Article by Fereshta Qayumi, Senior Health Care Consultant at Gemserv

Business inequality, gender gap vector concept with man at advantage. Symbol of discrimination, different opportunity, unequal treatment. salary. Eps10 illustration.Like many women, I’ve had to navigate discrimination and bias throughout my personal and professional life.

Growing up within a minority group in a small town in Holland, I came to understand bias from a young age. When I moved to the UK in my early teens, this bias didn’t disappear, however; it merely shifted focus from race to gender. While the UK is, in many ways, a liberal country, there is still a long way to go when it comes to presenting equal opportunities to all.

Pursuing a career in STEM

I was interested in healthcare from an early age and wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to give back to society. For me, it’s really important to know your values and to reflect that in the work that you do, so I signed up to study a clinical degree in Radiography, before going on to study for a Master’s Degree in International Health Management at Imperial College Business School in London.

Through my studies and work placements, I came to recognise that the health service had significant structural issues that were hindering its workforce from delivering to the best of their ability. Intent on making a difference, I left my front-line health care role to pursue consulting.

When I made the jump from clinical work to consulting, it didn’t escape my attention that I shifted from a very female dominated environment into a predominately male one. While both roles sit within the same industry, the division in roles was stark. In some consulting firms, having less women in the business created an unwelcoming air of competitiveness between female colleagues. It seemed as if we were competing amongst ourselves for limited places, rather than working towards opportunities that were open to anyone who was qualified for the role.

Defining success on our own terms

Modern feminism should be about celebrating equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. In the western world in particular, we use men as a baseline for what success looks like, inferring that women need to take on typically masculine roles to be considered successful. As women, we shouldn’t be boxing ourselves into this pre-conceived idea of success, but playing to our strengths and encouraging others to do the same.

It’s important to emphasise that creating equality of opportunity for women does not mean dragging men down in the process. We need to be careful how we build on these concepts and ideologies, or the cycle will never end and no true progress will be made.

To effect real change, we need to move away from labels to level the playing field. Celebrating progress should not be about “women’s” or “man’s” day, but about measuring how far we’ve come as humans, as a collective. Performance should be the benchmark, not an individual’s gender, race or age.