In recognition of International Women's Day and Women’s History Month, we present a special installment of our Inside Edelman series, showcasing a candid conversation between Magdalena Gizicki and Haneen Ahmed. Reflecting on their personal experiences, they explore the importance of inclusion, the transformative impact of diverse teams, and the strides still needed to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Can you share a moment in your career where you felt particularly included or excluded? How did that impact you?

Magdalena Gizicki: Early in my career, there was a time when I worked mainly with men. I felt small and hesitant to assert myself among these voices. With that in mind, I didn't feel like I was a contributor and the other, bigger aspect of this experience was just the fact that I was lacking a role model, making me feel somewhat directionless. The turning point came when I moved to a woman-led team. That helped me find the confidence to speak up and see a clear future for myself, as I had role models who I could relate more closely with to look up to.

Haneen Ahmed: I can relate deeply. Fresh out of university, my first role was in IT, and the predominantly male environment felt alien to me. It was daunting to find my voice. However, my perspective changed in my next role with Investment 20/20, a trainee program aimed at developing a more diverse talent pool for investment management. Their dedication to nurturing talent and diversity made me feel welcomed, valued, and heard. The various education events, career advice and networking opportunities provided by the program helped shape my professional confidence and deepen my understanding of workplace inclusion.

What does belonging mean to you within the context of gender equality, and why do you think it's important in the workplace?

Haneen Ahmed: Witnessing my mother's resilience against societal limitations taught me that belonging is about more than fitting in—it's about being embraced for who you are and staying true to your values and beliefs. In the workplace, belonging is crucial not only for recognizing diversity of thought but also for creating a culture where everyone feels seen, heard, and empowered to bring their full authentic self to work.

Magdalena Gizicki: I am a human who is very connected to my feelings, so I thought about this in terms of emotion. For me, belonging evokes a sense of understanding, acceptance, and safety. It's the comfort in being myself and the affirmation that my voice matters. This leads to self-empowerment and enriches our collective experiences. In the workplace, it's vital; imagine spending a third of your day somewhere you feel undervalued or unsafe—it's a painful notion. Belonging is essential for both our personal well-being and our collective advancement.

In your perspective, what are the most significant barriers to achieving gender equality in our industry, and how can we address them?

Magdalena Gizicki: Old habits die hard. Traditional ways of working, promotion, and hiring practices that exclude women from senior leadership are significant barriers. I'm so proud of Edelman for the strong representation that we have when it comes to women in leadership, and that representation creates space for women at all levels.

To overcome these barriers, we must be proactive, vocal, and consistently seek opportunities for change. And we need to simply slow down a bit so we can avoid autopilot responses, which will give us more capacity to keep inclusion top-of-mind and actively embrace inclusion in every action.

Haneen Ahmed: I recently saw a stat from the World Economic Forum estimating that it's going to take us 169 years to completely bridge the global gender gap entirely. An eye-opening figure that highlights that we still have a significant journey ahead of us. I work in the financial services space and while it’s gradually improving, the lack of visible female role models in leadership positions presents a significant barrier for aspiring women, especially young women looking to enter the industry. Initiatives like mentorship, networking, and flexible work arrangements are critical to support and advance women in our fields.

How do you personally try to foster an inclusive atmosphere on your team and within the organization?

Haneen Ahmed: Genuine empathy is key — it means truly listening to others, ensuring that everyone feels valued and respected. Building strong connections makes for a happier and a more collaborative working environment; it’s critical to value what each team member brings in terms of unique perspectives, insights, and experiences. We're all on a journey of growth, and by providing mentorship, learning opportunities, and being a supportive presence, I am committed to helping team members reach their full potential. I find working at Edelman Smithfield incredibly rewarding; its culture provides an excellent environment for personal and professional development.

Magdalena Gizicki: I engage in conversations, share resources, and celebrate team achievements. On a more individual level, I create space for team members to voice their thoughts in ways that suit them best, whether it’s a live group setting, one-on-one, or through email or chat. Understanding and adapting to each person's style helps everyone contribute meaningfully.

One thing I love so much about Edelman, I have to say, is that this is an organization that sincerely makes me feel like I could be my true authentic self. I've heard that from a lot colleagues as well, and being our authentic selves is really how we get to build those deeper relationships and learn about each other’s lived experiences, which then enables us to think more inclusively.

Can you share a book, article, or event that significantly changed your perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Magdalena Gizicki: Attending Pride for the first time almost 20 years ago opened my eyes to the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The LGBTQ+ community's passion and advocacy for inclusion, and particularly for recognizing intersectionality, was so moving. It showed me the importance of acknowledging every facet of our identities in fostering an inclusive environment.

Haneen Ahmed: The film 'Hidden Figures' was a profound inspiration. It highlighted the incredible resilience of African American women mathematicians at NASA and the need for representation in spaces historically dominated by white men. Their story underscores the significance of celebrating the contributions of marginalized communities and pursuing a passion despite societal barriers. The story reminded me of the countless untold stories of black women and other underrepresented groups whose contributions have often been overlooked.

As individuals and as a company, how can we inspire inclusion and belonging in our broader community and industry?

Haneen Ahmed: Emphasizing the importance of continuous education, remaining open to learning while acknowledging our own unconscious biases is fundamental. Seeing role models in action inspires aspiration — if you can see it, you can be it. It’s key to prioritize empathy and actively engage with initiatives that promote equality and diversity. There's a really cool initiative I follow called BWAM which aims to connect and empower black women leaders in asset management. Initiatives like that are incredibly impactful in our industry.

Magdalena Gizicki: Discussing inclusion continuously, not just at key calendar moments, helps embed it into our everyday narrative. We need to take intentional and bold steps towards change day-to-day. We also need to demonstrate and celebrate diverse representation in both the work that we put out in the world and the talent behind it. Honoring representation in these ways helps to make inclusion a natural aspect of our corporate culture and my hope is that it will inspire others to do the same.

Haneen Ahmed is Account Director for Edelman Smithfield based in London and Magdalena Gizicki, is a Senior Director for Edelman DXI based in Toronto‬‬‬.