‘I can be a mother and a businesswoman’
Georgina Currall is the marketing director of the fast-growing, Liverpool-based Verb Marketing and here talks about her experience of being a mother and a successful woman in business
Based in Liverpool city centre, Verb’s workforce has an almost even 50/50 gender split and Gina, who is also mum to a 17-month-old son, says she feels it is an important part of her role to create opportunities for other women.
She explained: “55% of our management team are women. We constantly strive to create opportunities for women to grow and thrive both in the agency and for their own professional development.
Over the years, Gina has experienced first-hand the gender bias and sexism in the business world. This has been a driving factor behind the culture of inclusivity she has developed within Verb, and the positive changes she is continuing to make.
In this interview, she provides some interesting insights into what it’s like to be a female business leader and the way women in powerful positions are treated in comparison to their male counterparts.
What drives your approach?
“I’m proud Verb is such a strong supporter of women of all ages. My husband Dean is from a family of strong women too. Women with big personalities, women who aren’t afraid to speak their opinions and are quite encouraging of other women.
“So, he naturally has that in him, which along with my own drivers has helped create a business culture like the one we have. I’ve personally known directors who select their workforce based on ‘issues’ that come with being a woman, such as emotion or the possibility they may want maternity-leave based on their age, this is obviously based on gender stereotypes.
“I’ve even known it to be used the other way, you know, ‘she’s a woman, she’ll be organised’. That can’t be assumed, some women are very organised, but so are some men. Point being that, gender bias does not exist here, we look at people for their personality and skills, rather than gender.”
What’s your opinion on gender bias in marketing?
“Historically, the marketing industry was a young, male-dominated industry. I believe times are changing because we’re seeing more and more female marketers coming through. But I think gender bias does still exist across other sectors.
“This is why it’s so important to me that we continue to create a culture of inclusivity at Verb, and a business that champions and celebrates strong women. When we started Verb, one of my goals was to have an equal workforce and to create opportunities for women to thrive.
“We’ve achieved that, so our next step is not only to maintain the level we’re at but also to help and support the women here to develop in their careers and to give them the platform to have their voices, their ideas, their opinions heard.”
Tell us about some of your experiences over the years?
“Oh god, so many. Events where old men would tap my bum, or being made to sell raffle tickets just because I was the only woman in the room. Honestly, it was like I was some kind of showpiece myself. Or just loads of general leary or sexist comments, particularly when we were dealing with companies in very male-dominated sectors, such as manufacturing.
“Some of these men are very confident in their own opinions and think that because they are from a world where these things have always been said over years and years, that their opinions are the norm.
“They don’t realise that these things are just not ok. Not that they ever were ok, but they were often accepted. I occasionally found this to still be the case for our leadership lunches. The odd sexist joke would be made by some guests, where the perpetrator would look at me ‘knowingly’ as if I agreed with or understood their remark.”
Do you think you get treated differently to Dean professionally?
“Yes, definitely. I used to go into a lot of sales meetings with Dean for the first two to three years, where people would regularly ignore me and speak to Dean. They’d shake his hand but not mine.
And something that would happen extremely regularly… if we were all talking and I asked a question, their answer would be directed to Dean, as if he had asked the question. In the past, I’ve found that, if Dean said something, it got done with urgency. Whereas things I requested would limp on and on until I kicked up a fuss about it taking time.
“And even then, it would be met with the clear notion that the person in question thought I was ‘nagging’. There’s been instances where I have said an idea, been ignored, then Dean’s reiterated my point and suddenly it’s the best idea they’ve ever heard of.
People also see Dean as being a passionate or tenacious leader when he drives the same points home over and over. But when I do it people again just think I’m banging on. Now, because of the culture, we have worked so hard to develop, both internally and with our clients, these instances are becoming less and less.”
How do you view gendered terms and stereotypes?
“‘Nagging’ is such a derogatory term for women and one that is rarely used to describe a man. There are so many examples of these gendered terms or stereotypes which are placed on women.
“For example, the term ‘bossy’ is often used to describe women who tell people what to do. If a man was to do the same thing, it’d just be seen as giving direction, being assertive and accepted as him being a leader.
“In so many other languages, such as French, there are feminine and masculine words for loads of different objects – we don’t have that in the English language.
“But we definitely have words that are used for men and words that are used for women such as nagging, petite, graceful, bossy… even in the Oxford dictionary ‘nagging’ used to be followed by the example phrase of a ‘nagging wife’”
How can businesses ensure women’s voices are heard?
I’ve never been a particularly loud person, especially when I was younger. I don’t necessarily command a room, and that’s fine. I’m happy being that way, but there should just be a forum so women’s input is heard. You shouldn’t have to have a booming voice for people to listen.
“This is something that many females may have felt. Some women just are more softly spoken than men. Many men do just have louder, deeper voices. But this doesn’t mean women know less or don’t deserve the same amount of respect.
How do you balance being a businesswoman and a mother?
“For women in business, the decision to have a child can be a difficult one. Women are so often unfairly discriminated against for having children, whilst men can have as many children as they want without it having the same effect. Men don’t have to choose between a career and becoming a father in the same way women do.
“I want it to be clear to employers who make recruitment decisions based on gender, that their perceptions are wrong. There are many women out there who do not want to be a stay-at-home mum and who want to get back to their careers.
“There shouldn’t be the option of one or the other, you can have both. I can be a mum and be a businesswoman. There may be some changes that have to be made, for example, I now work four days a week as I want Friday to be a family day. But that doesn’t mean I am not doing my job properly, it just means I work even harder the days that I do work.
“For women who do want to be a stay-at-home mum, that’s ok. For women that want to return to work, that’s ok too. It’s your prerogative and it’s about giving women the freedom to choose.
“It’s so important to have equal opportunities in the workplace. I don’t want the women that work here to feel as though they have to choose between their career and having a child or worry that they’ll not have a job to come back to after maternity leave. Being a mother does not affect your ability to work and I would never discriminate against anyone for having children.”
Tell us about some of the women who have inspired you in your career
“My mum has always been a very career-driven woman. She was Head of HR at Edge Hill University and worked there for 23 years.
“In the evenings she did courses and worked towards professional qualifications while we were younger. She supported my dad in running his restaurant, handwriting menus, waitressing and doing the books.
“While I was doing my GCSE’s and my older sister was doing her A-levels, my mum not only supported us, but she was also in her final year of a degree level CIPD course. She never stopped.
“She started at Edge Hill in a general admin role in HR and worked her way up. Back then it was just a small university college. She’s grown her career whilst playing a part in Edge Hill itself growing into the huge institution it is now. Her achievements have been phenomenal.
“I believe that because I’ve always had this female role model. It’s always been clear to me what women are capable of, what we can achieve. She is an inspiration.”
In what ways does the business world need to change?
There are obviously organisations that are striving towards making improvements for women in the city. But, similar to a lot of things, their work is never complete.
For me, I do often find women’s events quite condescending. This applies to events outside of our city too. They often tend to be pink-themed or centred around shopping or beauty or cocktails. All really girly things.
“I’m not a girly-girl. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I do like some of these things, but I don’t want to go to a business event about them. So, I find it condescending that people think because the event centres around women, they have to provide these things to draw us in. I just think that wouldn’t be done for a mixed event. There wouldn’t be something specific to males for a male event. You may have the odd event that does, but it wouldn’t be across the board.
“There was one I was invited to, which was a workshop on how to ‘strut’ into a room. I don’t want to strut into a room full of people… Why do I need to learn how to strut? What’s wrong with the way I walk? Is the way I walk going to bring me more business? I don’t think so.
“Not all women in business want to go to pink-themed events that serve cocktails. What most women in business want is to have the forum to be on the same level as their male counterparts or their peers.
“Surely these kinds of events are not what we are aiming for? Women want to be equal and respected as much as their male peers in the business world. Not to go to events for women that are pink, sparkly and girly.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of women who enjoy these events, but there are also lots that don’t. You feel like you stick out like a sore thumb because you’re not enthusiastic about the makeup tricks they’re showing you.
“Lots of the conversation is centred around the struggle of being a woman in business. But who is that for? It’s not getting fed back to any men. There are no men present or even invited so what is progressive about it? So, we are just all moaning about it between ourselves, there’s no action taken.”
What comes next?
“In our agency, I really want there to be an open conversation between the women and men that work here. If we don’t include men in the conversation, how can we expect them to understand? If we don’t help them to understand, how can we expect change?”
“Moving forward, my vision for Verb is for it to be wholly inclusive. Equality and diversity are a core part of our culture. We celebrate and lift up the amazing women that work at Verb.
“We praise their achievements and give them the platform to express their views. Verb has always done this and always will, it doesn’t just stop, it evolves.”