Today is International Women’s Day. Amongst other things, it should prompt all of us to reflect on gender inequality, how it affects all of us, and what we can do to combat it. Unfortunately it also is used by many to increase division. Within moments of this being uploaded I expect the usual range of complaints that a man is daring to give his opinion on this topic, or grumpy blokes complaining that there isn’t an international men’s day (Sunday November 19th, this year).
Many view International Women’s day as little more than a self-congratulatory back-slapping exercise. Whilst in some media and social media coverage this is true, www.internationalwomensday.com has this to say:
“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.
Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity.
IWD belongs to everyone, everywhere. Inclusion means all IWD action is valid.”
There is a world of difference between congratulation and empowerment - it’s a cliche, but a rising tide lifts all boats.
Looking at this issue from the perspective of a man and a service director, there are a few practical changes I’d like to see from the government to truly help empower women in Britain.
The first would be a focus early in education on emotional intelligence and empathy; respecting the rights of all, and keeping each other safe. Too many young boys aren’t given positive female role models, nor are they given enough male role models who treat and respect women properly. This is especially important nowadays with the easy access to online pornography and shameful characters such as Andrew Tate.
Children need professional role models also. My experience of careers advice in school (this is back in the 90s, so a lot may have changed - I’m happy to be educated on how this looks now) was one of ‘too little, to late’. I do wonder how many fantastic female scientists, engineers, and other traditionally “male” roles society has failed to benefit from, because girls weren’t encouraged to pursue these paths. The same thinking applies to working-class kids who weren’t encouraged to raise their ambitions and chase traditionally “upper class” careers. We had British Steel plants near, a 3M factory, and an air-conditioning unit factory near us when I grew up. I don’t recall us being encouraged to reach for carers in law, finance of medicine.
Society also needs properly funded childcare that supports women to re-enter the workplace after giving birth, should they want to do so. The private sector simply isn’t equipped to do this, particularly with the profit motive. We need comprehensive, 8am to 7pm childcare, from early years to 15-year-olds, accessible to all.
Although this has increased in recent years, flexible working conditions are another component which disproportionately affect women’s working patterns. Alongside this, we need creative corporate solutions to the problems flexible working conditions inevitably pose. In certain roles, flexible working can cause as many problems as they solve, but these problems, I’m sure, are not insurmountable. A specific example of this would be the residential childcare sector. If we give parents the flexibility to, for example, do the school run for their children that may leave the home short of workers to take our children to school and college. One solution is of course to ensure both parents have access to flexible working, meaning the task can be shared. Flexible working solutions are far easier to implement in some roles than others, but the concept is something I think about a lot when designing rotas and policies.
Accessible, meaningful, lifelong learning opportunities are so important. Up-skilling the workforce benefits everyone. In the contexts of this post, making learning available to women would help them keep pace with their male colleagues - for example, after a career break.
This is, of course, just one man’s opinion on a topic that affects everyone. I’d love to hear your views on this, especially those coming from a different perspective than my own.
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