Today is International Women’s Day and every year we take the time to celebrate the businesswomen we know and work with and, also, the organisations that prioritise gender equality. Every year IWD advocates a particular theme and this years’ theme is #breakthebias which advocates for a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality.
Last year we reached out to a few of our clients and working professionals across the East Midlands to ask a few questions about the theme #challengeforchange and the response we had was fantastic, so we wanted to do it again this year!
March 8th, 2022 marks the 111th International Women’s Day and it’s an important time to help shape and highlight both everyday life bias and workplace bias with the aim to promote and call to action an equal place to exist. Over the years there have been incredible strides forwards in achieving gender equality but when people question the importance of days like today it’s quite evident we have A LOT of work to do, as it was 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.
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 do you think will be the key initiatives organisations should embrace to work towards a more inclusive environment?
Bev Crighton, Employability Lead at Derby County Community Trust said “In my opinion a lot of organisations do try, however they miss the mark when they are under pressure. I think any initiatives must be embedded in the culture. One great thing that I always try to embody is the active bystander principle – empowering people to call out bad behaviour in the sphere of EQI is important, it enables change to happen quickly.”
A valid point and something further supported by Lisa Brackner, HR Director of Bridgeway Consulting, who said “When we talk about an inclusive environment it is so easy to focus on diversity, but it is so much more than that. Culture is key and it should be based on trust and that must be driven from the top. Everyone should feel they are able to challenge openly and honestly and creating an environment where this can happen paves the way for any initiative.”
Culture change isn’t something that happens overnight, especially in an established organisation, but it is definitely something that leaders should have on their minds, hold open and safe discussion about and they should be prioritising this to an unbiased workplace.
Sally Brys, Leadership and Management Development Professional at Limitless Development truly sums this up as she said “Leaders are critical to achieving gender equality. They need to talk about why diversity and inclusion is important to them. If employees see that it is truly important to their leaders and can see that business leaders are not only saying things but willing to take action that’s when people will respond with a different kind of motivation. That’s when people get dedicated to making a difference.”
We then asked – What do you think the biggest challenges facing working women today are? Rachael Long, Head of Accounts Payable Business Services at Breedon answered “As a woman working in construction it helps to have thick skin and broad shoulders. As a woman, my thoughts and ideas can be dismissed but you must be strong and put your point across in a very diplomatic way, ensuring your audience understands.”
It's important to share that some industries are still heavily male dominated, and women can feel exactly how Rachael does and, as she said, it’s important to take ownership of your voice and not let your professional voice be minimised simply because of your gender or because of the industry you work in. The perception of how you are perceived when you do ensure your voice is heard is something a lot of women still fear.
Caroline Foster, Group HR Director backed this up when she answered “Working women face multiple biases and stereotypes in their appearance and behaviour. A 'ballsy' woman is often labelled 'pushy' or 'aggressive', against a male exhibiting the same types of behaviour who is recognised as 'assertive' or a 'leader'. A working woman who 'doesn't look the part' can be labelled as 'mumsy' or a 'bimbo' and these labels are simply unacceptable.”
We couldn’t move on to the next question without discussing working parents. As it’s something that has been spoken about a lot.
Philippa L Clarke, Director of Red Carpet Cleaning Services shared that “The inequalities of working women are still hugely apparent, especially from the perspective of a single parent. Time constraints and being the primary carer in the family add undue pressure on ambitious women who are capable of equal pay and rights in the workplace.”
Lisa also said that “Whilst I do think times are changing when I think of myself and other working mums, the challenge is still the same. We all still feel guilty for wanting it all, you work part time and feel guilty at work and then you are not focussed when you are at home because you are thinking about work. I believe there is still some stigma out there around pregnancy, returning to work after maternity leave is such a challenge and whilst most part time workers are women this can be a challenge when it comes to opportunities for promotion. I am pleased to say that hasn’t been an issue for me at Bridgeway!”
Maternity leave sadly still carries a heavy burden in the working world, a report published in 2021 by TUC titled “Working Mums: Paying the Price” shared some important statistics which show why days like today and conversations like these NEED to continue.
- Nine out of ten mums say their mental health has been negatively impacted experiencing levels of stress and anxiety
- 25% of mums are worried they will lose their job, either through being singled out for redundancy, sacked, or denied hours
Menopause is also a top concern for working women today and I truly think this needs an article all on its own. So, ladies, if you’re open to a chat about work and menopause get in touch!!
We wanted to share practical changes that have been successfully implemented across the region to help with equality.
So, we asked “What do you think the biggest wins are with regards to changes made within your organisation to create a more inclusive and equal working environment?”
Rachael backed up the point above about needing responsible and open minded leaders “The business I currently work in has changed over the last few years as we have female directors, quarry managers, and senior leaders, our teams are diverse and this encourages better decision making and employee engagement. I believe having a diverse workforce gives us the edge on some of our competitors. On a personal level with my team, I set up a Mentoring Programme, so team members are put together with an Operational Manager and it brings out confidence and seeing women on site on a regular basis helps to normalise.”
I really like the idea of a mentoring scheme to help give internal role models and promote strong leaders within a typically male dominated industry!
Lisa from Bridgeway said “I work in a male dominated environment at Bridgeway, however, it is representative of the industry we work in. Whilst this is the case, I’m really proud of the work we do to engage with schools and colleges to attract young women to careers in STEM. I think the pandemic has expedited things in terms of hybrid working and this is something we are committing to continuing as it has a significant impact on supporting and retaining women in the workplace.”
Philippa suggested that “Huge wins are found in publicising the fact that an employer feels confident enough to broadcast their policies and procedures actively promoting equality in the workplace, proactively helping females who work incredibly hard both in and out of the workplace to be recognised for their service to others.”
Caroline also said “Build learning sets for all minorities and representations. Collaborate on action plans and track progress. Set up DE&I boards with employees, customers, clients, shareholders, and investors to assess the employee experience. Proactively target employment and educational opportunities through school visits and giving under-represented groups the chance of 'earning and learning”
Some brilliant tips there that your organisation can implement or at least start the discussion of implementing. I think Bev, summed it up perfectly “Education is the biggest win, teach people the impacts and they may actually get it.”. Even if you don’t have a budget or time to plan a whole D&I process, at least start by providing education around topics such as this one!
Finally, we asked our fantastic panel – Who is a woman you would like to celebrate today?
Bev shared “A cliché but my mother, who is in her 90s and still amazing, she is my role model, and always will be, I take it as a huge compliment when people say I am like her. She is always in my corner”
It’s not a cliché Bev! It’s definitely a blessing to have a strong female person to look up to and who keeps you grounded.
Philippa is celebrating “the two female cohorts, who I am enjoying getting to know better through the peer-to-peer mentoring scheme. We are surrounded by female bright lights in the business world, sometimes we need to celebrate the grass roots business owners who through sheer hard work, fortitude, and compromise help to make lives better.”
Lisa is giving a celebratory shout out to “Mel Berry and Holly Woodford who co-founded Her Spirit based in Nottingham. They have created an on and offline supportive and inclusive community that helps women across the UK to get active and create healthier habits for life.”
When we asked Rachael this she proudly said, “All woman who work in the construction industry, it takes a certain type of woman.”
And finally, Caroline would like to celebrate Annie Lennox for her incredible music abilities and philanthropy!
I want to say a HUGE thank you to Lisa Brackner, Bev Crighton, Rachael Long, Philippa L Clarke, Sally Brys and Caroline Foster for contributing to this article and helping us shine a light on changes that need to be made and for also helping us celebrate strong women today.
This topic has made me think about where we are in the fight against gender equality as both an employer and a recruitment organisation. I asked one of the strongest women I know, our Managing Director, Danielle Asano what is Cherry Professional’s proactive stance on promoting gender equality and an unbiased culture, she said “When we set up Cherry Professional 14 years ago, these kinds of terms were very new to us an employers but, as a female in a very male dominated industry, I wanted to make sure that we created a fair and equal workforce, something my business partner Martin Burnett echoed! We have held biased training for our staff, we try to think of new ways and technologies that can help us remove identifiable traits that can cause bias or unconscious biased when recruiting. There is more we can do as a business and it’s something that is at the top of our agenda for 2022. Just speaking to the businesswomen in this article has given me some ideas of things we can focus on this year to help #breakthebias.”