Inside Edelman is an ongoing series that spotlights our colleagues who are doing extraordinary work across our network. This year's International Women's Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge and we’ll be spotlighting our female leaders, the challenges they’ve faced personally and professionally and how they’ve overcome them.

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you?

It means having a voice and not being afraid to use it. If we see areas in our life and world that do not treat others with equality, we have a responsibility to call it out, otherwise, we can be complicit in it. However, we need to make sure that in encouraging others to “choose to challenge” we support them in this and encourage their bravery, as it can be difficult sometimes to find your voice.

With the status quo being challenged more and more, in the past 10 years, what have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed for women?

Opportunity. More and more opportunities and less stereotyping. I am lucky to work in an organization that has a focus on gender equality, and so has representation of both genders equally in our leadership. Outside of this environment though, I have seen more women feel comfortable raising concerns or call out discrimination in all its forms because more and more people are supporting them. For example, when working on succession plans, there is a deliberate focus on having a balance of genders in the succession lineup. In my role as an HR leader, I have also seen intentional changes to policies such as paternity leave, shifting the stigma that can often fall on a woman taking time to care for children, and balancing it to show parental care, or looking at menopause policies in support of women later in their career when they can be starting to lose confidence. However, I do see this last year of working remotely has sent society back in the progress we have made, with women dropping out of the workforce at a shockingly high rate as they struggle to juggle work and childcare.

Can you tell us about a time when you challenged a colleague and/or client? How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?

A few years ago, at another firm, I was in a succession conversation with the global leadership team. There was a fantastic leadership opportunity becoming vacant, and we were discussing options. I recommended a female that had spent her career in client leadership positions in the U.S. This role was in another continent, leading a geography, and I received push back that she would never move as her children were in middle school. I pushed and challenged and told them that if she was ready for the role, it was her decision if she wanted to move with her children, not theirs, and so we opened up the conversation with her. She moved, with her family, and I have watched her career grow and take her to other countries, with her children getting an international education and opportunity they may never have had if assumptions not been challenged.

How do you build your inner resilience?

I am able to do this as I am very clear on my purpose, and why I do what I do. If things change or become stressful, I can bring it back to the core values that I live by and tend not to stress about the things I cannot change or impact.

Do you think it is important for women to challenge one another? How do you challenge other women around you?

It depends on how the challenge is positioned. I think it’s important for women to encourage others to take risks, to do more than they think they can, to believe in a different future for themselves, and understand that they can do whatever they put their mind to. However, a challenge should never be there as a point of competition or to prove a negative point, it should only be used for support.

I challenge women around me by giving them responsibility and trusting them with projects they might not have had exposure to.

What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received in your career?

Don’t lose sight of how you got to where you are, and why you are doing this.


About Marie-Claire Barker

Marie-Claire Barker is the Global Chief Talent Officer.