The dust is well and truly settled on International Women’s Day for another year and as a result, I have been reflecting on IWD itself, the notion of ‘Embracing Equity’ and what real, measurable progress is being made. As the years go by, I mark the passing of the 365 days in various ways; birthdays, Christmas, annual results to name a few and at each of these points I am able to look back and clearly see what has changed over those twelve months.
And then there is International Women’s Day.
Every year it pops up and every year I get the same sinking feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate that there is a day. I celebrate that we unite behind a cause in order to move it along. It’s the pathetic pace of change which makes me feel sad, frustrated and angry. And I mean angry. Not annoyed. Not irked. Angry.
There is a phrase ‘if you are not angry, you are not paying attention’ which is difficult to attribute to any individual but I’m not sure that matters. What matters is that I am finding it increasingly true. The soft focus lens through which we view IWD is becoming intolerable. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile between the multitude of individuals and businesses which trot out the body gestures and naff quotes and the actual reality of the inequality in the home and workplace for women.
You may remember – although it seems like much more than just two months ago – this year’s theme was ‘Embracing Equity’. There are a lot of interpretations of equity. In our business we talk about equity in relation to ownership of the business. For IWD, I would like to think that when we use the term equity, we are looking at fairness and justice for women and that is what everyone should work towards. And the point of equity is that everyone who has it, everyone who has a stake in the success of people having equity, are able to get something back. So how’s that going?
If we are to believe the statistics – not too well. We can start with the gender pay gap, but we will wish we hadn’t. It always depends how the data is cut and spliced but as a general rule, women are still only earning 75p – 80p to the men’s £1 and the Equal Pay Act was brought in in 1972. In the finance industry, the average gender pay gap in 2022-23 was 22.7%, only marginally below the 23% reported in 2021-22.
Clearly as effective as the proverbial chocolate teapot. The World Economic Forum doesn’t expect the gap to close for 100 years. Unless we can get cryogenically frozen, women are not going to see the missing 20p any time soon.
What’s more, 75% of women find their jobs no longer make sense when they have to pay for childcare . Pregnant Then Screwed have determined that a woman earning £33k per year, post childcare costs, will take home £15 per day. I’m not sure that would cover most women’s travel and a coffee. And what it would do for motivation and mental health does not bear thinking about. By any other standard this would be deemed a crisis.
So, I hear the cry ‘what can we do to change it?’ There are absolutely ways we could make change. And fast. And I think much of it could start with stopping behaviours before they start.
Let me give you an example: At a recent external meeting, a male leader was explaining to me how a male member of staff had asked for flexible working. He was minded to turn this request down. Pretending not to understand why I straightened my smile and said, “oh why?”. The reply came, “Because if I say yes to him, everyone will want it.”
And there it was. At a stroke. One man restricts many to work flexibly and therefore by the gender domino effect, imprisons all the women in a relationship with those men. Because if the men can’t work flexibly, it will undoubtedly fall to the women to be expected to. Nothing about this even whispers equity. There is no romantic tailwind of change for us. Headwind all the way. And no sign of a government stepping in to help. This is one small example. Multiply that hundreds of times and it’s not difficult to see why we are in the mess we are in.
By any other standard this would be deemed a crisis.
The first stepping stone is acknowledging and addressing the fact there is an issue. With so many still refusing to accept we need to drive change – all of us, not just the women in the workplace – we will never get anywhere. Following that, make sure it’s a constant topic of conversation – not something only to be touched on once a year – and set goals. We measure everything in the workplace and set targets for improvement. Why should equality be any different?
Business leaders need to practise what they preach – the old adage is ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ But when it comes to equity, true equity, that simply doesn’t fly. What gets measured gets done.
If we don’t have equity and we don’t have a clear plan from the government as to how they will help, what do we have? By my maths, we have resilience to keep going, we have hope, we have a voice to call out behaviours and we have each other’s support. We have the tools to create workplaces which celebrate those who stick their head above the parapet and reward people who genuinely want to make a difference. Externally I’m warming to the idea of resorting to anger. Goodness knows we have tried everything else.