Each year International Women's Day seeks to celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. And, take action for equality. This year we asked people from across MerchantCantos questions around the theme for 2021: #ChoosetoChallenge.

What equality challenges have you faced in your career?

Jane Reiss, Managing Partner, North America: My career for the most part has been one huge push against equality issues. When I started my career there was one voice in the room and that was from the man (men) in the room. I was mostly invisible and there to serve and fulfil the men present—this “in the service of” ran the gamut from having my voice squelched in meetings, to having my ideas taken over and never receiving credit to derogatory remarks about my ambition, pregnancy, working while pregnant, returning to work after having children and so on. Actually, there have been so many challenges I cannot even begin to list them all. Add to all of this I was insanely shy (with an inner rebel in me) when I started work so I was in an endless conflict of feeling I should toe the line but feeling there was so so much wrong. Ultimately, the pride in my work and wanting to do it differently over-ruled my shyness and I busted out but it was a very long and often painful process.

Catherine Ou Yang, Producer, Hong Kong: As a woman of colour and a soft-spoken introvert, I've struggled with challenges around inclusivity, equal pay and self-doubt enforced by conscious/unconscious biases placed on women.

How do you choose to challenge inequality in your professional life?

Jane Reiss: This is a driving principle in my life. I have a zero-based tolerance for inequality and made the decision long ago if I ever got to be in a position of leadership, if I ever had the seat in the Boardroom, in the conference room, anywhere that was responsible for managing and/or management I would lead very, very differently. Anyone who has worked with me and/or any of my teams knows that this is my air, water, DNA. Inclusivity of all voices, every single voice is what drives me daily. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to say this loudly and boldly---I will only work where this is understood and only work with internal teams and clients where this is understood. I believe there are many compromises that happen on a daily basis, this is one thing I will not compromise on.

Lucy Chappell, Senior Lead, Post-Production, London: The idea of challenging inequality seems like such a big mountain to climb, and it is. Still, the #ChoosetoChallenge theme is the perfect opportunity to consider our next steps on this journey. I know my personal challenge is improving my vocabulary around inequality, finding better and more constructive ways to talk about it, and working on the language I employ to be more inclusive. Language isn’t my strong suit, but it’s a small change that I can make to create a better environment, and hopefully encourage people to join the conversation.

Faissal Shaar, Account Manager, Dubai: Be an ally, and stand up whenever I see inequality in action.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting her career in the creative world, what would it be?

Jane Reiss: You be you. There is no blueprint. The best way to go forward is to be your authentic self and to find the right environment that values your authentic self. It’s a bit of a journey to discover who your authentic self is and you will not get to it 100% of the time but if you listen to your inner voice more often than not you will know what to do. And, work with very smart people who light up your brain daily and inspire you, this is another point not to compromise on. If you feel like your heart (and head) is dying a little bit each day, leave. Go somewhere else, do something different. Do something differently. There is so much great to do every single day---the team you work with is everything, gallop. Go boldly.

Catherine Ou Yang: Connecting and learning from other women creatives is super important. Expose yourself and get to know as many women in the industry as you can. They will look out for you, share invaluable advice and ultimately be key in helping you find your voice and build confidence in your work!

Lucy Chappell: The answer to this question I keep coming back to is; don’t spend too much time worrying about making people like you. When you are new to any industry you are passionate about, it can be overwhelming to be surrounded by all these new talented and successful colleagues. When I was fresh-faced and wide-eyed in the first stages of my career, I was such a people pleaser, and it didn’t lead to the best creative work, and it certainly didn’t lead to a healthy work-life. Putting all that time and energy into a more pleasing version of yourself is a waste. In my experience, you make better work, better friends and find the best mentors and advocates when you are genuine.

How do you think creativity benefits from challenging gender bias?

Faissal Shaar: People will feel more free to speak up and contribute, adding more ideas to the pool and broadening the creative possibilities!

If you would like any more information on International Women’s Day, click here for more resources and guidance.

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