As part of International Women's Day 2022, former pupils explore this year's theme - break the bias. Katharine Descamps, Class of '95, shares her thoughts on what it means to be inclusive.

As one of the first girls to walk through the RGC gates in 1989, breaking the bias then, I am humbled to share my career experiences and continuing to #breakthebias now.

What does #breakthebias mean to me? Simply, it means being inclusive.

Speaking up when it feels wrong. Having the courage to stand for what you believe. Asking the difficult questions. Including everyone in the conversation - the biggest voice, the quietest, the youngest, the oldest, the most different. It doesn't always involve radical activism, small acts can also #breakthebias.

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
If only we are brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

~ Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb

It wasn’t until I faced adversity that I became an inclusion champion and started to really understand what it means to be inclusive. I started with small acts, taking the time to chat with young female talent. I became the chair of an employee resource group and led strategic change in policy. I educated myself on unconscious bias. I took training, read the books, learnt facts and importantly understood my own unconscious bias so that I can call out micro aggressions and bias behaviours. Also celebrate progress - I am proud to say that today, the bp exec leadership team is 55% women. This is what #breakingthebias looks like.  Inclusion is our day job. Actively get involved in employee resource groups that you feel an affinity; the women's network, neurodiversity tribe or LGBTQ+ community. This is where I found the biggest impact. Challenge breeds resilience and courage. Having a son who is autistic has taught me many things, but respecting people’s differences and being inclusive has been my biggest learning. It has made me a better person and leader (and we are all leaders!). 

Power in connection and relationships

My girlfriends from RGC, are still my best friends today. One is a kick ass tech founder, the other an events sponsorship manager on the world stage, another is all 007 corporate fraud for government, one is a rockstar in a chemistry lab, and the other combines her love of numbers with people leading financial recruitment globally. They have taught me the true value of friendship, the appreciation for people who have your back. My network has shaped my career. It takes years to cultivate. It may not come naturally but you can learn to master. Identify a good networker and learn from them. And it’s not just women, men play a powerful role as allies. Many of my mentors and sponsors are men and have been highly influential in my career. We all have a role to play in breaking the bias.

Am I good enough?

There are still times when I reflect, am I doing enough? A little gremlin imposter syndrome? Yes, this is normal. Lean into it. We all carve our own lives out. You are good enough. Be yourself, be authentic. Me? I wear my heart on my sleeve proudly and vulnerably.

What can I do to #breakthebias?

Sharing some of my fave practical tips:

  • Lift other women up, don’t step on them. Tell them why you admire them, it will make their day.
  • Pull up a chair for your younger female talent, invite along to a senior meeting.

  • Don’t underestimate the power in a simple thank you - go old school and make it a handwritten thank you note.

  • When starting a new role or job, book 30 minutes with everyone in your team.

  • Great minds do not think alike, make sure you include all minds in the conversation, not just those you identify with.

  • Don’t forget a sense of humour, life is serious enough.

If you want to educate yourself more you can check out these gems:

  • TEDx talk, 'How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work' Carla Harris

  • 'The Sponsor Effect, how to be a better leader by investing in others' Sylvia Ann Hewlett

  • Angela Duckworth's 'Grit; The power of passion and perseverance'

  • 'What I told my daughter, Lessons from leaders on raising the next generation of empowered women' Nina Tassler

  • Fact check and research statistics - an evening challenging a pro guns statistician taught me that data is queen.  A great resource to check out POWERful Women | Showcasing women in the Energy Sector who report on gender diversity. 

Blog: Katharine Descamps shares her experience of small acts to break the bias for IWD