It’s been a busy few weeks for women in the workplace. “Isn’t it always?” I hear you exclaim. You are quiet right of course, but what I’m referring to is the spotlight that’s shone on “women in the workplace” over the past week. We’ve seen some exhilarating media coverage as well as some disheartening press.
On 1 April Opportunity Now, the workplace gender campaign from Business in the Community, published their “Project 28-40” report. The report summaries the findings of a 2013 survey of more than 25,000 women and men aged 28-40. The aim was to compare their experiences in the workplace, in particular around rate of progression, and to develop solutions for employers to address imbalance and to retain talented female staff. If I recall correctly, I completed the survey myself!
From my cursory look at the executive summary, there aren’t a huge number of surprises. For example, when it comes to bullying and harassment, there is a significant gap in the experiences of women in the workplace and organisational policies. Women are capable and just as ambitious as men. Women want excellent line management (doesn’t everyone?). Access to flexible working and career breaks etc can be a double edged sword as commitment, knowledge or experience is questioned when it comes to promotion or other opportunities.
But refreshingly, rather than being entirely female focused, the project also considered ways to help men balance their careers and home life. This is essential if we are to close the gender gap and create an environment of equality for all. Affordable childcare, access to flexible working, career success and stress management etc are issues which we can only really address together. If we keep talking about how we can improve childcare or working hours to allow mothers to work, for example, aren’t we reinforcing the stereotype that it’s a womens issue? The only way to get what we need is for men and women to be collectively campaigning for more equitable treatment and working cultures. I’d recommend reading ‘Midlife Crisis at 30’ by Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin if that resonates with you. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Midlife-Crisis-at-Lia-Macko/dp/0452286069)
Sadly, the full report is only available from the Project Now website for members, and these are employers who have to pay for membership. It will be interesting to see how much of this message gets out. It will only be an effective reality check if all employers can access it.
On the positive side, BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour recently published their list of female ‘Game Changer’ – women from a variety of industries and backgrounds who are bucking the trend and working hard to change the world – be that campaigning against female genital mutilation, or more broadly about the insidious gender stereotyping which still dominates our society. I’d encourage you to check it out – there’s 100 women listed there – someone has to inspire you (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb/features/power-list).
So I end this week on mixed feelings. Things are still pretty rubbish, and although that’s not necessarily my own experience, I do see that in others. I’m painfully aware that I’ve probably done a good job of self denial here – I’m sure there’s plenty of opportunities related to gender, location or a hundred other highly personal factors. But I’m also inspired by the story of many women who are working hard to change this, some more obviously than others, but all doing their part. Perhaps it’s time for us all to start doing our part. If we want change, shouldn’t we all be doing our bit – or is that just obvious?