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Oliver Cooke: "I think gender diversity needs to be seen as a business issue rather than HR issue."

Date: 18 March 2019

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for communities and organizations around the world to raise awareness about accelerating gender parity. Each year on March 8th  we celebrate International Women’s Day, focusing on the ideas of unity, reflection, advocacy, and action. Here at Phaidon International, we take this day to recognize the impact that women have made in our professional careers and in our personal lives. Members of the Phaidon Family have shared their stories of what International Women’s Day means to them.

Your name, position, how long have you been at Phaidon International?

I’m Oliver Cooke and I am the Managing Director and Head of Selby Jennings of North America.

I started with Phaidon International in London in August 2011.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is a chance for us all to reflect on achievements and contributions women have made to society, business and our world. I think it’s amazing that we are now at a stage where women’s achievements are highlighted and celebrated like they are. Despite that, there is still lots of work to do to achieve true equality and IWD is a good day to discuss and raise awareness on the issues that we have to tackle to achieve that.

Who are the female role models in your life and career? 

I’ve been lucky enough to have been raised by two very strong, ambitious and inspiring female role models. Firstly, my grandmother. When my grandfather passed away in 1976 he was the CEO of an international tool business-  Kamasa tools. My grandmother took on the daunting task of taking over the business after his death. A woman running an international multimillion-dollar business in the 70s was almost unheard of, particularly in the world of manufacturing and tools which was obviously a very masculine environment. As she did this, she succeeded in continuing to raise her five children. She went on and continued enabling the Kamasa Tools brand to live on, and still doing international trips to China until she was in her 70s! She is now 86 and a true inspiration to me, and she is the matriarch of our family and has 11 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

I also inherited a lot of my ambition and drive from my own mother. She was in IT sales for much of her career was very successful and eventually rose to be the global MD of an American international software company in the 90s. During this time, she was barely over 40 years old and had two kids at home. After this, she saw an opportunity in the towel and bathrobe industry and started a business importing luxury towels and bathrobes from Turkey for 4 and 5-star hotels. She’s grown that business from just herself to 40 employees and multi-million-pound turnover. She supplies some of the most famous hotels in the world, such as the Savoy and the Dorchester hotel in London.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #Balanceforbetter. What do you think companies can do to create a better gender balance?

I think gender diversity does need to be seen as a business issue rather than HR issue. From our own research, I know that too many companies focus on diversity for diversity’s sake, whereas there is a lot of research that suggests diverse companies actually generate more profit and beat their competitors.  To do this executive leadership needs to be the leaders on diversity and inclusion initiatives rather than HR. Given my upbringing as discussed above, I am passionate about this subject myself and I know there is more work we can do to advance women in our business, provide better role models, and create a more inclusive environment.