Did you know? The 8th March is International Women’s Day! The first women’s day activities happened over a hundred years ago in America and Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, working women were engaged in fierce struggles for the right to vote, for equal pay with men, and for an end to discrimination and violence at home and in the workplace.
Officially designated by the United Nations in 1975, International Women’s Day is now a national holiday in many parts of the world. The global event celebrates women’s achievements and mobilises communities to make changes that empower women and girls.
Do we still need International Women’s Day?
As someone who has spent several years working for a women’s charity, the importance of the 8th March is forever ingrained in my brain. However, for many of us it might not be obvious why promoting women’s rights is still needed in 2020. Aren’t we all equal by now?
The short answer is no. The world has made many advances since the 1900s, but women and girls still face systemic barriers to political participation, equal opportunities, and a life free from abuse and gender-based violence. According to the United Nations, not a single country has yet achieved gender equality.
Most people support gender equality in principle but unfortunately, discrimination based on sex or gender identity is still rife in the workforce. On average, women earn only 80% of men’s median hourly wages for doing the same job. Women are also massively under-represented in leadership roles: less than a quarter of Chief Executives and Senior Officials are women. The #metoo and #timesup movements have also shown that most women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. This discrimination can be compounded for women of colour, LGBT+ women and disabled women.
Gender inequality holds everyone back, leading to less productive workplaces.
How can we promote gender equality at work?
Thankfully, more and more businesses recognise that diverse and inclusive workplaces are not only better for women but have significantly higher revenues: gender equality positively impacts the bottom line.
Walkgrove is a company committed to the United Nations Global Compact and aims to promote international human rights through all activities, including women’s rights. In celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, here are our five suggestions for employers to help further the cause of gender equality.
1. Offer a real living wage
Although discussion about the gender pay gap often focuses on senior positions, most women work in low-paid and insecure sectors and jobs and poverty disproportionately affects women. Improving wages and job security for your lowest paid workers is therefore an essential tool for businesses who want to help women out of poverty.
The Living Wage Campaign offers businesses support and accreditation to provide wages that meet the costs of living, not just the government minimum. Find out more
2. Promote flexible and carer-friendly working
Women take on the majority of care responsibilities for children and relatives, and the time demand this creates can push women out of the professional workforce. Offering flexible working arrangements, part-time roles and generous carers leave will help to address the imbalance.
The CIPD gender equality recommendations suggest that employers design more flexible jobs and role model flexible working at a senior level, as well as offering paid parental leave and encouraging greater take-up of paternity and shared parental leave. Find out more
3. Keep the workplace safe
Sexual harassment and bullying prevents women from thriving at work: women who experience sexual harassment at work are six times more likely to change jobs. No industry is immune: over half of British women and 85% of American women report experiencing sexual harassment at work.
To keep your workplace safe, take a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate behaviour and foster a culture in which harassment is unacceptable. Support women to join a union. Clearly communicate policies on dignity and respect at work and give individuals the confidence to bring complaints without fear.
The CIPD offers comprehensive practical guidance on how to tackle sexual harassment and bullying at work. Find out more
4. Be proactive against bias
Outdated and unconscious gender stereotypes about women can contribute to us being unfairly overlooked for hires and promotions, paid less for similar work, and evaluated more harshly than male counterparts.
A whole-culture approach to gender inclusion is needed to eradicate any invisible biases in recruitment or people management that hold women back.
Consider holistic training on unconscious bias and prejudice. Monitor gender metrics on pay, recruitment and the employee lifecycle and engage your team for feedback on gender inclusion; this can help you create a robust gender equality action plan that is enthusiastically bought into at all levels of the organisation.
The Fawcett Society can help you create practical action plans to make the workplace more gender-sensitive. Find out more
5. Recruit more women to senior positions
Men continue to be far more likely than women to be in leadership roles across all sectors. At the current rate of change, we won’t see gender equality for another 170 years.
Consider offering training, personal development, networking and mentorship opportunities that accelerate women’s career development into management positions. Ask the women in your organisation what they need to thrive. Set gender diversity recruitment targets for leadership positions. Consider setting up a women’s taskforce to implement and monitor progress.
The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership offers insights into the barriers that women face to progression in the workplace and how to overcome them. Find out more.