Break the Bias this IWD, with Joanna Ross
Posted in: Lifestyle

Break the Bias this IWD, with Joanna Ross

For International Women’s Day 2022, we’re talking to assertive, ambitious, creative women — leaders in our industry — about their creative paths and careers, what being a woman means to them, and how to move forward and break the bias.


A career trajectory that’s been “an assemblage of what-ifs and why-nots”, Sheridan’s own General Manager of Product and Innovation Joanna Ross has always been intrigued with what she’s seen others doing.

It makes sense, especially when you consider her foundation of “a passion for language and travel, a homelife built on making, and an obsession with fashion and art.”

Although she now leads a team of “super-talented people” in Sheridan’s textile universe (we can attest to that), she originally worked in fashion retail and buying, before retraining in textile design. 

It was travel that “fed my curiosity and broadened my view” — and also provided her with the opportunity to work with “talented women at the head of their game and business”. Other what-ifs and why nots include returning to Australia, moving into home-textile product, freelancing and leading a homegrown brand’s homeware department.

As for the work she does today? It’s about maintaining “the magic of storytelling through the work, while never forgetting that we’re making product that people live in, intimately, 24/7” — a vision she executes together with her team.

This passion for stories is her thing — “Stories unlock creativity.”

Creativity is a “toolkit” we all possess, in Joanna’s eyes, one that we can draw on to navigate the tricky things in life — “life’s muddy bits.” 

On the flip side, “Creativity is a way of really seeing things,” she tells us. As someone who loves encouraging younger people in her life to develop this connection, she considered it to be “their own personal superpower”

“[It’s] so important that creativity isn’t deprioritised for more ‘practical’ pursuits. If it nurtures us, then it is the most pragmatic use of our time.” It’s clear it nurtures Joanna, who describes it as “like food for me.” 

And like food, she discusses how these creative experiences need to be topped up and maintained; the trick is “realising when your reserves are low.” 

However, there’s been times where her creativity has been a double-edged sword, recalling a time she received the suggestion she should “let ‘them’ do the strategy and ‘you can choose the colours.” 

As someone who believes in “stepping away from a more performative version of a woman — or someone else's take on what that should be,” this infuriating experience just led to more determination. “It just drove me to always have the big picture in mind, the context, the vision — to be truly successful.” 

At the end of the day, Joanna believes that those who go into something with “a preconception or bias” end up missing out on something “great, new, interesting or essential.” 

Specifically discussing men’s role in how to Break the Bias — aside from the basics of  a stance of fairness, justice and what is right — she encourages men to abandon gender bias altogether, as it “unlocks potential that can benefit the broader group and themselves in it.”

As she quite rightly reflects: “Opportunity isn’t binary or a fixed resource — in giving it to others, it doesn’t follow that it takes from you or someone else.”

She tells us about how she’s “acutely aware” she has choices her mum didn’t. As for how she implements these choices? It’s about “being comfortable to take up space each day, in a variety of scenarios, in many different ways.” 

It actually reflects the advice that she’d give her younger self: “Hold space — don’t shrink in the face of other’s behaviour.” Not one to let things slide, and encouraging others to take the same stance — “Sunlight, as they say, is a great disinfectant” — she discusses how this means talking, sharing impact, and having tough conversations with grace.

“Trying to exercise the ‘grace’ muscle is the personal challenge I set myself — extending kindness and understanding to those that seemingly don’t deserve it,” she tells Sheridan Life, with a smile. “It may not always get immediate results, but [it] sets a tone and hopefully creates a ripple.”

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