International Women's Day 2021: Time to make an active choice

It is International Women's Day today, and whilst it feels crude to only celebrate women's efforts globally on one day of the year, it is equally only right that companies partake and make noise about it. This year’s theme is #choosetochallenge: "to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world". I often think about this, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to share my thoughts. 

The lack of female diversity in business is an ongoing issue and has existed for quite some time. Famously, Dame Stephanie Shirley did not receive funding for her software technology company in the 1960s until she changed her name to 'Steve'. Dame Shirley eventually secured backing for her venture and is now a fantastic philanthropist and activist. You may think things must be much improved nowadays. But that is not the case.

Parental leave

Maternity leave is a big issue for many new mothers and women considering having a baby. They first have to consider, "Is this the right time for me?" "Will I get chastised for choosing to have a child now?" "Will this affect my career progression at all?" This train of thought does not exist for the fathers involved. They do not have to worry about losing their jobs or people pushing them out of their role upon their return to work.

Indeed, having children is the most significant factor contributing to the gender pay gap. Both the need for childcare and discrimination against women in the workplace result in women not experiencing as much career progression as their male counterparts. Subsequently, we see fewer women in leadership or senior roles. We see this relationship across many industries, with women on average receiving lower pay than men regardless of the male to female ratio. Take nursing as an example - although there is a higher majority of females working as nurses (89% of nurses in the UK are female), we still see men progress faster than women in this career

Worldview

Across the world, women are still not treated fairly. For example, the BBC found that during numerous lockdowns worldwide, housework has once again shifted to a predominantly female issue with women taking charge of household chores, despite having full-time jobs as well as balancing childcare. This is very much a step backwards following the shift towards a more balanced allocation of household chores over the last century. 

Additionally, the founder of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe-Herd, has seen her company recently be valued at $8 billion after going public.  As one of Tinder's co-founders, Whitney left following sexual harassment from another co-founder and went on to found Bumble. People did not believe that she would be successful - why would women reach out and make the first move on a dating app? This thinking supports patriarchal attitudes, and Whitney went on to show that this was a completely misguided view and made an incredibly successful platform out of doing so. 

There are many real-world examples of women not being considered. Condoms are free in UK health clinics, but period products are not. Women cannot help having periods, and people cannot help being sexually active; both are in our DNA. (This may, however, be slightly more of a patriarchal issue). Not to mention period poverty is a phenomenon seen across all nations. Periods are not a choice for women, and there is much work to make them accessible. Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide free period products for all. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. 

A common misconception that needs dismantling is that feminism is only an agenda for women. Feminism, by definition, is for the equality of the sexes. Men can be and should be feminists - feminism is also for the advancement of men. This presents itself in breaking down enforced gender barriers and eradicating outdated stereotypes of traditional masculinity. When we start to realise that feminism can benefit us all, we can begin to make the changes that will impact our world.

Gender balance - off women's shoulders, onto everyone's agenda

Our advisory board member Avivah Wittenberg-Cox of 20first presented an insightful talk last Wednesday to the company in light of International Women's Day. The graph below depicts the gender pay gap at work.

She stated that achieving gender balance in the workplace is not a natural process. There has to be many shifts and changes. 

  1. Cultural change - change the wording in hiring processes to include both men and women. This helps to encourage diversity in candidates from the ground up
  2. Systematic change - taking a look at your company's policy on parental leave, promotion criteria, and career pushes
  3. Leadership change - if there are scarce women in leadership, it is hard to affect change. Aligning leaders on why and how to change

Avivah's Forbes blog post explains the correlation between what the best-prepared countries in the COVID-19 pandemic had in common. The leaders, who coincidentally are all female, acted on four principles: truth, decisiveness, tech and love. One example that stayed with me is the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, who held a press conference specifically for children in light of the pandemic. Demonstrating an abundance of compassion and humanity to me in explaining a scary and unprecedented time to children. In Avivah's words, it was "particularly disruptive in how just a human touch makes all the difference."

Takeaway 

Women account for half of the global population. Women must have a seat at the table; it promotes diverse thinking, and it is simply the right thing to do. It is no longer a marketing buzzword but a global issue. Having women in leadership and more senior roles helps make sure that everyone is well-represented, which will only help your company and product become even more successful. The call for role models is essential. People have the need to identify with what matters to them and with whom they can align themselves. As Avivah mentioned in her talk, once markets and talents are fully represented, it can only lead to better performance. There is a need to return to the core fundamentals of feminism - equality. When we start to realise that feminism can benefit us all, in and out of business, we can finally begin to make the positive changes that we need to see in the world.

What Red Badger offer

  • Shared parental leave. It is equally crucial for men to spend time with their newborns as that bond and attachment can begin to form. Shared parental leave also allows women to maintain their careers and earn more, as maternity pay sometimes isn't enough.
  • Skills and progression based salary reviews that aim to pay those who do the same job equally. We don't decide pay rises based on their current pay or how much overtime they do, but rather what they can do and where they are in their progression.
  • Training budget of £2k per year to support people's learning. 
  • Core hours that are designed to make school runs possible for parents and allow everyone to make work fit around their life. There is evidence that flexible working arrangements positively impact diversity and inclusion and is increasingly important with the cultural shift over the last year in the world of work.
  • We provide many forms of learnings - from lunch and learns with industry speakers to mental health first aid training. 

What we are working on

We know that there are loads more we can be doing to improve our gender balance at Red Badger. Including collecting better data during recruitment to ensure we are engaging with diverse communities and ensuring our system is not systematically biased against particular demography through policy and process reviews. We want to make sure we can cater to everyone’s needs and are proactive in taking care of our people - not complacent.

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