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100,000 Women Can’t Be Wrong: Using Data Science to Bust Myths About Women at Work

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Meta joined The Female Lead to discuss women’s health and barriers in the workplace...

As co-founder of dunnhumby, the global consumer data giant that first gained prominence with creation of the Tesco Clubcard in 1990s, Edwina Dunn grew her company to 1,500 employees, working with major retailers in 30 countries.

And she still had trouble being heard.

“I’d sit in meetings and make a point and there would be silences from time to time. And then my husband, who was my business partner, would make the same point and everyone would nod,” recalls Dunn. “Why is it that women’s language is still not completely understood when they make a point?”

Dunn is on a mission to find out. As part of Meta’s Intersectional Ally Series, she spoke with Meta Group Director Sophie Neary about how she’s leveraged her deep expertise in consumer data to create The Female Lead, a U.K.-based advocacy and education organization and the role that female executives can play in lifting up the next generation of women leaders.

Working with Dr. Terry Apter, a psychologist and author from Cambridge University, the organization has surveyed more 100,000 to study long-held beliefs still impacting women at work:

  • Women aren't ambitious.

  • Women with kids lose the desire to work.

  • Women don't like taking risks.

  • Women are uncomfortable earning more than their partners.

“These are myths,” says Dunn. “We found in our research that women are strong, they're brave, they're confident, and they're motivated to find their place in work, be successful and be the very best they can be.”

Neary agreed: “We have to recognize that an equal world is one that gives everyone the opportunity to be themselves, according to them, and not according to what society thinks we should look like.”

The Female Lead’s research also finds that women who help other women succeed, find more success for themselves as well. “I think it's part of the precondition, the sense that if you want to keep your job, you have to make sure that there's no one following in your footsteps,” says Dunn. “But we find that the more you invest in helping, or just being respectful of other people, the better your life and your work becomes.”

Dunn’s new book, entitled The Female Lead (Volume 2): We Rise by Lifting Others builds on that finding, featuring interviews with 67 inspiring women, each sharing stories of not only pushing doors open, but holding them open for others to pass through.

“We celebrate how women can achieve the highest level by helping each other and being positive and not fighting with each other,” says Dunn. “All the women we interviewed give examples of how at a time of great difficulty, someone helped them.”

It’s an important lesson for female leaders especially, notes Neary. “I see myself as a female leader. I've worked hard to get to where I've got to. But I also recognize that I’ve had opportunities that other women did not have. I think it's my responsibility for women in the workplace, above me, equal to me, below me, and certainly generations behind me to not only open the door but hold it open.”

And yet, headwinds remain, especially in the form of the mental load that women carry — as in all the behind-the-scenes work and worry needed to keep family life moving smoothly — and the “unentitled mindset,” or the societal pressure pushing back on women at every life stage.

“It's not about women being less,” explains Dunn. “Unentitled mindset is a societal condition in which women are conditioned to take up less space, to feel that they need to make invisible everything from the family concerns and childcare needs to the health issues they deal with, from menstruation to menopause.”

Women’s health is missed, misrepresented and misunderstood in the workplace, notes Neary. “One in 4 women have a miscarriage, while one in seven will have fertility challenges. That's more common than breast cancer or diabetes, but we never ever talk about it. I say this in a lighthearted way, but imagine how different the workplace would be if men had chronic period pains every single month for their entire careers?”

Keeping such pressures hidden means leaders crafting workplace policies, schedules or promotion plans aren’t forced to think about them and opacity remains as stubborn as ever, making it harder and harder for women to navigate opportunities as they progress in their careers.

“They’re willing to take on big jobs and willing to take risks, but they walk that line between reward and risk,” says Dunn. “It's not that they feel less excited or don't want to take the role. It's that they're thinking, ‘What are the consequences? What will I have to do in my life to offset the cost of this new role?’ We want to make organizations start to understand these hidden conditions.”

But women can’t do it alone, stresses Dunn, noting that men must be part of the conversation as well.

“Women often talk about learning how to be more confident or learning how to communicate. But maybe men need to learn how to listen and hear the language that women offer up. I think we want men and women to be in the conversation equally. And that means adjusting our ear to how both sexes talk and communicate.”

Which makes research into these sometimes sensitive and intimidating issues so important.

“If it's a subject we're feeling nervous about, we can let the facts speak for themselves,” says Neary. “I want every woman to feel that she can be armed and equipped with the knowledge to make the change. Because it's not about feelings. It's about fairness.”

Hear more from Edwin Dunn at our Meta’s Intersectional Ally Series, recorded in conversation with Sophie Neary, Director of U.K. and Ireland for Meta, for Women’s History Month here:

Written by Facebook's Jennifer Owens


At The Female Lead, we want to make sure every child has access to positive female role models. If you want to read and share the stories of 67 remarkable women from around the world, you can purchase our NEW BOOK, or nominate a school to receive a copy for free.


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