International Women’s Day 2019

Mary Palmer

Last year witnessed a tide of change for women’s rights. In Saudi Arabia, women were allowed to drive legally for the first time. In Spain, a majority female cabinet was brought into power for the first time in the country’s history. Women of colour made history at the US mid-term elections. In Iran, women watched the World Cup side-by-side with men for the first time.

And, of course, there has been continued pressure from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and on gender pay gap reporting.

So, how has all of this inspiring change affected the psyche of ‘normal’ working females?

The modern working woman is seen to be a number of things: a go-getter, a multi-tasker, a hard worker. After all, the analogy of the glass ceiling would lead most to believe that women have had to work twice as hard to get to where they are in the workplace.

But most women will probably find themselves facing an all-too-common workplace dichotomy – they are either seen to be way too aggressive and pushy (words like ‘spiky’ are often used to describe such women) or they are torn between pursuing a career and family life.

Yes, sadly, in this day and age, women are still seen as primary carers when it comes to children, therefore the mantra of ‘having it all’ still seems impossible for some.

Many women won’t even consider taking a promotion in work because it may entail longer hours or a heavier workload – both of which could have an impact on family life. “Who will pick up the kids from school if I have to work till 6pm every night?” is something that any working mother would worry about. But would a working father?

Much of the focus of International Women’s Day falls on projects such as supporting women back in to the workplace, providing better access to education and local meet ups or blogs where women can share thoughts and ideas about improving gender equality.

Whilst much has been made of the gender pay gap – even Theresa May made the bold statement of, “If you are a woman, you will earn less” – there is much more to equality and diversity in the workplace than a wage packet. Although, ensuring that male and female employees are paid the same to do the same job is a really good place to start.

But how can employers attract and retain female talent, specifically when considering working mums? There are several ways in which companies can look to redress the gender balance and create a fair working environment for all their employees.

According to the Fawcett Society, there are three initial steps employers can take:

  • Advertise jobs at all levels in their organisation as flexible, part-time or a job share unless there is a strong business case not to.
  • Unblock the pipeline. Support women to progress to higher paid jobs. Tackle unconscious bias and use targets to measure progress and focus minds.
  • Become a living wage employer – over 60% of those earning less that the living wage are women.

Women are far more likely undersell their skills and abilities for fear of coming across as too pushy or aggressive. It seems to stem from the fact that women entered the workplace centuries after men, and still feel ‘new’ to things.

Studies show that women are also far less likely to ask for a pay rise, whereas men have absolutely no problem in asking for a hike – even outwith annual reviews. It perhaps stems from this notion that women feel like they need to prove themselves in a role before asking for rightful payment. This fear of being rebuked for negotiating a pay rise is no doubt a massive contributor to the gender pay gap.

There is also this unfortunate stereotype that women in power are hard task maskers who pick on their staff. So, the modern working woman finds herself treading a fine line – working hard enough to be seen as conscientious, but not attempting to take over in case she’s seen as a threat.

On this year’s International Women’s Day, wouldn’t it be great if women could truly empower each other to progress in the workplace, instead of tearing each other down by judging each other based on outdated, chauvinistic stereotypes?

Wouldn’t it be better still if employers could tear down the barriers that prevent women from taking their place in the business world?

This International Women’s Day, meet, challenge and defy expectations. Balance for Better.

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