Caroline Carruthers: From the Bathroom to the Boardroom?


Don’t you love it when a seemingly random and unconnected moment reminds you of something genuinely important. On a lower level it could be something innocuous like a newspaper headline unexpectedly reminding you where you left your keys. It happened to me recently, albeit offering me a reminder I’d have rather forgotten completely- the story of my first day in my STEM career.


I was at a really lovely dinner full of IT and data bods. The organisers had spaced out all of the women so that there was exactly one of us on each table, which led to the gentleman on my left making a comment about the lack of female representation in the industry. The conversation led to me telling a story about my very first day at my very first job.


I started as a graduate on a floor that had previously been filled with men and, in order to get ready for my arrival, they had refurbished one of the toilets for female staff. Unfortunately for me, they were right by the back stairs, far away from my office and, well, everything else. Even more unfortunately for me, as I was the first person to use these toilets, when I went to leave the handle to the door came off in my hand.


That’s right- I was trapped in a toilet not used by the other staff members, by the back stairs away from everything else in the office. There must be a metaphor there somewhere!


It was forty minutes until I was able to squeeze my head out of a crack far enough to shout to somebody in the car park three storeys below me. It was certainly not my finest hour!


When I was back home after the dinner I picked out a book from the mountain on my bed stand. By chance it was “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund (If you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend it highly enough!). The book talks about why we are wrong about the world we live in. One of my key take-aways from it was that things can always get better, but that in order to get better we need to work on them. What struck me was that that’s exactly where we are when it comes to workplace diversity.


Being the only woman on that dinner table certainly didn’t make it a balanced group, but it was a far cry from the days of broken toilets at the back of the office. We have to acknowledge the strides forward that we’ve achieved since the days of those dingy toilets in an office with only one woman. It doesn’t mean we’ve come to our journeys end (or even that were anywhere close!), but that our climb towards equality has lead to a better view. Significant progress has been made and we need to celebrate that while continuing to push forward.


By Caroline Carruthers


About the Author


Caroline Carruthers is an international data cheerleader and was one of the first Chief Data Officer’s in the UK. Leading data for Network Rail among other companies, Caroline became a pioneer in the UK data industry. She has used her position to set up a data literacy and consultancy practice, Carruthers and Jackson, and regularly appears at international events and in national media to talk about the data industry. She has co-authored two books to date, including ‘The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook’ which was described as ‘a must read for the data leader’ and most recently, ‘Data-Driven Business Transformation’, which continues to reside in the Amazon Top 1000 list.



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