It was International Women’s Day last week, and I was asked to answer a few questions. Yet, with the #breakthebias focus this year, I thought I’d step outside my comfort zone and perhaps throw some of the usual questions up in the air…
International Women’s Day Raises Questions
For those of you that know me personally, I’m a very open-minded person and can usually empathise with both sides of every discussion. International Women’s Day is no different, I don’t necessarily have ‘A’ point of view or have answers to the many questions surrounding the issue. Instead, I am acutely aware of questions I think people avoid, or perhaps don’t have the opportunity to consider.
So, what did International Women's Day get me thinking about:
- I have thought about my mother and father who used to run a successful business. Specifically, a photo I distinctly remember of my mum being the only female across-the-board table of 20 people (and not only that, but being sat on one of the ‘gentleman’s laps for the photo).
- I think about my daughter who is 7, at school, and conversations we’ve had so far, she gives not so dissimilar answers to perhaps what I would have given, when asked what you would like to do when you’re older.
- And as importantly, I think about the number of men I speak to that say - when is Men’s International Day…?
Now, some people (not just women) get irritated by this sort of comment, but I wonder how much we’ve done to explain why. Is it because we just think it’s obvious?
We talk about protected groups more openly and we talk about adverse impact for women, and other protected groups for that matter, and subsequently try and suggest changing selection processes in order to balance the playing field. Yet, additionally, wouldn’t it be more helpful to not just explain the benefits, but address those that quietly sit in the corner, and say: ‘But why do we need to do this? It’s working well at the moment. We don’t need to change anything. Just because 90% happen to be men, well it works! So why do we want to change it? Just as part of a company objective?’
I don’t think we take enough time to say that, whilst everything currently seems to be working well, perhaps if you had more women coming into these roles, you’d double your profit by utilising a well-balanced team that could provide more diverse ideas, skills and strategy.
Some Challenges of Creating an Equal World
What about the ‘average’ man? Who works as hard as a protected group and gets passed over perhaps as a result of legally applied positive discrimination? What if a business may not take time to explain to them and would possibly avoid the conversation completely? As this is allowed when applied correctly but is still a very contentious subject. Could it perhaps be explained as a short-term objective in place to try and balance the history of challenges for females and the consequent imbalance? When one day it’s rebalanced, everything should be equal and no need for protected groups
Aaagh Eutopia - wouldn’t that be nice!
Furthermore, what about the lack of simplicity of replacing the knowledge and experience that leaves a business when women go on maternity leave? With that person missing out on that time in work, effectively taking years from their career.
We’re still in the world, as lockdown has shown us more than ever, that the maternal role/parental care is still primarily the responsibility of women. During the first weeks of lockdown, in households with children under 18, women were carrying out two-thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men. For some men, it can be more difficult to take leave to care for children, yet many don’t necessarily want to take on as much as a mother.
I’m very much generalising here, but there is also a conversation about nature in the way humans are built. Women are born to be maternal and have babies, there is often a natural maternal instinct. However, for those that battle with this and want to continue their career, whilst it is slightly more accepted, this is still very much a challenge if a mother says confidently that they are keen to get back to work rather than to look after and spend time out of work to be with their child.
Questions can also be raised where some roles lend themselves more to one type of characteristic, such as physique, leading to roles being deemed more male appropriate. Should this be ignored or addressed? Perhaps security positions or labourers for example. Should we be more direct and open about what the risks are, and what’s in place to support anyone that wants to do these roles, regardless of gender?
Additionally, regarding further challenges, after having a daughter of my own and watching her grow up so far, I’m not surprised at all that more females don’t choose to go into STEM subjects or other more male dominated roles. When talked about by parents, schools, TV characters, and TV programmes even, there are still massively biased stereotypes of men and women.
In 2019-2020, the Boxed In report found that female characters were more likely than males to play personal life-oriented roles, such as wife and mother. In contrast, male characters were more likely than females to play work-oriented roles. 52% of female characters, compared to just 38% of males, were seen playing personal-life roles, whereas 56% of males, but 42% of females, played work-oriented roles. With aspirations, or turn offs, often coming from the people in our lives and the media we consume; this presents a problem.
However, much work is done further down the line, with schools, colleges and even companies trying to address these stereotypes – though there is still a huge uphill struggle to change this.
Finally, as a woman, having run business units, being solely responsible for P&Ls, contractors, suppliers, HR, and with the experiences from my mother and father and their business, I understand the considerations that take place. It’s never quite so black and white, and that is why I think it is so important more people are open and have these practical conversations. If we do, then perhaps, we might make some more significant change.
I think it’s right to address these conversations, and not feel like you can’t speak about practicalities anymore. You shouldn’t feel unable to share among any group or situation because you’re so worried of saying something that would offend somebody or may be considered inappropriate.
So, I’ve thrown up loads of questions and things to think about. I think we should do this more.
There is a lot of focus on trying to put steps in place to make a difference for women in the workplace – but to try and make more of an impact on addressing the balance, I think we should try to do far more to encourage open conversation.
Let's discuss the challenges that sit behind all the concerns, thoughts, worries, practicalities, potential impacts, feelings and so on, without anyone feeling prejudiced or judged.
Open and honest communication for International Women's Day, from everyone, has been my key takeaway, and hope it may be yours, too.
You can read about how Amberjack helps organisations recruit women in our International Women's Day blog: Recruiting Women: The Importance, The Struggles, and The Solutions.