Last year we celebrated the inaugural year of the Great British Businesswoman Series, which saw us shine a spotlight on the fantastic people in business across the United Kingdom who are making a difference for businesswomen, and all of their achievements.
Across 20 categories, the Awards celebrated over 80 shortlisted business people, spanning multiple sectors of the UK business landscape including construction, sport, food & drink, creative industries and many more.
We caught up with last year's Male Advocate Award winner, Mark Bennett to find out what winning this award meant to him, his career journey, and what we can expect to see from him in the future.
At the time of winning Mark Bennett was Senior Build Manager at Willmott Dixon Interior’s, and has since furthered his career, and is now Senior Project Manager at BW Workplace Experts. During his time at Willmott Dixon, Mark was also the co-chair of the equality, diversity, and inclusion team - specifically advocating that the construction industry needs to talk openly about menstruation. Mark firmly believes that talking about periods should not be taboo, and that period products should be freely available for all women. His work also saw Willmott Dixon partner with social enterprise Hey Girls to provide free period dignity items on all of their sites - creating a safe, supportive construction site for all women.
Our panel of expert judges commended Mark for his success in breaking the boundaries, and advocating for women in an industry that typically finds the conversation of menstruation ‘taboo’. Mark has made huge changes for women in the construction industry - which was what saw him take away the Male Advocate Award 2021.
We spoke with Mark to discuss what winning this award meant to him, and what effect this has had on him and his career since.
“Winning the Male Advocate of the Year Award 2021 meant a great deal to me in that it recognised not only what I have been able to do, but also that there are other men out there who are pushing the agenda of gender equality. I have as a result of winning the award been invited to take part in panel discussions and podcasts. My new employer BW: Workplace Experts has made it clear that they want to draw on my knowledge, experience and contacts that I have made over recent years to help them further their journey with gender diversity and inclusion generally,” he said.
The work that Mark has done to create a more inclusive workplace, in a highly male-dominated environment is incredible, so we were keen to find out a bit more about where his passion for gender equality in the workplace came from, how he got to where he is today, and work he is doing to continue his advocacy.
“My journey started over five years ago after talking to my wife about an organisation called The Female Lead, who had also published a book of the same title. As a result of this, I bought myself the book and read it,” he said.
“This gave me a great insight into what women actually have to go through to get into the positions they reach, and the struggles they experience along the way. I made contact with The Female Lead, with a view of trying to work with them on a project together.
“Additionally, I have also been in constant contact with Yes She Can, another organisation who are raising the profiles of women in business. I have also organised and taken part in school visits and presentations to encourage young girls into the construction industry. Not only have I been doing this but I have also organised webinars looking at Women’s Health (Menstruation and Endometriosis).
“I have become the co-chair of Building Equality (an organisation made up of over 60 organisations raising the profile of the LGBTQ+ Community in the construction industry). One of the events that we arranged and took part in was a webinar for Lesbian Visibility week which was open to the industry as a whole and was very well attended and received” he said.
It is clear that mark is on a mission to make all workplaces equal, and is doing important work to ensure business, and employees are educated and onboard - which is hugely important.
So, what is all of this work for? We asked Mark what his hopes are for the future of businesswomen, and how he is continuing to help support that future.
“My main hope for the future is gender parity,” he said. “ As I have said on many occasions to my seniors in my previous company, I do not see any reason why this cannot happen now. We should all be playing off a level playing field. I find it staggering when you hear that it could take up to 100 years for this goal to be achieved.
“My plans for the future are to work with BW: Workplace Experts to achieve their aims and objectives in Gender Diversity, which I must say is already a very diverse and inclusive organisation.”
Mark's work and expertise are something that all businesses should be taking inspiration from, and we hope that more and more businesses continue to break down those barriers, that may seem ‘taboo’. Working in an environment that is male-dominated, being that man that stands up for what is right and advocates for the women in your business can help create a better future for the workplace, for everyone.
To help indicate the importance of gender equality in the workplace, we asked Mark any particular challenges he has noticed female businesswomen face in contrast to their male counterparts? And, what can male leaders do to help avoid these situations?
“I have noticed that female businesswomen are not as confident in coming forward and blowing their own trumpet as their male counterparts are, and tend to wait for their knowledge and expertise to be acknowledged by others,” he said. “Male leaders should be giving women opportunities to showcase all of their abilities, for example, make sure they have a seat at the table and ask directly for their opinions in a meeting, or praising them for achievements they have made for them. Male leaders should both encourage and develop those women to become future leaders and role models to other women within the organisation - this can be done by mentoring women in their organisation or acting as male allies on women’s networks.”