear.

Too much of the progress we have made around equality and diversity has proven vulnerable to the pain of the pandemic. It leaves us with too many questions.

How do we repair the state of female employment and employability? How is the language we use and the stories we tell about ourselves defining us? Why is it that we are still having to talk about how we get more women and girls into STEM careers, more than 40 years after we first started discussing this? If we had more diverse leadership, what would the effect be on our society, our economy, our workplaces?

If the pandemic is a moment of great opportunity to reset our way of thinking, of living, of working – then we have to come up with better answers. We have to ask a wider group of people.

There is a huge irony that despite the academic achievement of girls at every level (from primary to higher they outperform boys in all subjects), it is still an effort to get girls to consider taking STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects beyond GCSE. In fact, while girls are likely to drop out before A level due to what they see as a lack of ability, boys with worse grades will continue to pursue those subjects. And it matters. It matters because we can’t have half the population excluded from the way we design, develop and deploy technology. It was a female scientist who led the team that developed the world’s first Coronavirus vaccine, proof if it were needed of the value women can bring in science and our ability to succeed, thrive and survive.

But the message isn’t getting through – in studies that asked children to draw a maths teacher, a politician, an engineer or a scientist, over 75% drew a man.  And while we have seen huge progress in the number of women working in engineering (up 50% in a decade), sadly only 16% of STEM careers more widely are occupied by women and that hasn’t changed since 2009. This isn’t limited to STEM careers - there are more men called John currently in leadership roles in the FTSE 100 than women in the same position. The pandemic has seen more women lose their jobs; more women pushed back into poverty; more women drop out of higher and further education.

This leaves a gap in how we innovate. It means that airbags in cars are designed for and tested on a male frame – and so when they deploy, women die. It means that heart medication developments do not take into account female physiology. It means that offices are heated to male comfort levels, not women’s. it means government policy doesn’t reflect some of the realities of what it takes to keep women (and therefore often children) in work, in education and out of poverty. It means we designing and running a world for only 50% of the population.

We don’t want to paint too bleak a picture – we are making progress. But we don’t have another 50 years to wait to get those numbers up to parity.

Events like International Women’s Day are part of that drive – to offer role models, to inspire, to boost confidence and belief, to show the impact and difference we can make across the board. To include more voices and more ideas.

And I am delighted that at Capita we will continue that conversation at our own International Women’s Day event on 4th March. The theme is ‘Choose to challenge’, so one of the things we will be challenging is why this debate is still raging four decades after it started? And we will look more widely at what happens when equality and diversity is something we embed, and not something we pay lip service to.

Please join us as we #ChallengeToChange

Written by

Joanna Brown - Capita

Joanna Brown

Divisional Marketing Director, Capita Consulting

Joanna joined Capita in 2019 after spending over 20 years in both Consulting and then Marketing at Accenture. She is now leading the marketing for Capita Consulting. Joanna combines the skills she acquired working as a consultant with core strategic marketing experience.

Gillian Channer - Capita

Gillian Channer

Chief Product Officer

Gillian is Chief Product Officer for the Software Division at Capita and a qualified Executive Coach with extensive experience in information technology leading organisational change programmes. This is underpinned by a passion to develop individuals and teams to achieve their potential using advanced coaching and behavioural change approaches, and leading programmes to help nurture tomorrow’s leaders.

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