How do we address gender inequality in the workplace?

On International Women’s Day there is one certainty every year; the question of why we NEED a Women’s Day at all in 2019? However, the facts are stark. Key sectors including tech, engineering and science are still overwhelmingly male dominated. Added to that, women are still paid less than men and underrepresented in the workforce. How can we bring about the change we need to see to achieve equality?

A report by McKinsey states that men are not only more likely to ask for promotions and salary increases, but the way they ask also means they are more likely to get it. Apparently, you’re more likely to get what you want if you ask for a defined figure and have a strong supporting case. Women don’t appear to have the confidence to do that and are less likely ask for more money on threat of leaving.

In a previous article we discussed the fact that girls are less likely to go into STE(A)M careers because they are aware of the fact that the industry is still male dominated. We also discovered that after just six years-old, girls see boys as smarter than girls.

If it is a lack of confidence that keeps women from excelling at work and getting those pay rises, how do we address this? Is the media to blame? With magazines and adverts portraying thin, beautiful women and girls clothing with slogans like ‘princess’ plastered all over them, is the message that women and girls should be focusing on their appearance rather than their careers? Or are women who find themselves on the path to success suffering so badly from ‘imposter syndrome’, that their progress is stifled? Unless there is a major shift in the way we represent women in society, and the stories we portray about what professional success looks like for women, I can’t see the next generation being any different.

The gender stereotypes also affect our attitudes to our different roles in life. Women are still expected, much more than men, to be the main carer of children, even if they work. Yet initiatives to increase the participation of women in the workforce focus on changing attitudes at work, but that alone will not produce the revolution that we need.

Our MD Anne Cantelo said:

“Until we have equality at home we can’t have equality in the workplace.”

But how do we achieve equality at home? In an article by The Guardian back in 2017 it was revealed that Aviva offers equal maternity and paternity pay:

“The new policy is part of Aviva’s strategy to create a diverse and inclusive working culture in which barriers to career progression are removed.”

The Guardian reported: The Aviva chief executive, Mark Wilson, said:

“I want to live in a world where the only criteria for success is someone’s talent, not their gender. Treating parents equally will help make this happen.

“We want Aviva to be a progressive, inclusive, welcoming place to work. It’s good for our people and it’s also good business sense.”

However, maternity and paternity leave is only the start of the struggle. We need mothers and fathers to accept that they have equal responsibility for their children. So long as it is assumed that women will drop everything to care for a sick child, women will lose out at work and employers will discriminate against them as they will be seen as less reliable. Equality has to go both ways. Flexible working can help women manage child care but it should be offered to fathers as well as mothers so that both parents can work flexibly around their child care duties.

Pew research in 2013 found that working fathers were as likely as working mothers to say they preferred to be at home with their children but could not because they had to earn a living instead, so this situation is not just unfair to women, it’s unfair to men.

On International Women’s Day I believe we all have to think about our role in ending the discrimination that is still part of our every day lives. It is not all down to men or some government department, it is the responsibility of each of us to do our bit.