I’ve always been fascinated with words. I used to love alliteration and poetry at school. Haiku’s - with their formidably restrictive use of syllables that ensure you forensically consider the value of each and every single one. The way we weave words together, Building them into friendships, collaborations, competitions and as we’ve been so recently and painstakingly reminded, words also have the power to weave actions culminating in war.
So, this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BeatTheBias gives me cause to pause and reflect on those three words.
BEAT: An action. To expend energy and exert power with the goal to destroy something with force. Not a word I feel comfortable with to be honest. Ask me to beat a rug and I’d contemplate whether we couldn’t achieve the same goal by gently massaging it with a hoover instead.
But the something to be beaten is BIAS.
BIAS: Thoughts leading to deeds of discrimination. Thoughts built on stereotypes, feeding on ignorance. Ignorance – another word that is so emotionally charged, when I’d offer an alternative perspective here too. It is neither possible nor practical to propose that we can all be all knowing – however many books we read, podcasts we hear, conversations we share, or films we see. We can never understand the complexity of everyone’s lived experiences, their areas of expertise, their triggers for joy and pain. Ignorance is simply a starting point from which we can move, depending on time, resource, curiosity and incentive, into a space where we venture into learning and understanding.
And that curiosity and incentive draws me deeper to contemplate the frustrating nature of the English language.
Bias or ‘Buy Us’? Financial Inequalities
“Buy Us”; When spoken by women still yet to achieve equality in pay, still most likely to be responsible for unpaid and emotional labour, still struggling at the point of intersectionality where inequalities based on race, age, sexuality, and disability are likely to be compounded by our sex. Where the exchange of money for female labour may cause some to immediately think of the sale of sex, where sniggering banter on the subject of prostitution degrades women more than a man’s need to pay for physical intimacy. Banter that degrades women to an asset most valuable for what we look like and how we make men feel. Not in keeping with unlocking the potential a fully educated and empowered workforce can enjoy.
BUY US accentuates the untapped human resource we still experience in economies needing to redress the unpaid and emotional labour too many families, communities and organisations rely on to raise children, cook, shop, clean, lead community initiatives, promoting environmental and social goals.
Covid-19 Recession or She-cession?
Covid-19 has magnified these inequalities for women, sparking a particular type of recession called ‘She-cession’. Despite my initial aspirations for driving change in the article COVID‑19 - A Gender Equality Opportunity? I’m sad to recognise that despite Covid highlighting the critical, front line, keyworker dominance of women in healthcare, teaching and retail industries, we have seen no uplift to pay and conditions for their staffing shortages – unlike the male dominated haulage industry that saw HGV driver salaries increase 40% in response to their skilled staff shortage crises in September 2021.
In fact, Covid highlighted the consequences of longstanding gender gaps and norms when it comes to recognition of female contribution to society at home and at work;
• Women in the UK were reported to take on the majority of additional unpaid school and care work following school closures.
• Women experienced disproportionate labour market penalties and stress.
• Women with children aged under 12 were most likely to move from employed to not employed during the crises,
• Mothers’ participation in paid employment did little to mitigate inequality in unpaid work conditions.
• Women in 2021 were more likely to be furloughed than men (a reverse of 2020 trends)
• Intersectionality (age and earnings) compound the gender pay gap.
Despite well evidenced inequalities, no measure of gender inequality exists below the national level, leaving gaps in our knowledge of women and men’s differential experiences. Kings College London have proposed a research Index that would highlight inequalities in six areas and facilitate targeted support that reflects the needs of each region. This would reflect where balance is required in six key areas, including;Power & Participation, Educations & Skills, Economic Resources, Unpaid work & Care, Health & Wellbeing, Violence.
Nationally, when discussing women’s pay, you can “Buy Us” for 15.4% less than men are rewarded for the same role at an hourly rate. This reduces to 7.9% for full time staff and depends on the role you play, with the biggest gap between Production managers and directors in mining and energy (45%) and reversing in traditionally female led roles such as midwives (-55%) and special needs educators (-25%).
At the Growth Company, there is a median pay gap of 10.1%, which is an improvement on the national figure, and includes all areas of the business, although there is only a mandate on GC Employment (with more than 250 employees) which reports an impressive and nail-biting median gap of 1.9%. Bonuses across the group seem to be rewarded to women at a higher rate though; -8.3% across the group and –25.6% in GC Employment. I can’t help but wonder if we’re looking into that inequality and how the pay and bonus gap plays out in pounds and pence for our staff.
So maybe 2022 we can #BreakTheBias to fairly ‘Buy Us’ by addressing the ongoing gender pay gap, with a particular focus on intersectionality.
Bias, Buy Us, and By Us
As a naturally optimistic person, let’s end on a positive note though, shall we? Yes, we recognise that access to fair pay and recognition would be one of the most effective levers to address gender inequality in every home, community and country, ‘By Us’ calls for the recognition of the power of voices singing in unison.
“Ah yes,” I hear you cry “but only if they listen!” This is true. And this is where our ability to communicate, to speak, to listen and influence comes into play. In the programme I deliver with The Growth Company ‘Growing Inclusive’, I support SME’s in Greater Manchester in a four stage process that addresses the culture change businesses need to become diverse and organically productive, by improve creativity, resilience and productivity;
1. ENGAGE – get ready for cultural change. Learn that to lead yourself will lead to leading others.
2. EDUCATE – get ready to work. Learn why diversity and inclusion are not synonymous and why inclusion is our goal.
3. EMPOWER – now, do the work! Use the tools I give you to audit, design, implement and record progress from strategy, projects, operations, recruitment, retention and performance
4. ENHANCE – using lean business process improvements, track the journey with efficient and valuable micro-progressions.
By focusing on inclusion, the time, money and reputational risks getting wrong can be avoided. By creating a cultural shift that acknowledges differences as something to celebrate, not to accommodate, can we untap the wealth of human experiences to make our products, our supply chain, our community and world a place designed with us, for us all.
Recent data shows that women-led SMEs contribute about £85bn to economic output, however Beis research shows that only 16% of small business employers and one in three of entrepreneurs are women. There is further evidence that fewer women get access to financing and business loans, with only 15% of bank financing applications and 22% of new primary business bank accounts openings coming from women.
So please, on International Women’s Day and everyday: listen to women. We need to be heard in the boardroom, the bedroom, the high street, in media and in policy - whether we whisper, sing or roar.
#BreakTheBias, Buy Us (fairly), By Us (listen)!