Women’s rights across the years…
Only a century ago, women were not allowed to do things we readily take for granted today such as own property, open a bank account, or have a beer at a pub unchaperoned. Today, although things look better than ever, there is a lot to be done to achieve true equality.
From joining the Fortune 500 CEOs to going into space, women have achieved many successes in the workplace, and despite all the struggles, we have seen a lot of progress.
In 2018 we celebrated 100 years of the suffragette movement – the amazing women that fought and endured cruelty to further the cause of equality – and the “Representation of the People Act”- that gave us the right to vote in Britain. In the 90s, with the medium of music speaking to the new generation, we saw the rise of girl power with the girl band Spice Girls and the pop star Britney Spears.
In the same decade and after a long time of female campaigning, the UK introduced a law deeming rape within a marriage as illegal.
The ’00s saw a rise of another all-girl band, Destiny’s Child, that taught us what an “Independent Woman” looks like – although men still dominated the workplace earning 27% more than their female counterparts. During that decade the “Equality Act 2010” come into place, that empowered women to take on this fight in court.
In 2017, the rise of the global #Metoo movement, initiated by activist Tarana Burke, sparked significant changes in the workplace by increasing awareness of sexual harassment. It encouraged many victims to speak up – and according to research conducted by UK Trade Union Congress – 68% claimed that the movement helped women be more open about sexual harassment.
An issue that still remains in the 21st century is working mothers. Unfortunately, once a woman has her first child, the gender pay gap increases. In 2015, the UK introduced Shared Parental Leave to tackle the problem, but its uptake is very low at 2% and sadly it’s not available to self-employed individuals.
Despite this, during the last few years, the ladies have done quite well. An example worth mentioning is Anne Boden, the founder of Starling Bank who positively broke the “city boy” stereotype of fintech. After being told she wouldn’t be able to make it and feeling fed up with modern finance, Anne mapped out her plan on how to launch Starling Bank on a cruise around South Africa. She made her success story happen and her app-based bank now has 1.8m customers and a workforce of over 1000 people with 40% of senior roles belonging to women. Starling Bank has won on numerous occasions the Best British Bank award at the British Bank Awards and is the only bank to get through 2020 stronger than ever.
Another superwoman worth mentioning is Dana Strong, currently the CEO of Sky Group. With a career spanning over 20 years within the telecommunications industry, she has driven growth and transformation for the world’s largest organizations. Dana worked herself up from the telecommunications firm Austar to become the senior vice-president and chief transformation officer of Liberty Global leading the group’s strategic and operational transformation program and currently holding the title of CEO of Sky Group. Admirably, she has won many accolades within the industry for her leadership.
Diversity numbers are going in a promising direction but there is still much to be done. According to consultancy.eu, global female participation in the government and senior boards of the private sector stand at only 32%.
Nevertheless, in good news, Korn Ferry reports that women’s representation in boards of large public European companies is continuing to rise from 32% to 34% in 2020. 2020 was the year of female leaders as they famously became those that managed the global health crises best, whilst in the USA the first female vice president came into power for the first time in American history.
The disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on women
The pandemic crisis has been named the “she-cession” as it has had a devastating impact on women, disproportionately affecting them more than men. Studies have revealed that women are 1.8 times more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic and industries dominated by women were amongst the worst hit. Caring for children and the elderly including unpaid work has increased during this global crisis. During the lockdown, domestic violence has risen and women are more exposed to the virus as 70% of health workers around the world are women.
The good news is that this has prompted countries to introduce schemes to assist women. For example, Hawaii has approved a “Feminist Economic Recovery Plan” – the first one globally. In addition, Canada has introduced an $80m “Feminist Response and Recovery Fund” for issues such as domestic violence, economic security, and leadership preparation programs.
Companies are also working hard to eliminate inequality. On March 8, 2021, Firmenich, the world’s largest fragrance and taste company became the first organization in the world to upgrade its gender equality EDGE certification to the next level, as it has taken action beyond gender equality and focuses on other underrepresented groups as well. Firmenich has managed to increase women in its global workforce to 41% and has eliminated gender pay gaps. Furthermore, practices it has incorporated in its workplace include flexible working opportunities, fair and effective recruitment and promotion, and equal representation throughout all levels. Good to also know that half of the executive committee are women!
Telecom giant Verizon recently unveiled a series of initiatives to tackle the issue of inequality including raising awareness, mentoring, and training programs. “This last year has put a spotlight on the fact that women carry a much bigger burden of household responsibilities,” claims Tami Erwin, the CEO “That creates its own stress, and in many instances, women have been afraid to talk about what they need to be successful at work.”
What can employers do?
There is a lot that organizations can do to promote workplace gender equality.
One of the most important ways of increasing gender equality comes from adapting the right company culture as it creates the basis of attitudes within the workplace. That includes carefully considering the language companies use in everything from job descriptions to policies.
Companies should make gender diversity and inclusion a priority. Gender equality should be regarded as a business goal that will increase profitability, rather than just an initiative.
Implementing greater flexibility at work can improve equality. To relieve the stress of working mothers, companies can start by promoting equal parental leave, having workplace nurseries, and flexible working programs to assist women back to work.
The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted a workplace template that didn’t really work for women and particularly working mothers. As employers are starting to look at the future of work post-pandemic, they have a great opportunity to recreate an environment that best suits women.
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