How you can support gender equality in the workplace

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality and this year calls for its supporters to give voice to the cause as loudly as ever with its #choosetochallenge campaign, a theme which highlights the negative setbacks the Covid:19 Pandemic has inflicted on gender equality and women’s rights in the workplace.

Each year, the BBC issues its list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world, among them scientists and researchers, health experts, world leaders, activists, and campaigners. Reading through I can wholly appreciate what these women have achieved, the struggles they have overcome, the change they have affected and the results they have produced.

However, at a personal level, I find it hard to relate to. Yes, I am a woman, working my hardest for myself and my family but my impact on the world isn’t as significant unless you ask my son of course! Well, this year, for the first time, the No.1 spot was given to the unsung heroes, a tribute to all the women around the globe whose contributions have an impact on our everyday lives.

It’s designed to make us think about and celebrate the everyday women (but certainly not your average!), who these women are and how they make a difference to each of us, personally.

Most of us can relate to this by looking at our nearest and dearest. I surround myself with some pretty incredible women and it’s these women, living ‘normal’ lives that we should also recognise and applaud for the differences they make every day.

Take a moment to reflect and think about those women around you and what they are achieving right now – pretty amazing if you ask me. Tag them in the comments so they know you are thinking of them. 

For me, it’s my best friend, a frontline nurse for Nuffield Hospital in Ipswich, currently caring for cancer patients transferred from Ipswich hospital due to the pandemic, coping with all new procedures, treatments and the emotional turmoil whilst at home bringing up a soon to be 5-year-old and a 1-year-old (so add home school teacher to the list of achievements).

My mum, currently working from home for Ipswich Borough Council, supporting vulnerable people over the phone affected by the pandemic, whilst being part of my care bubble putting all her energy into entertaining my very energetic son to allow me some undisturbed time to work, as well as a carer for my grandad who is at the incredible age of 99!

My son’s best mate’s mum, during the week working for a collection of local GP surgeries in Suffolk, managing and co-ordinating the successful running of the practices as well as now working at the weekend to floor manage a COVID-19 vaccination centre.

The list goes on and International Women’s Day gives us pause to consider and celebrate these people.  At the same time, I also want to acknowledge that I know these women have a great support network around them, whether this be husbands, partners, other family or friends cheering them on, being there for them and backing them up to help make their achievements possible. And I guess this is really what it is about for me, the underlying message I take from International Women’s Day is support, what can we do to provide more of it?

Support allows people to thrive, to achieve, to make it through to the end. It’s not just about women, International Women’s Day is about equality, so we should support men and women alike. We apply this so easily to our nearest and dearest, if employers and employees applied this to each other in equal measures, think what we could all achieve individually and together in our working environments?

Tips to encourage support and gender equality at work 

Karen Poulsen, HR Advisor for PSHR, gives her view on what employers can do to encourage support and equality in the workplace:

‘For me, Hannah has hit the nail firmly on the head regarding how we can achieve the aim of equality; we need everyone to be involved, not just women. The support of our employers and our colleagues is just as necessary as the help we get from friends and family. My five top tips are:

  1. Build a culture that encourages support between employees, creating a family-like support bubble at work. Culture is a tricky thing, but transparency and openness in all dealings with each other is a good start.  Leaders who are visible, who know their people and every corner of their business (whilst keeping a steady hand on the rudder and payroll!) engender that spirit. Managers doing the same and being the role model to everyone – ‘hey, we’re all here to help each other’.  Recognising and rewarding good work, achievements or extra efforts (not just financially!) is also key to building a great culture. If we know we get a pat on the back when we do great things, it becomes easier to accept when we perhaps haven’t done as well; it’s fair and balanced.
  2. A recognised code of conduct can help with culture too. This shouldn’t be a list of what you mustn’t do, but more a set of desirable behaviours. Against each, give a few examples of what good conduct might look like and also what it definitely doesn’t.
  3. Policies and procedures are not just about ‘doing to’ people but provide boundaries to protect everyone. Well-written Dignity at Work and Equal Opportunities policies allow the spirit of equality to flow through all practices. We like to think that we do treat everyone the same, but sometimes they need to be treated a little differently; by explaining that in policies it provides a clear understanding of why. Once you have the policies, the key is to apply them consistently (which is sometimes where the plan fails!).
  4. Training on equality and diversity, sub-conscious bias and the like is widely available. This can be really useful but should be rolled out to everyone, not a select few (not very equitable!). It gives you the chance to send the same message on expectations. Training won’t necessarily change highly embedded personal views, but it will make it clear that it’s not about what individuals personally believe, but about how they should behave towards others.
  5. Company values! I’ve heard many times that people don’t really get them, don’t think they apply to them, or don’t know what they are. My advice is to spend some time getting them right. A few key (short) statements on what your company hopes to achieve and how. These then provide a basis on how new people are employed, i.e.: ‘do they fit with our values?’.

PS Human Resources are on hand to offer advice and guidance on any people management issues.

Try our new HR advisory service, a low-cost way to get peace of mind at the end of the phone. Please contact us on 01473 653000 or email hello@pshumanresources.co.uk for more information and for support in drafting a Dignity at Work and Equal Opportunities policies that are right for your business.

International Women’s Day is a positive force for change at every level. Let’s embrace its message and encourage discussion and change in the workplace.  To show your support strike the Choose To Challenge Pose and share on social media using #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.

For more information, please visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com. Celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

Hannah Tricker, Senior HR Consultant.

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