Rachel Pendered reflects on breaking the bias this International Women’s Day

In honour of International Women’s Day and its official theme #BreakTheBias, Business Leader asked Rachel Pendered, Co-Founder and Managing Director of creative comms agency Media Zoo, what it means to break the bias as a woman in business today. This is how Rachel chooses to #BreakTheBias…

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias, encouraging all of us to spend time having conversations and taking action to challenge and stop gender stereotypes, discrimination and bias. I am proud to be a woman in business and believe that by closing the entrepreneurial gender gap and igniting female ambition, we can create a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world free of bias where difference is valued and celebrated.

Breaking the bias is for me, empowering on so many levels, but I didn’t always feel like that. At the start of my career, I was afraid to speak up for myself, to challenge others, to fail. I had just left my job working as a journalist at the BBC to set up a creative agency, a venture totally out of my comfort zone and terrifying to say the least. I compared myself to others, wishing I was as confident and unyielding as the men in the boardroom seemingly were, which left me feeling more nervous and alone. I doubted my seat at the table to the point where I was tired of feeling inadequate and worrying about how to best fit in, it was time to start living for me.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given is ‘no one is you, and that is precisely your power’. This helped me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to make meaningful business decisions and raise capital for my company, Media Zoo. The more you step into who you really are, the easier it is for others to see you as that person, and that is something I remind myself of every single day.

More and more women in leadership positions are now feeling empowered to break the bias, to fight against stereotypes and set their own expectations for what it means to be a woman in business.

Initiatives such as Creative England’s Female Founders Scale Up programme are doing amazing work to support female founders and I was grateful for the opportunity to mentor their cohort. I truly believe in the idea that, ‘if you can see her, you can be her’. Three in four UK women can’t name a successful female entrepreneur, and without role models to aspire to it can be harder for women to see a career in business as a possibility for them.

By increasing the visibility of female entrepreneurship, we can break the stereotype that men are more valuable leaders and close the entrepreneurial gender gap, which is why I encourage every woman to shout about their success and lift other women up.

The environment is changing

The environment for women is improving with greater representation at more senior levels, however cultural change does not occur overnight and we have a long way to go yet. It still astonishes me that in 2022, almost nine in ten asset managers admit their default investment customer is a man and that just 28% of women feel confident investing their money. Pressure needs to be placed on governments, companies and investors to enable equal opportunities and access to capital.

As a successful founder, I really feel that a major reason for my company’s success has been our intentionally diverse team that reflects who we are and what we aspire to be. Our teams led by remarkable female film directors and executives have created some amazing campaigns around incredibly important issues such as Black Lives Matters, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility, and a campaign to encourage schoolgirls to widen their horizons when they think about their future career.

With our help, the campaign is now a fully funded national program available to every 16-year-old girl in the UK. Using creativity as a force for good and not shying away from sensitive topics has helped us to foster an inclusive environment where difference is celebrated and when your people thrive, as does your company.

I recently watched an amazing film we created for a client on unconscious bias. The film was so powerful because the brave women and men who were filmed allowed themselves to be openly vulnerable and own instances when they had been unconsciously biased towards individuals. It challenged me to address times when I have made assumptions myself, we are all capable of thinking in this way. In any instance where I have witnessed any form of bias within my own company, I have made sure that we work with the individuals on a deeper level, practising empathy to allow for understanding, growth and unity.

The film also made me reflect on the unconscious bias I have been on the receiving end of for years as a female entrepreneur. There are moments where I have been negatively affected by the criticism I have received for being ‘too emotional’ or ‘too ambitious’, but why on earth should either of these be perceived as negative? I am so passionate about changing this mindset for young girls today and spreading the message that women shouldn’t have to dim their light to be taken seriously.

My experience of breaking the bias is, of course, one of many. I am so inspired by the incredible women I have met throughout my career, many of whom don’t experience the same privileges I do as a white woman. I commit to using my voice to stand up against any form of discrimination and help ensure improved life chances for ALL women.

We need the support of everyone, including male allies, to call out bias and discrimination when they see it and create more equal boardroom representation, gender balance in public decision-making bodies and a future where girls can grow up without bias. This will ensure girls truly believe that achieving their goals is possible and become the next generation of female entrepreneurs.