International Women’s Day: Interview with Karen Barr, chief executive of Abbeyfield Scotland

To celebrate International Women’s Day today, Abbeyfield Scotland CEO Karen Barr talks about what this year’s theme #ChooseToChallange means to her.

International Women’s Day: Interview with Karen Barr, chief executive of Abbeyfield Scotland

Karen Barr

What does this year’s International Women’s Day slogan #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in the workplace?

It is very encouraging to see such focus on this theme for International Women’s Day, in a time when challenging conversations has come to the fore. It is no longer seen as a negative undertone in the workplace to challenge actions, bias, preferences, and decisions. It is thought-provoking, informative, enlightening, and inclusive.

What made you want to work in the housing sector?

I had the opportunity to work in a fast-paced local office 33 years ago. I didn’t foresee a career in housing, and I didn’t know what I was in for, but it became a way of life and a passion. 

What is the most important piece of advice you could give to women thinking of starting a career in the housing sector?

I would say stand out and be counted. Make your voice heard and don’t be afraid to progress and diversify. It won’t always go your way, but it will make you want it more and work harder for it.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and celebrate their achievements?

Women know what strengths in numbers can do; history shows us that celebrating your own and each other’s achievements makes us feel like a family or a special club. It instils encouragement, strength, and fortitude.

What do you think the most significant issue today is for women at work?

As the equalities, gender, and pay gaps start to close in, maternity and paternity policies for women remain ineffective. It does not provide adequate support for advancement as for men.

With only a small minority of women making up CEO positions in the UK, how important is it we see better representation in senior positions? 

Unless the ineffectiveness of policies are dealt with, it will remain a problem for women. However, I see this changing, especially in housing where so many of my CEO colleagues are women.  

On International Women’s Day 2021, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their future careers?

Do not compromise. It is often the case that young women feel they have other roles to fulfil in life, as do men, but women make most compromises. Fight for what you want. Nothing (usually) lands in your lap; you have to be in it to win it. The fight is hard sometimes, but the rewards are immense. You do not have to be a manager or earn lots of money to be satisfied in your career. Self-satisfaction, independence, and most of all, doing something worthwhile at any level is much more important. 

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