International Women’s Day at Cedar

On International Women’s Day, it’s time to #Embraceequity

Wednesday, 8th March, is International Women’s Day. This year, its emphasis is on equity, and specifically the need to understand the fundamental difference between equality and equity. As the IWD website explains, equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and therefore it is necessary to allocate specific, tailored resources so that everyone can reach an equal outcome. The illustration here, shows what this means in practice.

It’s great to talk and write about International Women’s Day. And even better to take part in it. However, I believe the most important and true benefit of the day is implementing what it’s all about. A (very slight) majority of the people at Cedar Recruitment are female and, with that in mind (and having only joined Cedar myself in the last 16 months as a graduate), I spoke to three of our female managers. All with varying levels of experience in the company, to canvas their views, understanding their experiences of women in business and how this has evolved over the years…

Georgina Denslow, Director – Finance, has been with Cedar for nearly eight years, while Kirsteen Brannigan-Hughes, Director – Tax, has only been here for two years. On the other hand, Kirsty McBean, Head of Internal Operations, has 16 years’ experience with us. All presented different opinions and ideas, but all are united in their support for women in business and helping overcome the challenges still faced.

There was an interesting difference between the experience of Kirsty compared to Georgina and Kirsteen, but one I think that shows just how things have changed over the years, both at Cedar and in the business environment in which we work. “For me,” Kirsty said, “when I joined Cedar it was very much focused on senior-level recruitment in finance. Unsurprisingly, back then the vast majority of our clients and candidates were men. Cedar reflected that, with only one senior female member of staff and a culture and environment that was suited and booted to fit in with the customers. I came in as this young woman with piercings, which wasn’t quite the normal image for the industry at the time. But things have changed immeasurably since then, especially internally at Cedar.”

Kirsteen came to Cedar from a firm that, as she describes it, was “glossily diverse, but when it came down to it this was just window-dressing for the most part. When I was in negotiation with Howard (the Cedar owner/CEO) about coming here, I was adamant that I wanted to work somewhere that actually practiced diversity and didn’t just tick boxes. He explained that his top-biller was female, his No. 2 was female, for him, the diversity here is not something that is honoured in the breach rather than the observance.”

Interestingly, although Kirsteen has found that this is exactly what we are like, she doesn’t think it’s something that Cedar shouts enough about, telling me, “We are far more diverse than the national averages, which is a big positive for me. Culturally, it’s a great place to work as so many of my colleagues are both different from each other and, crucially, allowed and encouraged to be so. That said, I don’t think we’re quite so good at showing this to the outside world.”

Georgina had a similar experience. After university, she worked in a software services firm, in business development and account management. “I found Cedar a much more comfortable place to work,” she told me, “…with a more all-encompassing approach to individuality. My previous place had a bit of a lads’ culture – very male-orientated – and on my team, there were only ever two or three women at any one time. The only female manager was the HR person. In contrast, at Cedar, I discovered that it was much easier to ask for help and advice without getting weird looks that subliminally said, ‘don’t you know this?’ Here, I feel that you can advance on merit and Howard has always offered massive encouragement to me and everyone else. In particular, I have found that the mentoring and coaching, including leadership courses once I was on that path, were well designed and tailored for me as an individual. Actually, I never saw myself as a manager, but I was encouraged to take the step and I have been able to learn so much from all the female and male managers here that it’s made the transition to running an eight-person team much easier.”

What is it, I then wondered, that makes Cedar different…?

For Kirsteen, one of the keys is that Cedar is prepared to challenge clients on diversity issues. “With many key recruitment markets being difficult nowadays, I find that once you suggest a way of opening up the talent pool people do listen. They have always wanted to hire the best, but whereas in the past Heads of Tax tended to want to recruit someone in their own image that’s changed now. There is an increasing realisation that if they want to hire ambitious, independently-minded people then there is more chance of doing that from a diverse short-list. Clients are also finding that females can be more impressive than men in many ways. However, we have had to work hard over the last decade to get managers to consider options they’d never have thought about previously, like four-day weeks, flexibility around childcare and maternity and genuinely remote working. All these open up the talent pool to a far greater range of individuals, thus seriously improving the chances of a high-quality hire.” 

Kirsty agrees, telling me, “Part of my job is to compile diversity reports for Cedar. We see far more interest in these from clients nowadays. When I joined, we had a debate about whether to record dates of birth for candidates – was this discriminatory or not? Today, the reporting reflects that businesses have opened their eyes to the fact that female talent can be as good or better than male talent and therefore they need policies that help women to succeed.”

For Georgina, International Women’s Day offers a chance to celebrate all this – and more.“While some companies undoubtedly do regard IWD as a box-ticking exercise, for female leaders, yes, it’s a big thing. It shines a light on senior management and makes them have conversations they otherwise might avoid. I’m involved in other areas in the community and business where we are trying to increase women’s presence and representation and there is no doubt that things will continue to change in the future.”

The valuable insights shared by Kirsty, Kirsteen, and Georgina demonstrate the remarkable progress made towards gender equality in the workplace, reflected in the increased opportunities and career advancement for women. Cedar’s success in fostering an inclusive and diverse workforce can be attributed to the dedication of its team and the promotion of female leadership. Everything learned through writing this blog highlights how important days like International Women’s Day are, to celebrate the progress we have made whilst also continuing to create meaningful initiatives.