How disguise supports and develops women in the workplace

clock • 5 min read
Emma Rudd, Director of People at disguise
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Emma Rudd, Director of People at disguise

Despite the continued debate on gender disparity in the past decade, the percentage of women employed in tech in the UK has barely moved from 15.7% in 2009 to 17% today.

And women hold just 10% of leadership roles in the industry. At disguise, our aim is to break this trend by creating possibilities through diversity and inclusion, because we realise true progress can only be achieved with a healthy balance of perspectives and backgrounds to lead change.

disguise is a visual storytelling technology company that, for the past 20 years, has been powering the world's most spectacular live events - from concert tours to theatre shows and video installations. More recently, with the sudden halt in live events, our business focus and development has pivoted to extended reality and virtual production as we strived to find an alternative for live events to resume virtually.

Over the past three and a half years, due to the increasing global demand for our technology, our workforce has also grown exponentially from a company of 55 at the start of 2018, to a total of 200 today. During this time, we have also been able to attract more women to our growing team, especially into leadership roles, going from a 24% female workforce to 40% today, with women taking up two of our executive-level positions, six in senior management positions and three in regional management positions.

How we support our women

As disguise works towards lowering the barrier of entry to virtual production so everyone can use our workflow to realise their creative vision, we share the same ethos in our people strategy. We strive to create an environment where everyone belongs and can do their best work every day.

As a result, our People team have launched a suite of inclusion policies focusing on developing and supporting all individuals at disguise:

  1. Menopause policy: In addition to our standard 25 days of annual leave, we offer an additional three days of compassionate leave to employees undergoing menopause and experiencing menopausal symptoms. These days don't count towards the company sick day limit and temporary flexible work or part time work may be an option to consider for managing physical and mental symptoms.
  2. Fertility treatment policy: For every woman who decides to take fertility treatment, we offer five days of leave per cycle of treatment for medical appointments. In addition, a further three days can be taken off throughout the treatment period if the employee is feeling unable to work due to the symptoms they experience from the treatment.
  3. Parental leave policy: Family life and work-life balance should be a right not a privilege, and enjoyed by both parents equally. disguise employees can take up to 50 weeks' Shared Parental Leave (SPL) which enables both parents to choose how to share the care of their child during the first year of birth or adoption. We also offer an Enhanced Shared Parental Pay package which is above that of the Government Statutory Shared Parental Pay: Women on maternity receive six months full pay, followed by three months at 50% pay and those on paternity leave can take four weeks paid leave that can be taken in stages through the first year of a child being born or adopted.

How we challenge our women

Part of what builds culture is what you challenge. We equip our leaders with the skills to be radically candid and the confidence of being in a safe environment to be so.

In 2021, we launched the Lead Together programme designed to not only develop our leaders in supporting and nurturing their teams with feedback, coaching and self-awareness, but also to talk about emotional intelligence to create an environment where everyone understands their purpose and value and therefore belongs. Finally, every woman in a leadership role receives a programme of 1:1 coaching, which also includes maternity coaching to help female leaders take control of their maternity leave, communications and arrangements, so they can be confident that the time out will not impact their career journey.

We create opportunities for growth at disguise. Our internal mobility programme aims to encourage our people to challenge themselves and to step out of their comfort zone through cross-departmental working and development, as well as mentoring to build skill sets. Just one such example involves a young woman who joined us a year ago as an Inside Sales rep, who as a result of mentoring and fast-track development within our commercial team, will now be moving to Australia to help set up our new Aus/NZ entity for us as a Regional Sales Manager.

Our People team has worked with leaders to create internship opportunities for young people who wouldn't have necessarily considered a career in tech, with a deliberate focus on appealing to women and those from the BAME community. These efforts have created a pipeline for future tech talent, while also supporting young people affected by poor employment prospects. This is the first iteration of internship programmes offered by disguise and forms a key part of our CSR plan by giving back to the community, whilst also helping to build the future generation of tech talent. This year we hired six female interns across R&D, QA, Support and Marketing.

We also partner closely with Rise, an award-winning global advocacy membership organisation supporting gender diversity across the media technology sector. Many of our employees participate in their mentorship programmes and we recently shared guidance on creating personal development plans to help women in broadcast to shoot for the moon. Our most prominent collaboration this year has been our International Women's Day virtual event, filmed from our extended reality stage at our London HQ, featuring panel discussions on mentorship, practical workshops and a keynote speech from Jackie Howes, Director of Media and Infrastructure Architecture at Discovery. The theme was #ChoosetoChallenge and many women from both disguise and Rise discussed challenging yourself and challenging others, especially when it comes to developing diversity.

"Diversity & Inclusion are outcomes. To achieve diversity as an outcome in your workplace you have to connect and collaborate with people and be prepared to show flexibility and adaptability; question every process and practice and how inclusive they truly are. Make seeking input and feedback from your people to evolve your policies the norm. You have to start conversations to learn and change," says disguise Director of People, Emma Rudd.

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