Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and its message of embracing equity, we have an opportunity to consider what this means for those of us in the workplace.
It doesn’t take hours of internet research to find out that the reality of being a woman at work for many continues to be, at best, a challenge and, at worst, a serious cause for concern.
In its 2023 State of the Nation Report, Wales’s leading gender equality charity, Chwarae Teg said: “The persistent inequality in our economy is a key factor that leaves women more vulnerable to the impacts of the current cost of living crisis. On average women are still paid less, are more likely to be economically inactive and more likely to work part-time. This means the squeeze on incomes is likely to be felt much more acutely by women.”
The pandemic did nothing to help the cause of working women, with the resulting economic downturn particularly affecting women, owing to the catastrophic impact it had on the hospitality and retail sectors that attract a predominantly female workforce. With our unabated love of portmanteau words, this phenomenon was dubbed ‘shecession’.
But we need to move forward, and there’s no better time than International Women’s Day to focus on the changes that, collectively, we can introduce to make a difference.
There are many events taking place all over the world today to mark IWD and, here in Wales, Freshwater will be supporting the Welsh Government to deliver a celebration of the achievements of Teams4U, Bees for Development, Size of Wales and Nairasha Legal Support – four Welsh organisations that have delivered projects in Uganda and Lesotho to highlight women’s empowerment and gender equality.
What is especially encouraging about the IWD message of equity this year is that it recognises that different people require different treatment to achieve the same result.
Whereas equality is about giving people the same resources or opportunities, equity recognises that everyone comes from a different place and may need different adjustments to succeed, complementing the celebration of diversity that we are seeing more regularly in the UK workplace.
Forward-thinking organisations are committed to embracing diversity across the board and reflect this in their policies, because good leaders know that their greatest asset is their people. But how do they achieve this, especially with reference to women?
Well, in celebration of International Women’s Day, let’s take the topic of menopause as a start. There’s been something of a sea change when it comes to the ‘M’ word, as it becomes something we’re now not only allowed, but actively encouraged, to talk about. Companies are adopting menopause policies to support female colleagues and to educate their workforce. Good policies include training managers to raise awareness, encouraging dialogue, introducing peer support systems and menopause champions and making sure that everyone feels empowered to raise issues openly and sensitively.
Other useful workplace policies include job-sharing, hybrid working and flexible start and end times, which enables employees to juggle work and caring responsibilities. This is not, of course, restricted to women, but a 2022 poll by Ipsos Mori and Business in the Community found that three out of five women say caring responsibilities are preventing them from applying for a new job or promotion, while only one in five men say the same.
Returning to the pandemic, one of its few benefits was proving to bosses that there is a different way to operate, which doesn’t necessarily mean staff being forced to sit at their desks 9-5. At Freshwater, we’ve certainly used the pandemic as a watershed moment and now operate a way of working called Freshwater Flex, where employees can blend home and office working throughout the week to suit their needs, together with those of clients and the business, with a flexibility around start and end times.
As well as valuing and celebrating diversity being the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. A study by Harvard Business Review found that gender diversity leads to more productive companies; and more satisfied employees are more likely to stay for longer and recommend it as a great place to work to others, avoiding the talent drain that can happen all too often.
As ever, there’s a choice for employers on these big calendar days. We can pay lip service by doing a nice picture with a hashtag for social media – or we can go deeper, start to shift our mindset and culture by having conversations and adopting policies that really make a difference.
Angharad Neagle is chief executive of Freshwater UK, the Cardiff-headquartered communications consultancy. Read More:
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