Friday 8 March 2019 is International Women’s Day (IWD). An annual opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, and highlight the ongoing fight for equality, worldwide.
This year, the theme is #BalanceForBetter, and the organisers are asking people to help forge a more gender-balanced world.
Intrigued by what that actually means for different people, I put the question out to the Facebook group Flexible Working For People Like Me. The group is a place for people seeking the right work/life balance to share tips, advice and support. It was founded by flexible working advocate Katy Fridman last year, and has quickly gone from strength to strength.
A balancing act
I asked the group what ‘balance for better’ looked like for them.
One of the key things that came up was the need for greater parity in the workplace, particularly for flexible working:
“It’s about seeing a better balance between men AND women who take up shared paternity leave, flexible working and part-time roles.
“Flexible working is so often talked about as a benefit for mums (which it really is!), but we’ll only truly have gender equality in the workplace when it’s embraced by all and seen as the norm for men as well as women.” ~Amy
Recent research conducted by the law firm EMW showed that shared parental leave take-up may be as low as 2%, however. The main reasons cited included not being able to afford to take shared leave, cultural perceptions and stigma regarding men taking time off work, and concerns that they might come across as less committed to their job if they ask for leave.
Amy’s sentiment is echoed by others:
“For me, it’s partners having as much flex in work as each other so they can share the load and spend time with family. Flexible working shouldn’t just be for mums, or even parents/carers, it should be for everyone.” ~ Annalee
Women and men are crying out for a more flexible approach to work, but are workplaces evolving fast enough to meet this demand? It seems that some sectors are better than others, and some still have a long way to go:
“I have four children – the youngest two are 5 months and 2 years. I am a manager of a large store with a high turnover. I wish my company would be a little more flexible which would allow me to have my career which I’ve worked hard for.” ~Vicky
It feels like many current ways of working just aren’t fit for purpose for the majority of modern families. And when parents work full-time and kids are at school, things get increasingly complicated:
“Is it bad to say that I’d like there to be less school activities parents are ‘invited’ to attend so I can feel less guilty for not attending/don’t have to frantically reorganise an already delicately-balanced work-life so I can be as ‘present’ as parents who don’t work?” ~Hannah
How many parents are able to flex their working day to accommodate the seemingly endless stream of school activities? As long as the gender pay gap exists, women will continue to shoulder the majority-burden of extra-curricular support for their kids, too.
Tipping the scales
So, how can we tip the balance in our favour?
Although men and women were found to be almost as equally likely to participate in the workforce, men continue to be far more likely than women to be in leadership roles across all sectors. (Source: Independent, 2019)
Worldwide, women hold just 24% of seats in parliaments. Women lead only 13 of 195 countries, and women hold just 15% of board seats worldwide.
Added to that, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
When people inevitably ask why there’s an International Women’s Day each year, those stats alone should give pause for thought.
We have a long way to go before representation is even close to equal in seats of power, and prioritising fundamental skills like literacy and numeracy must be key.
The benefits of balance
Inequality makes everyone a loser.
By keeping workplaces male-dominated, and excluding women from the boardroom, vital, fresh perspectives are missing. And talent is wasted, too:
“I have two young kids and better balance right now would be about all mums having choices and options. Childcare is ridiculously expensive and it seems insane to me that mothers are in debt from working! There is so much talent out there that is evaporating because of the lack of support.”~Angela
Women think and do things differently – surely that’s got to be a huge benefit to businesses?:
“I think #BalanceForBetter is about empathy in the workplace, which is a ‘woman’s quality’ – or so they say! However, showing empathy means that when someone needs something outside of a formal agreement, compassion is shown. I’ve lost count of the comments I’ve seen about people penalised for wanting to leave early for a sick child/partner/etc.” ~Rachelle
As long as women are being punished for wanting the same things as men, International Women’s Day will remain fundamental.
How can we help?
I’m grateful that I was able to go to school, get a job and live a life free of violence. Not all women are so privileged. This International Women’s Day, I’d encourage you to please take a look at these three inspiring organisations who are helping girls and women every day to improve their lives.
Remember, we rise by lifting others.
- The Malala Fund helps break down the barriers preventing more than 130 million girls around the world from going to school.
- The End Violence Against Women coalition works to help women and girls live the life they choose, free from violence and abuse.
- I recently became a Trustee of the Sutton Women’s Centre, which provides local women with a safe space where they can access information, support, advice and education.