about 1 year ago by Melissa Kilday

The challenges and changes facing gender equality

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It was International Women’s Day on Monday and every year we take the time to celebrate the business women we know and, also, the organisations that prioritise gender equality within their business. Every year IWD advocates a particular theme and this years’ theme is #choosetochallenge which focuses on challenging gender bias and equality.

“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let us all choose to challenge.”

This topic has made me think about the challenges that not only women have faced but people from all diverse backgrounds. This year we have reached out to a few of our clients and working professionals across the East Midlands to ask about the challenges they have faced and the changes they would like to see in the professional world over the next five years. Some of the people we asked wished to remain anonymous whilst others are happy to be quoted.

In 2011 the United Nations published a document titled “UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN” which included insight into things from employment and education to politics and exploitation. The document sparked an already hot topic to become more considered amongst society and in business. Since 2011, a lot has changed in society and things such as the gender pay gap service has been put in place and organisations have people specifically employed to help create a more diverse and inclusive workforce! Even with these strides towards equality, it was still reported in 2018 by the World Economic Forum that it will take 202 years to close the gap and in 2019 it was reported that 8 out of 10 organisations still pay men more than women.

That is just one of many reasons why it’s vital to have days like International Women’s Day to shine a light and encourage change.

It is a long road to equality and there are a lot of changes to be made and lessons to be learned. We asked some professionals what their biggest challenges have been on the road to leadership and what changes they would like to see.

When asked ‘As a leader what changes would you like to see in the working world over the next 5 years?’ Claire Horsfall from Aggregate Industries said “In order to succeed, I really believe we need to bring different viewpoints to the forefront, and then make sure that everybody feels able to bring their unique perspectives, experiences and curiosity to the table. For this to happen, we all need to be prepared to ask the difficult questions and open our minds to new responses, and then together, respectfully build on each other’s thinking.”
The importance of having difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations which help you learn, understand and grow are vital on the road to diversity and equality. Some beliefs may challenge your own but that is no reason to shy away from the conversation.

Joanne Wilkins from Aggregate Industries added “I'd like to see leaders looking more at transferable skills than looking for experience when thinking about succession planning.” From an attraction, succession planning and employee engagement perspective, hiring people with fundamental skills can really add to your workforce and create the foundations for a more diverse group of employees, which has been proven to impact bottom line! We are not saying to take someone with no experience at all over someone with years of experience for a specific senior role, however, take into consideration the whole picture. In the “Power Up:UK Skills” report published by Deloitte, they stated something which backs up and supports Joanne’s point about looking for transferable skills and NOT only experience. “Recognising the untapped potential of transferable skills across all sections of the workforce would help improve worker mobility between jobs and regions, unlocking significant economic and social benefits” – Deloitte

When asked the same question about changes she would like to see in the working world, Victoria Smith, Managing Director of Spadeoak stated “Even in the modern world where men seem more willing and able to take a more hands on approach at home and with children, I would like to see maternity leave being shared more equally. When the woman returns to work, it is not necessarily her that should have to go part time.”

When asked what the biggest challenges facing working women are, Victoria continued “Men have typically risen to senior positions because they have had to take on less of the responsibilities at home and with the children - therefore, able to use their time to focus on work. Women are now beginning to take on more senior roles, whilst usually still carrying out most of the tasks at home. In the words of a friend, “I may not be executing it all but I'm still organising it all.”

The prospect of juggling work and home life is something that I don’t think anyone has yet mastered, and Victoria is right, historically the role of care giver has traditionally fallen to the woman. Over the last 10 years there have been small shifts in that dynamic, however, in 2019 the ONS stated that over half of mothers (56.2%) said they had made a change to their employment for childcare reasons, compared with 22.4% of fathers. The report goes on to share that mothers were most likely to say they need “reduced working hours” because of childcare, with around 3 in 10 mothers (30%) selecting this. In comparison, 1 in 20 fathers (5%) said they reduced working hours for childcare reasons.

What do you think could help over-come this? What do you think are the biggest reasons for the care giver responsibility? Stigma? Understanding?

We asked Sarah Gibson, from Cherry Professional, what she thinks are the biggest challenges facing working women, she also has similar thoughts “Having a good support network has been my lifeline throughout the pandemic, and also throughout my career to help me juggle work and home life. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic husband who is supportive and certainly takes his share with the children and the domestic tasks. We are fortunate to have helpful parents, and wonderfully supportive workplaces. But it's still a struggle, and I take my hat off to anyone trying to juggle everything on their own. I think this balance will always be a challenge and it’s not just going to be a one shoe fits all solution.”

Whilst these challenges are present in today’s working world there are things you and your organisation can do to try and conquer those challenges or at least start on your way to learning and understanding them. Some businesses have more resource and experience with these kinds of topics than others and some clients have stated it feels like a “minefield” trying to prioritise the improvements and changes. Therefore, we asked our interviewee’s what measures their organisations are taking to create a more inclusive culture (not just for gender equality).

Joanne Wilkins shared some of the fantastic initiatives that Aggregate Industries are implementing and driving – “We are on a journey at AIUK to continue to create more inclusive working environments. We have just launched our Affinity Groups which are employee networks formed around a shared interest or common goal. Bringing people with shared experiences together to amplify their voices is a great way to help to influence change and to help groups who are underrepresented feel heard and be seen!”

We work with clients who have dedicated diversity and Inclusion teams within their business work on creating an equal and diverse culture. Some clients have altered their interview screening process to be more inclusive, some even have internal people/teams committed to learning and implementing change throughout their organisations and act as a place for anyone, who feels they need to speak up, to have a safe and supportive environment to do so.

If you want more inspiration on how to create a more diverse and equal workforce, in August 2020 Glass door released this article https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/inspiration-for-ramping-up-diversity-inclusion-efforts/which shares some policy and internal changes made to promote diversity and inclusion.

It’s important that every person takes part of the responsibility to empower change, whether it’s a practical change or an alteration on your perspective, or at least an understanding of the current issues presented in regard to equality and diversity.