Though International Women's Day 2022 is behind us, highlighting exceptional women remains a top priority. For this reason, Arts Help is continuing the momentum of International Women's Day with a series of interviews showcasing a selection of women from our creative community who have spoken to us about their experiences in their respective fields.
As co-founder of Talenthouse, a platform founded on the empowerment of creatives around the world, Maya Bogle has dedicated her career to uplifting others. With over two decades of experience under her belt, Bogle has worked diligently to foster a safe and inclusive workplace culture, acting as an example of how women in positions of power can create a more welcoming environment not just for women, but for all genders.
In the following interview, Bogle offers her unique insights on gender equality and shares concrete steps that we can take to achieve gender parity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in your field.
I did a degree in Social Psychology, but like a lot of graduates I didn’t necessarily want to follow the path of what I’d studied, which would have meant practicing psychology. Back in the day, believe it or not, being able to type and take down shorthand was a huge advantage, which seems ridiculous now, because everyone today knows how to use a keyboard — back then they didn’t.
My very first job straight out of university was temping at an advertising agency. I then went on to work for one of London’s premium radio stations called Capital Radio, then went on to work in satellite television, but always within loosely within the terms of commercial marketing and attached to the advertising industry. I’m sort of part of the advertising industry, but I’m not a creative myself. My core skills are really around commercial partnerships, sales and communications.
How have things changed for women in your field since you began your career?
I think things have changed enormously. Back when I graduated in 1984, a lot of women, quite frankly, did go into secretarial type roles, and there really was not a lot of women in C-suite positions. It was very unusual to get a chief woman of anything, whether it was a chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief technology officer, and I’m so pleased to say that at Talenthouse, we filled those three roles with women, which is incredible. We’ve got a very, very strong female leadership team. So things, I do feel, have changed enormously.
There are far more women in far more areas of seniority. I do think that things are much easier in some respects because of the digital explosion across all different channels, particularly within the creative industries. One of the things that digital has allowed for is the showcasing of work without necessarily having to showcase your face and the source of that work, which means that it's more of a meritocracy — to allow the work to be seen first before the author of the work. I know that the two shouldn’t be separated, but traditionally sometimes it happens that people will judge work on the basis of who they think has created that work.
Sadly, I also think that digital has put a shared amount of pressure on everyone, men and women alike, in terms of social pressure. I think all of us have felt the pains around social exclusion at times or the need to post, the need to be out on social channels. I think in many ways a lot of that pressure has created issues for everyone, regardless of gender.
How does being a woman help to contribute to your field?
I think that traditionally, a lot of women, particularly mums like myself (I'm enormously proud of my two children who are now 30 and 28) have a sense of nurture. Maybe that sense of empathy and compassion, which should not be limited to women at all but that I do think is often more present in women, has allowed for warmer cultures within companies, creating more of a dialogue rather than a monologue.
Particularly back in the day, there were companies quite guilty of having male leaders with a "it's my way or the highway" mentality. I think a lot of it was done almost by fear. Not necessarily by shouting or aggression, but that sort of autocratic way of running things. I do feel that having more women at the table allows for more discussion. Lot’s of men accuse women of talking too much, but I think when running a company, that does allow for dialogue. You can listen to your team, you can listen to your customers, you can listen to yourself.
I think that warmth is an incredible quality to bring into running a company. What's been wonderful to see is that a lot of female-led companies are now doing really well, and a lot of investors are turning to female-led companies to look at how they’re actually turning that into profitability as well. That warmth and listening and ability to understand their consumers is allowing them to get ahead in their field, which is awesome!
What actions can men take to champion women in the field?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if men could look at each other and look at women without that gender bias? Trying to break that bias is a real issue, because a lot of it has been instilled into us, consciously or unconsciously, from a very young age. Terms like "man up" or "like a girl" and these sort of innate expressions are woven into our psyche. I think for men, a lot of it is to step back and really question yourself. Look at how you’re talking to your colleagues. Look at the examples that you are leading with. Don't go over the top and just do blanket tokenism or badging — it’s a bit like pride, slapping a rainbow on your logo for just one week.
International Women’s Day shouldn't be about one day, about one week. Nor should pride, nor should World Peace Day, nor should any day. Ideally, we’ll get to a point where we can look at people based on their ability. We can actually turn the world into more of a meritocracy as well as a democracy where we let the best people be in the best roles. And if that best person is a man, perhaps he should have the role. At the same time, do not discount someone, or for crying out loud pay them less, to do the same role just because they’re a woman.
Another piece that I think is quite important is paternity leave. I feel for a lot of women who gave up work for a period of time to have children who then find it super difficult to have the self-belief and confidence and courage to break back into that work environment. A lot of what men could do would be to ensure that they have got those structures within their working framework to allow women and men to take time out to be with their young children, as well as to welcome them back and not to penalize them. I really do believe, and I’ve seen it time and time again, that there is such extraordinary resource and capability within women who have stopped work for a period of time.
We’ve got to get balance. We should be able to embrace people regardless of their age, their sexuality, their ethnicity, their faith, their location, their education, their economic background. We should allow the best people and the best work to surface and build the best environment, as we’ve done at Talenthouse. That’s still something that gives me fire in my belly and makes me proud of what we do everyday.
What does helping other women in your field look like?
I really take great joy in mentoring as much as I can, particularly those young women who are just moving into their first careers as well as those who are returning or wanting to return to work and are slightly older with children. For me, that is about giving them the courage and the confidence and the time to listen to any fears that they’ve got, to try to overcome them, but also to instill into them, dare I say, some old fashioned principles and ideas, too.
I sometimes think that a lot of women think that they’ve got to "behave like a man" to get ahead, and they’ve got to swear and shout and be aggressive or undermine other women, because they’ve been undermined themselves and have seen this practice themselves and think: well that’s what guys do, and they’re ahead so I need to behave like that.
I would encourage women to not behave like that. I’d say no, take pride in being a woman. Enjoy the fact that you’ve got these incredibly nurturing and empathetic skills alongside brilliance, business acumen, passion and drive. Embrace them all together, and don’t be afraid of being kind. Don’t be afraid of listening to other women and men within your team. Don’t be afraid of shaking hands and smiling and saying thank you. Some of those wonderful old fashioned habits have almost been eroded through digital media. Get off the technology sometimes and look at each other as human beings, engage with each other as human beings, and listen to each other.
What steps can we take moving forward to achieve gender equality, both in your field and beyond?
I think and I hope that we get to a point in the future where we never even have to have this conversation, where there is a wonderful sense of embracing everyone, regardless of colour, faith, gender, sexuality, and so on, because it’s not just about being male and female. I would hope that we can get to a place where people are just more open and can actually accept people for who they are.
In terms of practical things, I think fair pay is really key. I don’t think there should be any pay gap dependent on what your gender is — it should be for the job that you’re doing. There should be, again, better equality for men and women around paternity and maternity leave. I don’t think there should be any discrimination against women who want to return to work after they’ve had a child, so we need to make sure that we have got that support and additional training — not just the practical skills, but also the emotional and psychological support.
I think also we should try to eradicate some of these unconscious biases in languages and phrases. Things like "grow a set", "be a man", or "don’t be like a girl" — we could think about what those expressions really mean and how subconsciously they’re really chipping away at the valuation of a woman versus a man.
Practically, there’s a lot that leaders can do. I think it shouldn't just be about employing a woman of colour or of a different sexuality because she is that, it's about giving her the steps to become the right person for that job. Let’s stop the tokenism, let's stop the badging, let's really make this stuff real and give people the tools to actually get ahead.
To read more about Arts Help's International Women's Day initiative in partnership with The Global Goals, click here.