As a small business owner, you undoubtedly have some fabulous women working alongside you, and International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate their achievements in the workplace. But it’s also an opportunity to look at some of the barriers women are still facing, and whether there is more that can be done – not just globally but here at home in your own business. In this blog we’ll discuss some small changes you can make this year to seek diversity, value equity and embrace inclusion.
What is International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It provides a key moment to celebrate women’s achievements in the workplace and showcase employer initiatives and support. International Women’s Day exists not only to celebrate the contributions women make in the workplace, but it’s also an opportunity to take positive action to make workplaces more inclusive for women and address barriers to their success and well-being.
What is this year’s theme?
This year’s campaign theme is #EmbraceEquity which seeks to get the world talking about why “equal opportunities are no longer enough” While Equality means all individuals are treated the same and given the same resources or opportunities, Equity recognises that disadvantages exist for particular groups, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
How does this translate into the workplace?
In this context there are many issues women continue to face in the workplace that may stop them from being as successful as their male counterparts. Pay and working hours continue to be a barrier for many women. The Fawcett Society published a report and data last year which highlighted the ‘double trouble’ some women are facing due to the combined impact of the cost of living crisis and the Gender Pay Gap. This report also revealed that in 2022 women, on average, took home £564 less than men each month.
Although on average, women work fewer paid hours than men, for many women, this is due to caring responsibilities and a lack of flexible working opportunities as opposed to personal choice.
We have recently seen a flurry of “family friendly” Private Members Bills introduced into parliament which have received government backing, meaning that they are more likely to become law later this year or in 2024. One of the headline changes is to the flexible working laws is making the right to request Flexible Working a “Day 1” right for all employees. But is the government going far enough with these changes or is there more that could be done?
A recent report by the CIPD found that over a third (34%) of employers in England reported that the introduction of 30 hours’ free childcare per week for all 3–4-year-olds in 2017 had made a positive impact on the number of women returning to work. But crucially, over half (56%) believe the participation rate of women with young children would improve further if the same level of free childcare support was extended to all children aged 0–2 as well as 3–4.
Although changes to the flexible working regime is helpful, some would argue that affordable childcare options are needed as well to help reduce the burden of unpaid care carried out by women.
Of course, gender inequality doesn’t just effect the material conditions of female employees, but also the culture of their workplace.
The ‘Still Just a Bit of Banter?’ report, by the Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress, revealed that over half of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment while at work. 80% of these women did not feel comfortable reporting the harassment for a variety reasons, such as fearing that reporting the harassment would negatively affect their career, believing they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they reported it, and shame and embarrassment.
The government recently announced that it’s supporting a private member’s bill to bring back employers’ liability for harassment of employees by third parties at work, as well as introducing a proactive duty on employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment.
According to MPs supporting the bill, these are long-awaited legislation changes relating to workplace sexual harassment prevention. A government consultation on strengthening protections against harassment in the workplace was published back in 2019, with the government committing to action in its consultation response of July 2021.
Whether these proposed changes to the current laws will be enough to create a more equitable workplace for women remains to be seen.
What steps can we take as a small business?
A great place to start is by reviewing your existing policies. Having an up to date Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy and reviewing it regularly is important to help maintain a continuous focus all year round. Also having a clear flexible working policy will ensure that all staff understand how and when they may be supported. As we have seen embracing equity may sometimes require us to think outside the box and look at some of the less obvious ways that women in the workplace can be supported. Women’s health is one area where employers can look at increased help for female employees and having policies on menopause, pregnancy loss and fertility treatment can be a good way to show your support.
A great way of checking in with how inclusive your culture feels to your employees is to ask specific and regular questions via a Pulse Survey that lets your employees remain anonymous. The citrus HR software has a great feature for conducting Pulse Surveys at the click of a mouse.
If you would like to discuss a policy or strategy, our HR advice service helps to ensure you are compliant with employment law and offer you advice on a range of employment law information. Get in touch with our team today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help you.
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