Happy International Women’s Day.
It is one of my favourite days of the year. A moment to remember and celebrate the women in our lives and those who have gone before us who have made a difference. The mother who raised you, the boss who gave you a break, the woman who fell under a horse so you could vote.
For H+K it is also a moment to reflect on what we are doing to bring about gender equality in our own businesses and the role we can and indeed should have to play in the world around us. I am really proud of the fact that our global leader is a woman, and that her senior team is gender-balanced as is the senior team in H+K London. Women’s voices are heard in our business and I think that contributes hugely to the quality of our work and to our success.
And I love that IWD is now celebrated widely. While there are some truly awful executions (nothing says Happy International Women’s Day more than 25% off a pink pen or a skimpy pair of knickers or free coffee “for the ladies” in the work café), thankfully more organisations are being more thoughtful. What characterises the good is that it is well-thought-out, authentic and credible.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is to help clients be authentic and credible in this space. This starts with making sure that they know and understand the experience of women in their own organisations and are committed to making a change. Understanding the change that needs to be made drives authenticity, starting to make the change drives credibility.
We work with organisations to make meaningful change towards gender equality. While lots of businesses are mindful of the need to recruit women into their organisations, less attention is paid to creating systems and cultures which encourage women to stay and enable them to thrive. We help clients take an objective look at their organisations and work with them to develop the right interventions which support women and create a working environment to nurture female success in whichever way you care to measure it: more women in senior roles; improved retention rates; reduction in the gender pay gap; increased productivity; higher workplace survey response rates and scores. And this is good for everyone, not just women.
One of the single biggest interventions an organisation can take to accelerate the pace of change is to promote and actively support flexible working. There are lots of models to choose from: where you work, how you work your hours. Whatever it is, it needs to work for both the employer and employee. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that where women are given the opportunity to work flexibly, they stay in the workplace, seek career advancement and increase their salaries.
I have always believed flexible working will only become commonplace when men start doing it. We know men want to from survey after survey, but they don’t take it up. One reason is fear of the impact on their careers and you can hardly blame them because they have witnessed what impact it has had on the progression of their female counterparts. But what if we started measuring performance and rewarding people not on time spent in the office but on the quality of work produced? If men and women see that flexible working is not a bar to opportunity and advancement, I am sure we would see more people taking it up.
I know managing resource is challenging but I believe we are at an inflexion point. The past year has changed attitudes to how we work and, as we head towards a post-lockdown world and we see a return to the workplace, organisations now think more carefully about how they organise their people or how they can build equality into the “better” we all aspire to.
The theme for IWD this year is Choose to Challenge. It recognises that as individuals and organisations we have agency, we can accept the status quo or we can challenge it. If you are up for the challenge, let me know.