International Women’s Day – an interview with our Global Executive Director, Joaquin Guirao

Joaquin Guirao

About IWD

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global day that celebrates women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity for all women. Established in 1911, it is essential to note that International Women’s Day is not a country, group, or organisation. No single government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women's network, or media hub is solely responsible for it.

Each year, a campaign theme is designated to help rally awareness. In 2022, the theme is #BreakTheBias, and it is based on the acknowledgment that bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead in society. As explained by the organisers, ‘knowing that bias exists isn’t enough: action is needed to level the playing field.’

What are biases?

  • A disproportionate inclination or prejudice towards a person, group, activity, or thing.

How bias comes to be is well-documented: our brain is constantly trying to find the easiest solution and the most efficient way of understanding things, categorising experiences into specific boxes with often limiting labels. Repeating these actions over time makes us take shortcuts we often don’t realise we’re taking. So, although we may think of ourselves as fair, each of us is governed by invisible forces, also known as unconscious biases, which can make us form prejudices against each other without even knowing it.

In light of this International Women’s Day campaign, this article is focused on gender bias only. However, we acknowledge that many more forms of discrimination exist, both within the workplace and outside.

Interview with our Global Executive Director, Joaquin Guirao

Why do you think International Women's Day (IWD) is still important?
The movement towards equality between the sexes is not a recent one, but it has generated a lot more traction and importance on a global level in the last few years. Society is, in general, a lot more aware and active about the topic, and companies are investing and acknowledging that we are not where we should be on this. It still remains relevant, but there is a faster pace for change because we are much more aware these days.

Why are you interested in showing your support for this campaign?
Any effort to create more awareness and transparency is welcome. This campaign highlights biases that we often don't even realise we have. I am all for exposing that.

Could you describe a situation or experience where you have witnessed bias against women in the workplace?
For me, there have been two important wake-up calls, and in retrospect, I realise I may have created some of these situations myself. While I was living in London, the #metoo movement emerged. As I started hearing more about it, I realised that I still had a pre-conceived idea that these things only ever happened to 'others'; that it was something that did not concern me or that I shouldn't actively take part in. That was until I had a conversation with a friend who told me that one part of the problem was people choosing not to acknowledge the issue. I hadn't realised my privilege until then. Sometime after, I had another wake-up call, this time in the office. I unknowingly found myself performing a perfect example of mansplaining, after which a female colleague took me aside and told me what I had just done. This moment was somewhat of a catalyst in my life, and I feel it has helped me gain a completely different perspective on the topic. In doing so, not only do I still actively engage in conversation with these women, but I also began to learn more about my own biased habits. I am very grateful to these two women for having helped me become more aware and change my perspective.

What are some of the ways you think men can change biases towards women?
It's a combination of education and communication. Many men still get very defensive, and unfortunately, the more privilege one has, the more defensive one is. It can provoke many uncomfortable situations for men, so we often "avoid the topic" as a way to "escape" from our responsibility. Yet, while awareness is a good start, it is not enough. For example, I have become much more conscious of it, and luckily I work for a company that is actively pushing the agenda through words, time, and investment. However, I still struggle with the communication around it. This is where we can do better - create the space to talk about these issues freely and frequently. The more we speak up, the better.

What would you say are some specific Spanish or Design World issues or biases?
Compared to the Nordics and the Anglo-Saxons, Latin culture is a lot more tactile. We tend to touch each other in greetings or conversations, meaning few physical boundaries, and that is a specific issue where Mediterranean countries probably have more work to do. I don't think it is very different from other sectors regarding the Design World, but I am curious to hear what my female colleagues think about this. I am probably biased!

Keeping equality in mind, what does it mean to be a leader in 2022?
I think a leader in 2022 is confident and courageous, able and willing to call out bad situations as they happen. I have come to the realisation that I am a lot more active in calling out something or someone in small group settings, whereas I find it much harder in larger groups. How can we achieve this without creating too much discomfort? Or perhaps the question is, how can we accept discomfort? A leader needs to be proactive in doing this. I am still learning how to best address this, and there's always room for improvement. Ideally, a leader today constantly seeks to learn, listen, and improve.