Heidi Sundin is no stranger to gender equality. Her career combines deep business strategy expertise with specialisation in diversity and inclusion, gender equality and workplace flexibility. Gender equality is personal for Heidi too, as she balances her role as a mother with her new role as Group Manager for Strategy and Markets at Coates Hire.
With International Women’s Day just around the corner we invited Heidi to share some of her experiences and thoughts on where progress is being made, and the challenges and opportunities that gender equality presents.
Gender equality is strategic
Heidi’s first observation is that although we each have a personal responsibility around gender equality – it’s also strategically important.
As the architect behind Coates Hire’s 5-year strategy, Heidi understands that strategy offers much needed vision and direction for the business. She also knows that a lot can change in five years. “Our business and our strategy must be able to adapt to the external environment, and diversity is critical for our ability to do that,” says Heidi.
“When I think about what it takes for us to be fluid and respond to the market and our customers, what we really need is different mindsets,” says Heidi. “We need to be able to come at challenges and opportunities with a range of perspectives – and this is why gender equality and diversity are so important.”
It’s not a “women’s issue”
Heidi also supports a growing acceptance that gender equality is about women and men.
“When you look at removing gender bias and barriers its natural for this conversation to start with women – because there are disproportionate barriers for women in the workplace.” Heidi explains. “But when those barriers are removed, the systemic changes we make benefit the entire workforce, and we end up improving the system for everyone.”
Inclusion is important too
Another trend Heidi sees is the recognition that gender equality and diversity are just pieces of the puzzle – what also matters is inclusion.
“By focusing on gender equality and diversity we will see some positive change – but we also want to move towards a more inclusive culture,” Heidi explains. “Inclusion is about creating a cultural shift, and being able to bring our full selves to work and feel like we have a sense of belonging” Heidi continues. “With a culture that accepts change and embraces difference, it no longer matters what the differences or the diversity elements are – everyone is accepted and has equal opportunity to participate.”
Flexible working needs a new mindset
Across the market and internally Heidi sees the normalisation and mainstreaming of flexible working, regardless of gender.
“Flexibility is about ways of working, it is not simply a ‘working mum’s issue’,” says Heidi. “We need to acknowledge that people need flexibility for all kinds of reasons from caring for family and aging parents, transitioning to retirement, managing mental health and commitment to personal endeavours like sport and music. Flexibility is also a growing expectation of the millennial generation in the workplace.”
How far have we come?
It’s important to plan ahead, but it’s also important to look back to see how far we’ve come.
Heidi returned to the business in late 2019 and feels encouraged by the progress and cultural shift that she sees. “There’s more inclusion, more senior women in leadership, more of a focus on gender. And to see diversity prioritised in our strategy too – that’s a massive leap forward.”
Setting gender equality targets for all leadership roles has been a positive strategic step for Coates Hire – and a move that Heidi wholeheartedly supports. “For any business outcome that we want to achieve, we set a target – diversity is no different,” Heidi explains. “Our targets will help us to see where we’re going, measure our progress and create accountability around our performance.”
Heidi also praises leadership within Coates Hire “We’ve also got a CEO and a leadership team that embrace diversity and inclusion as a priority – and on this issue, leadership makes all the difference.”