My Key Takeaways this International Women’s Day

Thought piece by Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at a CIPD Manchester round-table discussion at Peninsula’s Head Office.

The event saw a host of inspirational women from across the Greater Manchester community come together to talk about the overarching theme of the day: embracing equity.

As equality has typically been the driving force for many an employer striving for more inclusive workplaces, the theme – at least to me – opened up a world of opportunities and exciting new avenues in which we can make real, positive changes to level the playing field for everyone.

Though there was lots of inspiring insight and intellectual discussion – much of which I will treasure and factor into my actions at work and beyond going forward to help women to grow and thrive – some conversation points stood out in particular to me.

Here are some words of wisdom collated from the panel:

“Women put everyone else first before them due to traditional gender roles.”

As a working mother myself with two young daughters, I can completely resonate with this point. There does tend to be an expectation – even now – that women should be raising the children at home. I’m lucky to have a husband who shares home duties equally, and whilst that’s how it should be, and it is becoming more commonplace, it’s not yet completely ‘the norm’.

With these barriers in place, it’s difficult for women to press ahead in the workplace when they’re taking on the bulk of the duties at home. Until that imbalance is addressed and there is complete equality in the home, I’m not entirely convinced we will ever have total equality in the workplace.

We need to think about HOW we can change that mindset so that we can break down gender stereotypes about roles at home, at work and in society – but when it’s so engrained in our culture, it can be a real challenge. That’s why we need to promote male employees taking paternity leave. We need to stop overlooking women with young families for promotions. We need to focus on what women can achieve, be it in school, in the media, and the workplace.

But equally, it’s essential for women to sometimes just stop and dedicate some time to self-care, which can often slip down the priority list amidst the other perceived “more important” things women have to contend with on a daily basis.

“Be your authentic self. Trust yourself and listen to your strengths and play on them.”

Businesses need all sorts of people and characters to thrive. A diversity of thought and experience is what makes a workplace innovative and progressive. So don’t conform to what you think society and business expects, and instead show off that personality!

We need to stop downplaying our achievements, and though it might be true that women displaying assertiveness are typically labelled as ‘aggressive’ whilst males are praised for the trait, it’s time to stop being apologetic for our successes and instead make them known. Let’s not let our skills go unnoticed and unrecognised.

As women, we need to step up in this area and challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zones. Rolling out assertiveness training can support with this, but there’s an onus on employers to recognise the hard work and accomplishments of their female staff.

And whilst we’re on the subject, we need to be mindful that strength can mean different things; it doesn’t have to refer to huge, life-changing actions all of the time. Rather, it can mean having the confidence to challenge ideas in meetings, to show vulnerability, to ask questions.

“Comparison is the thief of joy. Walk your own path. Acknowledge that Mum guilt is inevitable and redefine what having it all means to you personally.”

With social media use on the rise, and influencers everywhere you look portraying their picture-perfect lives, it can be a real challenge to not compare the glossy photographs with the reality of your own life.

But – and this is a message I’d sent out to young people as well who are growing up in the digital era – you need to march to the beat of your own drum. Everyone has their own struggles behind closed doors and the image that people outwardly portray is rarely their reality.

Juggling being a parent and a senior leader is really hard, and it can often be challenging to feel like you’re doing either of them well. Particularly when you think others around you are doing a much better job.

Where this pressure is coming from, I’m not entirely sure – whether it’s the media, societal pressure, other mums, work, social media – but I know from experience, split across so many responsibilities, you feel you have to be performing at 100% in all of them.

But let’s be realistic for a moment. No one can function at 100%, 100% of the time. And particularly not when their focus is on so many different things. The key is though, somewhere in the chaos of life and the juggling of duties, you also need to find a little time for yourself – for you to be you. Not a mother, not an employee – just you.

Keep sight of who you are and be attentive to your own needs too.

But of course, for every inspiring anecdote, there must be a physical plan of action for employers to instigate real change in the workplace

Employers can start by actively promoting paternity leave to staff and remove any stigma around male employees taking parental leave where required. In addition, rolling out training to management on diversity and inclusion and on reducing unconscious bias may lead to increased opportunities for women to progress within the workplace.

Offering flexible working options, such as remote working or flexi-hours, can contribute to an improved work-life balance so that working parents can better juggle their childcare responsibilities with their role.

And of course, let’s not forget the gender pay gap. Providing more career advancement opportunities to women and making full-time work more accessible to them will naturally start to narrow the gender pay gap – but it’s still on employers to ensure that they are paying women and men in the same roles the same to avoid discrimination claims.

Events like this CIPD roundtable discussion event are a brilliant starting point to identify the key barriers women face, and to put measures in place to break them down. But let’s remember: these words and plans need to be actioned. International Women’s Day is no doubt a brilliant addition to the calendar – but these are discussions we need to be having year-round. Let’s keep that momentum going until we don’t even need an International Women’s Day anymore.

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