Some of us Uprise ladies attended a Google event called Womenwill in May – and we absolutely loved it!

This full day workshop is a development training course organised for Google Partners. Google engaged the lovely Sarah Liu from The Dream Collective to run the workshop. Sarah took us through a variety of topics related to women in leadership, some of which we’re going to touch on in this blog. Overall, the day was totally inspiring – all of us left with a new sense of confidence and empowerment.

While we most definitely can’t give the workshop the full justice it deserves in this blog post, there’s no harm in trying! Here are some of our favourite take-aways from Womenwill 2019.

A bit of context: Where are we at today?

Sarah kicked the day off by providing context around trends for gender disparity in the workplace, globally and in New Zealand specifically.

Workplace participation for women has surged globally in the last 40 years. In New Zealand specifically, our workplace participation has peaked in 2019 at 68.7% for women and 69.8% for men – so pretty similar. In comparison to the rest of the world, we’re ahead of the game – with the global average being 48.5% of participation among women, and 75% for men. Go NZ!

When it comes to the wage gap between women and men, this is improving but there’s still a way to go. Currently, the OECD average shows that around the globe, the mean wage gap is 15%.  In New Zealand, the gender pay gap currently sits at 9.4% (in terms of median hourly earnings).

We also discussed the topic of women in today’s boardrooms, and particularly the Lean & Mckinsey study.  The pyramid below depicts 2018 data, where we can see that as we move up the pyramid in terms of seniority, women become more and more under-represented, especially women of colour.

We know that having more diverse leadership teams equates to better decision making, and on average higher profits for the company – however this data shows that we still have far to go in terms of hiring, promoting and retaining entry-and-manager level employees. We’ll talk through this more later!

Unconscious Bias In The Workplace

Before the session, everyone was asked to complete the Harvard University Implicit Association Test (IAT) to identify our unconscious biases – specific to associating a female with family and a male with career. We also encouraged the rest of Uprise to take the test – and everyone was surprised with their results! If you want to take the test yourself, click the link above and it’s the Gender-Career IAT test.

According to Harvard studies, some 32% of respondents showed a moderate automatic association of male with career and female with family. And 24% showed a strong automatic association.

Unconscious Bias is an unaware and automatic assumption about a category of people based on our background. Bias may exist based on many factors, with some examples being race, age, religion, sexual orientation, weight, height, and gender. It dates back to cave-person days – where being able to rapidly discern friend from foe was a key requirement for survival.

An example of Unconscious Bias

An example of where Unconscious Bias was determined to be an issue was in the United States Orchestras. In the 1970s, the top 5 US Orchestras were made up of less than 5% of women artists.

Skip forward to today, orchestras are now made up of over 30% female. The Orchestra size remained constant and roles/positions remained constant. So what changed?

The Orchestras began blind auditioning.

From making that one change to their recruitment process (after becoming aware of their unconscious bias), they were able to make some serious change.

In terms of gender bias in the workplace, there are four key pillars:

  • Likeability Bias – The expectation of men to be assertive, and women to be kind and communal. So when a female asserts themselves, they may be liked less by their peers/colleagues.
  • Performance Attribution Bias – this is closely linked to performance bias – whereby as a woman’s performance is often underestimated; they are more likely given less credit for accomplishments and blamed for mistakes.
  • Maternal Bias – the role of motherhood often triggers false assumptions that females are less committed and competent when it comes to their careers.
  • Performance Evaluation Bias – the act of underestimating a woman’s performance and overestimating a males performance.

As you can see above, gender bias in the workplace can be incredibly detrimental if it isn’t addressed front on. Businesses today need to assess the level of gender bias within their workplace, and put steps in place to reduce it.

Ways to reduce and eliminate Unconscious Bias in the workplace:

So what can be done? We can weave our knowledge about gender bias through every level of our businesses. From recruitment and hiring, performance reviews and general day-to-day support for staff.

Here are some starters for 10:

  • Review your recruitment documentation and assess for bias – you can use this gender decoder tool to see how “gender coded” your job ad might be!
  • Anonymise CVs and use blind evaluation processes where possible.
  • Have a clear process and structure for performance reviews that relies on logic.
  • Diversify your board/C-Suite (and ensure you’re actively encouraging both women and men to progress in their careers)
  • Talk about it!

Becoming aware of the prevalence of unconscious bias in the session was fantastic, and being able to go back to Uprise and make more people aware of it was even better. Remember: unconscious bias means someone might not even know they’re doing it, so it generally won’t be coming from a malicious place. Always be open to change and take feedback on board if someone raises an issue with you.  

While we’re a closely knit team and there are no gender pay gaps at Uprise, we’re excited to see what changes we can make within our own company off the back of these learnings!

Managing & Leading

Armed with a wider understanding of gender bias at a societal level, we shifted our focus to an organisational level. During this section, we explored systemic barriers in the workplace and came up with ways to foster a safe, inclusive working environment.

More and more studies have revealed the challenges women face in the office, compared to men, extend well beyond pay differences. From the way job descriptions are written, to how staff are scheduled, it’s clear there’s still some work to be done to better gender equality at work.

So, what can we do to turn the tide of gender bias in the office? During this part of the conference, we learnt how to break down systemic barriers within our own organisations.

So, what are systemic barriers?

Systemic barriers are patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organisation, which have an exclusionary impact on certain groups and therefore create or perpetuate (whether intentionally or unintentionally) a position of relative disadvantage for those groups.

Systemic barriers can show up in a number of different workplace processes, including the way we hire, promote, schedule and train our staff. They’re likely to be subtle in nature, such as masculine language in a job description or meetings being scheduled during school pick up time.

How do we tackle systemic barriers in the workplace?

When it comes to addressing the systemic barriers, it pays to sweat the small stuff. Leadership and operational teams need to review all internal processes for signs of implicit bias. Is job advancement criteria articulated clearly, using gender neutral language? Are female leaders being perceived negatively when taking the same action as a male leader? Is your office temperature based on the average male comfort level?

Companies need to go beyond establishing fair maternity policies or adding ‘diversity’ to the agenda of a yearly company all-in meeting. Changes need to be led from the top. When the senior management team commits to reduce the daily challenges and help women feel more comfortable with the idea of their leadership, that’s when a culture can change.

Leaders can correct peers when they’ve made gender assumptions about their female colleagues. They can challenge their management teams to revisit performance reviews to determine if they’ve rated female staff unfairly.

Organisations should have a clear, communicated strategy for gender equality, including ongoing awareness raising and company wide diversity training. It’s important to engage men in diversity training, too – as we alluded to earlier, gender inequality is often a blindspot, due to our unconscious bias.

Successful leadership is not gender based

There’s no doubt about it – when a leadership team is made up of a diverse group of people, who all hail from different backgrounds, better decisions are made. Diversity at a management level has a positive knock on effect for problem solving, creativity, innovation and even financial results. Broader, more diverse thinking for the win!

During the conference, we explored the ways in which female leaders can bring value to the board room. Women tend to place a high value on cooperation and collaboration. Female CEOs often invest heavily in the coaching, mentoring and training of their team. Emotional literacy is a female leader’s superpower.

And we’re ambitious, too. When women in the advertising and marketing sector were asked: “do you feel the need to be a leader?” 87% of women said yes, versus 78% of men. This was certainly the case for the conference attendees – the room was filled with emerging female leaders, who are ready to shake things up in the digital advertising industry!

Being & Doing

We were introduced to the next section of our day with a panel of speakers from Google New Zealand and McCready Bale Media. Caroline Rainsford – Country Director at Google NZ, Craig Whitaker – Platforms Industry Manager at Google NZ, and Emily Isle – Head of Digital at MBM, joined us to talk about how they navigated their own careers.

The speakers came from different backgrounds but all highlighted one key point, run hard at what you love. If you take the time to look at your life and work experience, you can begin to see trends of what you excel at and genuinely enjoy  doing.  Go big, be bold, and be uncomfortable to form your own path.

Consider the categories of the chart above and split your work four ways. Once you know what direction you want your career to head in, have a discussion with mentors, managers, and sponsors. If they know what you love and where you thrive, they can help to shift your career in that direction to keep you more inspired at work.

Part of being your best means experiencing diversity. Surround yourself with people who think, act, and learn differently to you. A good company will fill their roles with great humans who fit their internal culture and bring their own unique strengths. As employees and organisations, we should want to be cultivated and challenged.

At the end of the panel session, one of the attendees asked how the panel speakers felt about hiring someone who had taken time off to travel or start a family. The asker was concerned that because the digital landscape changes so fast they might get left behind in their career.

The panel had a surprising response! All three had taken time off at different points, whether to make a change, start a family, or travel. Caroline Rainsford from Google NZ stated she actively hires people who are on leave or are returning to the workforce. She said a break in someone’s career is not wasted time, it’s an update. They’ve gone away and actively worked on themselves and are not coming into the role burnt out. Instead these people are often excited, creative, and ready to jump in to something new. Plus, because our industry and the platforms are always changing everyone is a bit behind, but our history in digital means we’re adaptable to these new situations.

Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication

Communication is a key skill in most roles. Having the ability to understand where someone else is coming from and communicate your thoughts and ideas in return is a key ingredient to success.

In our fast paced world, non-verbal communication is judged in as little as one second by others, but it’s also impacting our own view of ourselves.

We focus on non-verbal expressions of power and dominance. We tend to compliment each other, so if someone is being powerful and open we won’t match that, we’ll typically be more closed and subservient. Studies show women are much more likely to close off and take smaller poses than men, based on chronic feelings of disempowerment.

93% of communication is non-verbal, which shows the power body language and tone of voice can have when communicating.

While language and tone are important, our body language can change our mindset as well. Changes in how we see ourselves and how we use our bodies can increase our testosterone which is the dominance hormone and drop our cortisol levels (stress). So next time you’re heading into a meeting you’re a bit nervous about, adopt the “power pose” – standing/sitting in a position of confidence, even if we don’t feel it.

When people come from a high power pose they are bringing their true selves without a residue of feeling powerless or unvalued. Fake it until you become it.

Tiny tweaks  – big changes.

Here’s a great video from TEDGlobal discussing the power of body language on confidence.

Examining our verbal communication can greatly increase our happiness when entering into everyday and courageous conversations at work.

Women often take pride in being multitaskers at home and work. While being productive and able to conquer many problems is a skill, saying ‘yes’ too often leads to becoming overworked and feeling under-appreciated. If you want to take control of your workload and time, consider finding the courage to say no and protect your time and your goals. Set boundaries and find balance by using one of these techniques for saying no:

  • Hold off on accepting a new responsibility until you have greater clarity from whoever is asking for help
  • Use radical honesty in your answer “I wish I could do this, but I can’t because…” Whether your missing the time, skills, or information you need to do the work, protect yourself from the headache of accepting something you can’t do at the moment
  • If you do want to accept the task but it will jeopardise your work, consider saying “Yes, but…” Provide details on what you will have to put off in order to do their task first. If the asker understands what their task compromises, they might change their timeline or request.

When preparing for courageous conversations in a performance review or interview, don’t allow yourself to succumb to unconscious biases. We learned about Performance Attribution & Evaluation Biases earlier in the day, but it turns out these may be affecting how we think about ourselves too.

Performance attribution bias may appear when we are praised for great work and choose to deflect it. In an effort to appear humble and share our praise with our team, you may be making it more difficult for a manager to see the awesome work you actually did. Next time you receive a pat on the back for good work, own it! Claim that praise for yourself and express your worth to your manager and company.

Performance evaluation bias can manifest from inside too. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the criteria, but women apply only if they meet 90% of criteria. The statistic comes from a Hewlett Packard study, and has been quoted in many books and articles. If we don’t believe our skills are enough to apply for more senior opportunities, we’re eliminating ourselves from taking on more leadership positions. So when looking for a new job, push yourself to apply something, even if you think you may be underqualified. It’s likely the men who have applied aren’t more qualified than you.

Performance evaluation bias comes through in our verbal communication too. The words we use to describe men in a positive manner like “assertive”, “passionate” and “ambitious” can translate to negatives when used for a woman. Instead of being “assertive” we’re bitchy, instead of “passionate” we’re emotional, and instead of “ambitious” we’re bossy. If we’re considerate and aware of our biases with these words we can use them purposefully to empower and progress a woman’s career and reputation instead of damaging it.

Networking, Mentors & Sponsors

One of the final sections that was touched on was Networking. This was a really interesting section, which highlighted the importance of putting yourself out there and always building new connections.

There are many benefits that come from networking; confidence, advice, opportunities and building a reputation were some we discussed.  


Some key points mentioned in regards to networking were:

  • Networking is a key skill, but it takes practice
  • Practice your introduction and your follow up
  • Treat every networking opportunity as a chance to learn and get better
  • Focus on the relationship, not the transaction
  • If in a social situation, give it your full attention

To summarise: start networking if you haven’t already! It will get easier each time you do it, and you never know what opportunities could be waiting just around the corner. Perhaps you could attend an industry meet up, or connect with someone on LinkedIn and organise a coffee. Put yourself out there and be uncomfortable.

Use your networking skills: Mentors & Sponsors

Mentors and sponsors are people we need to build connections with in order to help us achieve our career goals. A lot of businesses have internal programs set up to facilitate this kind of networking, but even if yours doesn’t, it’s easy to get started yourself.

It’s important that we all have mentors and sponsors, given they serve a different purpose.  So, what are mentors and sponsors?

mentor is like a career counsellor and provider of advice; someone who talks with you. They’re generally in the same industry as you, but working for a different company. In saying that, you could aim to have a variety of mentors – some who understands your industry, and another who has a different perspective.

sponsor is someone who will advocate for you; someone who talks about you. This person is typically working for the same organisation as you and holds a position of seniority and influence. They will go out on a limb for you and can open the door to a new role within your organisation – championing your career growth.

Only 42% of women feel comfortable attracting the attention of a sponsor and are 50% less likely to have a sponsor than men. So ladies, start making a list of potential mentors and sponsors and get networking!

Own your personal brand

Sarah also talked about maximising career growth in relation to your “personal brand” – a new concept to many of us!

Establishing and growing a strong personal brand is key in helping us achieve our career goals. This personal brand is made up of three different factors; performance, image and exposure. Interestingly, many of us assumed performance is the most important factor in success, but it’s actually a different picture:

Essentially, the higher you go in your career, the more performance becomes an entry level criteria and image becomes more crucial. And on top of that, exposure is even more important – hence the importance of networking!

Each of us took something special away from Womenwill. We’re stoked to work at a company that values every single employee – women and men alike. If you get the opportunity to attend Womenwill, or a similar workshop, do it! Connecting with a bunch of incredible Wahine on such an important and pertinent topic was so valuable.

Go get em, girls!




Jordan Malthus, Maddison Treadwell, Blair Kemp & Phoebe Prescott
June 18 2019