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Inspiring women: Annie Rickard on gender inequality in the workplace

She spoke exclusively to HELLO!

Carla Challis

Annie Rickard is something of an inspiration to not just women in business, but men too. Having founded Posterscope in 1982, a location-based marketing specialist, Annie and her team have since grown the company into a global network of over 1,000 people in 57 offices around the world.

Last year saw Annie retire from the company but use her experiences and knowledge as a steering committee member and Director of the Women's Equality Party (WEP), a collaborative force uniting people of all genders, ages, beliefs and backgrounds in the shared resolve of seeing women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. We spoke to Annie to discover what pressures she's faced as a woman in a business and how her experiences have fuelled her on today.

"At an early age I was driven, in the sense that I was clear that it was up to me to earn my own living. I also wanted to be the best at whatever I did so even in my first Saturday job, in a shoe shop, I was determined to find the right shoes for every customer that came in.

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"Once I found my way into the advertising industry I knew it was where I wanted to be. It was a meritocracy and there many examples of people, mostly men I should say, who had started in the post room or similar junior positions and worked their way to the top. It was a very exciting and creative environment with lots of interesting people.

"In those early years, if I worked hard I was given more opportunity. However, as I took on more responsibility, I was exposed to the sort of behaviour that is very much in the news currently - men behaving badly. It wasn't ever a clear transaction – if you agree to this you will be rewarded. It was more a case of senior men behaving inappropriately, sometimes shockingly so, because they could. I chose to deal with it myself. Partly because there was no clear way to complain – there was no HR department. I got angry and was able to make it very clear to individuals behaving inappropriately that I wasn’t going to stand for it.

"I set up a business with partners, in my late twenties. Being an owner does give you freedom to create your own standards and it does give you authority to challenge things, so I you didn't encounter the same gender issues in the workplace. Sure, once when I met a potential client at the door, he handed me his coat to hang up because he thought I was the receptionist but my response to that was to respect him a little less. I was aware that women in the company would look to me to set an example and be a role model for them.

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"When we eventually sold our business and joined a larger corporation that was when I saw the inequalities that exist for women in the workplace. There were very few women at the top of the organisation and many of the men who were, were not outstanding at their jobs and not significantly more talented than the women. There's no doubt that this was a mix of all the things that are currently being talked about – subconscious bias, a sense of male entitlement, discrimination against women who had taken time off to have their children, a desire to keep the status quo and abuse of power.

"The older I got the angrier I got, and the more of an activist I became. This included setting up women's groups, challenging the organisation at the highest level, lots of mentoring and lots of talking to women at all levels in the company. I have shared my experiences with many women and also urged them to speak up when they encounter sexual discrimination. As a senior woman in business I think it's important to support other women at all levels.

"I find Mary Beard's Manifesto for Women relevant. She talks about women not easily fitting into a 'structure that is already coded as male' and how you have to change that structure. I believe we need many more women in positions of power to bring about the profound changes that are required to allow all women to reach their potential."

Annie Rickard was supporting Martin Firrell's public artworks exploring Power and Gender displayed on Clear Channel screens nationwide

Read more inspiring stories from incredible, successful women on HELLO!'s new Empowerment Channel

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