International Women’s Day – 8th March 2020 #EachforEqual
Friday 6th March 2020
Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. It’s also important to recognise that equality doesn’t start and end with women, it affects everyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, and religion amongst other things. As a society we have achieved a lot in recent years: with gender balance and the gender pay gap having received significant attention; protections against race, religion and homophobia are improving all the time; the trans community are increasingly getting their voices heard; there are more disabled people in employment than before; and society in the main, is becoming far more tolerable of differences; but, there is still much to do.
I was delighted when I read that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, which is drawn from a notion of ‘collective individualism’ – how our individual actions, conversations, behaviours and mindsets can have an impact on our wider society, and collectively, how we can make change happen and help create a more equal world. I was delighted because it is asking everyone (including men) to get involved, we all have a role to play in creating a more equal world, celebrating the success of women and championing equality more broadly is a great cause and one that I am delighted to be involved in.
My organisation supports businesses and governments around the world to embrace and embed a culture of inclusion in the heart of everything they do, and in doing so, they enjoy the significant benefits that come from a diverse, engaged and empowered workforce. As I said, much has been done to improve equality for everyone, women in particular have been shattering glass ceilings in the workplace and in recent years we have seen some high profile female appointments including: Baroness Lady Hale who became the first female President of the Supreme Court, Jody Whittaker became the first female Doctor Who, and Cressida Dick became the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. All of whom, have the opportunity and responsibility to be role models and to push the doors of opportunity open wider for those that follow them. However, we must remember there are still some high-profile positions that have never been held by women; Chancellor of the Exchequer – the second biggest job in government, Leader of the Labour Party, Governor of the Bank of England or even The Archbishop of Canterbury, and many others.
As a collective we can help, we should be challenging these organisations and others, to be more attractive for women to want to work there and to be more inclusive, calling on them to create an environment where women can thrive and succeed. There are many benefits to having a more gender balanced workforce including performance, collaboration, innovation, retention, different perspectives, reflecting customers, and greater profitability.
I am fortunate to work with organisations that are working hard to encourage more women into their workforce, they understand that in order to enjoy the benefits that come from a more gender balanced workforce they must invest and work hard to create an environment more appealing to women. The best organisations are the ones who are bold and courageous, and put inclusion at the heart of their strategy, we call it the ‘Golden Thread’. We have seen some fantastic initiatives aimed at improving the gender balance such as: investing in training and development programmes; creation of women’s networks; coaching and mentoring programmes for women in leadership; radical reform of flexible working policies (I use the word radical because we see so many organisations just paying lip service to flexible working); and we even have one client who has built and opened a creche, a solution that allows new mothers who ‘want’ to return to work, to do so with ease (as a single parent and a man, I should point out that this initiative is equally attractive to me as well). These organisations recognise the value that women bring to their organisation and therefore have found solutions to make their environments more attractive and inclusive to women. These initiatives alone won’t close that gender gap but it’s a great start and progress we should shout about and celebrate.
On the other hand, I see organisations who have much shorter-term strategies and think that lip service measures like a quick online training course about diversity and inclusion will be enough to tick the box. I often try to reflect on what’s driving this approach, is it perhaps not an intentionally poor attitude to equality and inclusion, but merely a symptom of wider problems such as; a lack of understanding on the subject, or even the pressure of success (the old ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude). For my part, I try to challenge this thinking, I try to explain that whether they like it or not, the world is progressing and if they want to attract and retain the best talent, then their organisations will need to compete and evolve, and they can either be in control of it or it can happen to them. Some to their credit have evolved their thinking and embarked on a programme of change, others we politely agree to disagree.
This brings me to one of the most frustrating and frankly short-term strategies I see organisations embark on in response to the gender gap, ‘All female shortlists’, or as the name has more recently evolved ‘positive action’. I should state here that whilst I believe the intention is often good, the sentiment is dreadful and a recipe for disaster. I have been fortunate in my career to have worked with and for some truly amazing women, all of whom, I believe would be mortified if they thought, or indeed if others thought, that they had achieved their success because they were women or because no men were allowed to apply. I am confident that they would want to know they had got there on merit, because they were the best person for the job.
If women are not applying to roles in your organisation, ask yourself why? What is not attractive about working for you? And fix it. Or if women are applying and not being successful, as yourself why? And fix that. Don’t take the easy route and rig the competition.
I’m going to finish this blog post in the vain it started, collective individualism, with a shout out to all the amazing women I’ve worked with in my career (you know who you are), you kick ass every day and I am proud to support you, not just today but every day!
And to everyone else wherever you work, ‘collectively’ let us use the opportunity on IWD 2020 to celebrate and champion all the fantastic women we work with and let’s act together and challenge the barriers to creating an equal and inclusive workplace for everyone.
- Craig Richards, Managing Director at EA Inclusion – Part of the Equal Approach family!