Forging her own path
A lot of what it will take for women to be considered on equal footing with men in the workplace will have to be done by women themselves, says one of this island’s top female executives.
In fact, Director of Marketing at Digicel Barbados Carolyn Shepherd believes too many women are hindering their own progress towards gender equality on the job.
“I think that if more women stop waiting for opportunities to come to them, and start going out there and looking for opportunities, there will be a lot more equality. That said, I am not saying there isn’t still some things that [need to be changed],” said Shepherd, adding that women need to be part of a social network outside their work environment.
“Women tend to think ‘here I am doing a good job, that should be enough’, and while it should be enough it is not reality.”
International Women’s Day this year is being celebrated under the campaign theme Be Bold For Change, with a focus on Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030.
The aim is to stamp out bias and inequality, campaign against violence, and celebrate women’s achievements and women’s education.
Shepherd’s advice for women is simple: “If there is not an opportunity waiting for you, there is always an opportunity to make your own opportunity.”
Sharing her own experience of how she took on an extra role at one of her previous places of work when the post became vacant, Shepherd said oftentimes that is a good way to climb the ladder of success in the work environment.
“That was my first foray into marketing from a career standpoint. A lot of times people look at opportunities as ‘people are taking advantage of me, this is extra work’, but from that I was able to have on my résumé a number of years in marketing, because I was willing to do that in addition to my substantive role. So you make opportunities and seize opportunities that come to you,” she explained.
“Number two, value your work and input and ensure that people do as well, and not to do so in an abrasive manner but to assert yourself as a leader and a subject matter expert and to not allow others to undermine what you have to offer to the company and world,” Shepherd further advised.
It was about a year ago, while working with CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank as a regional marketing manager, that Shepherd was approached by Digicel to take up her current post.
It was not a hard decision for Shepherd, who from early in her high school days had a strong interest in marketing and advertising, as well as “a great love for numbers”.
At one point she also wanted to become a fashion designer. However, fate would determine differently and she ended up in finance and then marketing.
“I think Digicel is almost a perfect fit for me,” Shepherd told Barbados TODAY.
Describing the company as dynamic, she added that things there were “always changing, upbeat, fresh and fun”, and that type of environment suited her personality.
“I have a pretty eclectic type personality and a hodgepodge of things. I am very classic and conservative, but I do like things to be fun and creative. Creativity is the hallmark of everything I do.”
Shepherd believes that, too often, society and some companies judge professional women by “what their family structure looks like”.
“So, if you’ve got a large family, ‘oh, well, she is going to be busy with her children, she is not going to be able to get her work done’. So I think it’s time we start judging female professionals strictly on merit,” she said.
Shepherd believes, too, there is an urgent need for this island to improve laws governing domestic abuse to better encourage prevention and provide speedier help for victims.
“The legislation in Barbados is not geared enough towards protecting them and ensuring that justice is served in a timely manner. The saying is that justice delayed is justice denied and I think that while women in those situations may have the case go in their favour eventually, the suffering they go through for years in the law courts is still a matter of justice denied,” contended Shepherd.
As it relates to the workplace, she is satisfied that changes in favour of women have been occurring. However, she believes there is still some work to be done, and a lot of that will require the boldness of women themselves.
“The other things that need to happen are actually within the control of women themselves,” Shepherd said.
“So, for example, women are loath to take credit for their work. They think of it as bragging. . . .They don’t want to appear to be conceited or anything of that fashion, but on the flipside, if nobody knows what you have done how can you get the benefits of it?”
She also believes women need to be more assertive both inside and outside the workplace, pointing out that while there was a pay gap in many instances, women tended to feel they were greedy if they asked for what they believed they deserved.
“In fact, sometimes they are approached with opportunities for advancement and they will say ‘I don’t think I am ready for that’,” said Shepherd, adding that women were also often reluctant to accept some tasks without first acquiring all the required skillsets.
“A man will accept it even if the skill gap is 50 per cent. He will say ‘yes, I have the mindset and I know I can do it and I will work on the way’. So women need to have more confidence in their abilities to learn on the way.
“I think in Barbados, boards are still largely made up of mostly men and I think boards in Barbados need to have a stronger female representation,” she added.
On the other hand, Shepherd, whose mother was a secondary school mathematics teacher, told Barbados TODAY there is not a balance of men in the classroom.
On a daily basis, Shepherd is in charge of about six people in her full-service department which overseas public relations, advertising, sponsorship and donations, as well as social media.
And that department is required to work closely with the three main areas of the company – Digicel Business, Digicel Play and Digicel GSM (mobile) – and she quipped that once she tells people she works in the telecommunications sector, she often gets requests for mobile phones or help solving a problem.
Shepherd admitted that it was critical for
her to know almost all the intricate details of some aspects of the operations so she could readily assist people, whether it is giving them advice or pointing them to the right department.
Despite her busy work life, the former Harrison College and University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus graduate finds ample time to spend with her husband and children as well as engage in several hobbies, including poetry, singing, photography, exercising and songwriting.
The St Michael resident, who was involved in several extra-curricular activities while in school, has reaped at least two rewards for her creativity – a gold and a silver medal for her poetry and photography in the annual National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA).
While this top female executive wants more to be done for women in the workplace and society at large, she is cautioning officials not to ignore other groups.
“I feel like there is a lot we need to do to also encourage boys and give them the opportunity. If every organization is focusing on girls, it means that the opportunities that used to be there for boys have dwindled. And so, in any society, we need a balance,” she cautioned.