5 ways to support female equality, long after International Women’s Day

Every year on International Women’s Day, we stop and think about the women’s rights movement, celebrate how far things have come and think about how to accelerate further change. What can be frustrating is that, generally speaking, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done; the gender pay gap, the motherhood penalty, the extortionate cost of childcare and presentation bias are just a few issues experienced by many working women today.

That being said, I do have a good level of optimism for the future, which is reinforced by not only my current place of work, but my firsthand experience of the amazing things other huge organisations are doing to make a difference.

Many organisations are serious about parental transition support

Just look at our work with Met Police on supporting parents – particularly women – through the transition to parenthood and back into the workplace. It’s a privilege to be involved in programmes like these and to speak to organisations about how they can effect lasting change.

So, if you’re serious about addressing the spotlighted challenges and inequalities – not just on International Women’s Day, but all year round – here are 5 suggestions for how you can support the women in your workplace.

1. Review your parental leave policies

Equality doesn’t come by only changing the situation for women. A lot of inequalities at work start from when a woman goes on maternity leave and typically becomes the default caregiver. So, while you are reviewing your policy for birthing employees, also take a look at your policies around wider parental leave.

Do non-birthing parents have the option of shared parental leave? Will they be able to afford to take it, comparably to their child-bearing partners? Enabling and supporting parents to work in partnership from the get-go can create a much more equal division of labour and a shared mental load in the long term, thereby giving women a step up instead of being held back. Take a look at the recent great work by Lewis Silkin or Lottie if you need some inspiration or justification for doing this.

2. Enable flexible working – for men and women – and mean it

People need flex to make work work. If you have caregivers in your organisation – whether that be parents looking after children or adult children looking after elderly parents (or even experiencing the midlife collision of both simultaneously) – they will require flexible working, regardless of whether they are male or female.

Pre-COVID, flexible working was predominantly thought of as a ‘women’s issue’. And yes, typically caregiving does fall to the women, so flexibility is required. However, if men were also comfortable, encouraged, or enabled to work as flexibly, this would help alleviate the burden on women and make the whole set-up more equal.

And it’s no good just offering flexible working – you have to really mean it. Flex-shaming, ‘jokes’ about leaving early, microaggressions or rewarding visibility all need to be eliminated for this to truly work and bring the intentions behind your policy to life.

3. Implement and communicate a menopause policy

International Women’s Day isn’t just about mums or parents. Another contributor to the gender pay gap and the tiny proportion of women in the most senior positions is women leaving the workplace around the time of menopause/perimenopause.

Three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work, around 10% of women leave their jobs and many more are reducing their hours or passing up promotions because of their menopausal symptoms.

Despite these very real statistics, an overwhelming 90% of women say their workplaces offer no help and support for menopausal workers. Having a policy to outline reasonable adjustments and what other support you can offer helps both managers and employees feel more comfortable, empowered, and ultimately more likely to stay in the workplace if that’s what they want to do.

4. Offer a financial health check

As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and unfortunately too few of us have the comprehensive financial knowledge to often make the best – or even informed – decisions over our finances. Giving employees more knowledge on options or a safe space to discuss scenarios, and to do so with a partner if they have one (to look at any benefits of joint financial planning), empowers them.

Being able to look at the different outcomes with financial modelling is also hugely beneficial and could change someone’s approach to student loan repayments or pension pots, for example, before being hit by the more female-oriented penalties later in their career.

5. Consider how your senior roles are advertised

Typically, flexible working is more commonplace in junior roles, meaning those in senior positions are either dropping out of the workforce, ‘underemployed’ (working below their skillset to secure the flexibility they need), or stuck in roles they no longer enjoy because there’s no senior level flexible equivalent.

Challenge yourself to consider whether more senior roles can be done on a part-time, job share, flexible or hybrid basis – and shout about this! Don’t wait for someone to ask the question; think about how you could make this work and let everyone know. It’s also a great idea to review your job descriptions for gender-coded words that, however unintentionally, will inherently put off female candidates from applying.

How we can assist you on your commitment to workplace equality

If you or your organisation wants to make a lasting commitment to female equality, we would love to help you implement any or all of these suggestions. And if you are already doing these things and want to find out what your next step is, let’s talk about how we can help.


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