The theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year was ‘Balance for Better’ and as they put it: “The future is extremely exciting.”
So much has happened just in the past year that has been a force for good –the #MeToo movement calling out inappropriate behaviour, the gender pay gap reporting, the sheer number of organisations organising events… but there is still much to be done.
The goal of IWD is to build a gender-balanced world. They believe that to achieve this, everyone has a part to play, all the time, in every global location: “From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance; we notice its absence and celebrate its presence. There is no doubt that balance drives a better working world.”
The Balance for Better pose looks like the image below, but for me the pose could also be read as a questioning stance, which felt appropriate as I spoke at two very different events on the day itself which were asking the same questions.
Why is IWD so important?
Why is #balanceforbetter the theme?
In answer to both; because balance still isn’t being achieved. This is supported in black and white statistics from the UK:
- Women only represent 19% of boards and 22% of senior management teams
- The number of women holding the most senior jobs in the boardrooms has fallen
And this despite the fact that:
- Companies with at least one female director have better ROI
- Companies with at least 15% senior management are 50% more profitable
The numbers are still not good enough – not by a long way.
Let’s take one, admittedly, male dominated industry and look at how balance fairs there: the construction industry. According to recent data, from Constructing Global:
- Less than 15% of women aged 16-35 would consider a role in construction
- 13% of the UK workforce is female
- One in five construction businesses in the UK have no women in senior roles
As well as the quantitative data, I’ve conducted qualitative research across various industries to understand women’s experiences at work and here are a few of the first hand thoughts and experiences of women at various levels:
- “Some days I think I’ve got this, others, I ask, what am I doing here?”
- “As a woman, I feel I should know double what I need to know to feel 100% comfortable.”
- “I’ve taken off my engagement ring and friends have taken off their wedding rings for interviews.”
- “I wouldn’t say I’m putting off having children, but I’m petrified about what will happen to my career if I do.”
- “We have to work out what is pub talk and what is business talk.”
- “You get pigeon holed: everyone keeps telling me that when I’ve had a child it will change my career.”
- “Make the tea love…”
- “I realised nothing was going to change unless I was determined.”
- “Are you off doing your bra-burning workshop?”
Shocking isn’t it?!
So what do we mean by ‘balance’ and how can this be instilled?
Balance can be interpreted in many ways:
- Firstly, there’s a balanced workplace, with gender parity or at the very least solid gender representation at all levels. This starts with measurement and is delivered via commitment at every level, through gender neutral recruitment, unbiased promotions, equity in pay and so much more
- Balanced perspectives being shared – ensuring that all voices are heard and equally listened to – invariably when I ask a question in workshops or talks, it’s the men who answer first – let’s change that
- Work/life balance – with healthy allocation of time and attention to work and home life
- Balanced caring responsibilities, including part time/flexible working, shared parental leave, as well as time for caring responsibilities
- Balanced lifestyles – at one of the events I spoke at on IWD, the wonderful founder of Tech Women Today and Wall Street aficionado, Cecilia Harvey, got the audience to score themselves on the classic coaching tool, the Wheel of Life, which enables you to profile your level of satisfaction with all areas of your life including health, work, life, family, money, fun). I asked the question: if your wheel were driving your life, how bumpy would it be?
The focus of the morning’s event I chaired was to hear from two senior women about how organisations can create an environment where there can be balance for better.
On the panel were Annie Shepherd CEO of Salix Finance Ltd which helps the public sector reduce carbon. Annie has just won a CEO of the year award as well as winning various other awards for the company. And Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, who became Master of Emmanuel in 2012 and was previously Director-General of the National Trust.
We talked about the importance of organisations instilling a strong vision and values as a way of defining a shared identity and culture, as well as a means of calling out inappropriate behaviour. We reflected on the need for women to develop broad shoulders to handle challenging situations, but also slippery shoulders to let unwanted criticism slide off you to maintain resilience.
As organisations evolve to create more balanced working environments and cultures, women are still navigating their own balancing act between having a fulfilling and successful career, whatever that looks like for them while juggling a home life. So many women I speak to experience pressure to ‘be perfect’ at work as well as at home, while act as if the other doesn’t exist.
The wobble board is still there and we’re still negotiating what #balanceforbetter means, for everyone. But the future is bright and it was great to see so many women – and men – so engaged in the discussion to define it.