International Women's Day 2021

Superscript
08 March 2021
12 minute read

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we spoke to two amazing Superscript women: our People Team, Hannah Keal and Zena Alana.

International Women's Day

Why do you think International Women's Day is so important?

Hannah

Put simply, I think International Women's Day is important because we’re not done. Though social attitudes have shifted, by pretty much every measure (political representation, number of board seats and leadership positions, equity in terms of pay) the stats show that we’ve got a long way still to go.

Recent research by McKinsey suggests that we have even gone backwards during the pandemic and that women are disproportionately feeling the economic impact of COVID. It is also clear that tech as a sector lags behind - a report by Tech Nation recently shed some light on representation in the tech sector: 22% of tech directors are women, and in tech companies overall, only 19% of employees are women (compared to 49% of the UK workforce in total).

The gender pay gap in the UK is 15.5%, but the gender pay gap for women in tech in the UK is 28% (and that’s only for companies that legally have to report this data!) I think when you look at stats like that, it’s easy to feel helpless, but this year’s International Women's Day campaign, #ChooseToChallenge is powerful - it’s asking us to focus and reflect on our own thoughts, actions, biases and to do what we can - in our communities and in our workplaces - to challenge inequality wherever we encounter it.

Zena

For me, International Women’s Day is a time for reflection, education, celebration, and ideation. It encourages and facilitates vital and necessary dialogue, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on, educate and celebrate the many positive changes that have happened to create equality, while committing ourselves more fully and coming up with ways to influence the necessary structural and social changes needed to make full equality of opportunity possible. From challenge comes change, so let's all #ChooseToChallenge.

International Women's Day should be a party: a day for women to take up space, own the conversation, and uplift the achievements of the countless innovative, empowering, groundbreaking women everywhere. It's more than just a day. Instead, it's a conscious reminder to think about intersectionality and to elevate women around me the other 364 days a year.

Have you seen attitudes towards equality initiatives in companies changing over recent years? Any watershed moments?

Hannah

I think the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been the biggest thing to change attitudes towards equality initiatives in general over the last year - it is a sad indictment of where we’re at that this urgency came off the back of a lot of Black pain and trauma, but I think it has started to put Equality, Inclusion and Diversity work right where it belongs - at the top of the agenda and on everyone’s radar.

We’re starting to see more movement towards meaningful conversations and action as opposed to performative allyship and thinking about diversity initiatives in quite a simplistic way (i.e. not considering intersectionality or designing solutions which don’t put the people they’re meant to serve at the centre of the creation process).

Zena

I think it’s fair to say there has been a huge attitude shift towards this topic, however we aren’t anywhere close to closing the book! As global inequality rises so do the movements fighting it!

As protests continue to spark and grow around the world, the question of how movements fighting inequality are built and sustained has come into sharper focus.

We are now seeing this on a wider scale in how the climate movement, trade unions, community, indigenous rights, feminist and civil rights groups, and many others are increasingly joining together to fight inequality.

Movements such as BLM, International Women's Day, LGBTQ+ have shown us how people are rising up and I am incredibly proud to see any shift (no matter how big or small) in my lifetime. I’ll be there burning my bra!

Why is it important to have these conversations and introduce equality initiatives in the workplace? Don’t these things happen naturally?

Hannah

I think if leaders don’t take responsibility for starting conversations they probably do happen naturally - just in private slack channels and spaces where people do feel safe to discuss them. This means leaders might be ignorant of what the issues in their team actually are and lose out on insight from the people best placed to co-create solutions to challenges within their team.

Also, as stated above, things have been happening relatively ‘naturally’ over the last 100 years or so - and progress has been painfully slow.

Zena

The importance of having these conversations and introducing equality initiatives is to start to see a change! Keep doing what you're doing and you’ll get what you’ve got! Sadly if these things happened naturally we wouldn’t have the need for things like International Women's Day, it’s been a slow process to get us where we are now, which just isn't enough. Everyone needs to take responsibility to make the workplace equal, we are in a society where it’s up to us to #ChooseToChallenge

What is ‘equality’ in the workplace? What does success look like?

Hannah

I think equality is actually the wrong thing to be aiming for. Equality means treating each individual or group of people exactly the same. That sounds great in theory, but actually, people have different needs and we’re not all starting from the same place. Equity for me is a more fitting concept because it recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. It’s often said that if equality is the end goal, equity is how we’ll get there.

Just to make this concrete with a practical example, in 2017 only 11% of the UK Engineering workforce was female. This suggests that we need to dedicate more support and resources to women to encourage them to enter this profession and make sure they feel like they can be successful in it. In short therefore, I think success looks like creating a workplace where everyone feels enabled and supported in equal measure, where their individuality is recognised and respected.

Zena

Equality is fair treatment for people in every facet of life regardless of their gender, race, disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or age. But here’s the catch. Equality doesn’t necessarily translate to equal treatment for all, as no individual is the same as another! It is promoting an individual’s right to be different. It can only be done by making adjustments in the system to meet the needs of different people.

What can people managers and business leaders do to promote and ensure equality at all levels in the business?

Hannah

There’s often a tonne of focus on ‘attracting diverse talent’. That’s understandable in some ways (although I’ve never met a person who would use the word ‘diverse’ to describe themselves!) but it is also putting the cart before the horse. If we bring If we bring people, in this case women, into an environment that is not inclusive then we can’t expect them to want to stay in that environment - they will leave.

So it’s always best to create the right culture before attracting talent. Leaders need to put effort and intention into this - creating structure around the basics like how they hire and internally promote people and what they’re communicating - consciously and unconsciously - about what it takes to be successful ‘around here’.

They also need to listen to their team's feedback about what they need. They also need to be comfortable opening up and role modelling inclusive behaviours - things like boundary setting - communicating when they will stop work, and being clear about non-negotiables like having dinner with the kids, exercising, or answering a phone call from your mother. When leaders (including men) do this, others will feel safe to do the same.

Zena

Where can I start! It's really critical that there is leadership buy-in, and it's part of the leadership agenda to ensure there is Equal Employment Opportunity. It starts with setting the right tone at the top and then evaluating processes to ensure that happens — training around biases, diverse interview panels and slates.

From then in, the culture of inclusion and equality should be ingrained into the DNA of the company from incorporation, hiring and beyond. Don't slavishly follow rules if you think they are wrong, create unintentional bias or lead to some groups being treated less favourably than others. Instead, work to get them changed. If no one steps up to change the status quo, these unconscious biases will continue to dictate our workplaces.

Are there differences in how workplaces across different industries need to tackle inequality?

Hannah

Inevitably yes, as different industries have different challenges and attract different people. However I would always say that as a leader it’s good to be aware of what’s happening in your industry, sure, but it’s more important to listen to what the people in your team are saying and proactively work to discover their needs and motivations. Trends are interesting, but they’re not hard data from the specific individuals you work with day in day out - always look in your own backyard first.

Zena

Of course! Each industry is different, each offering is different, each company is different therefore the inequality issues and the approach to tackling them will be different. Basing your company on the industry as a whole isn’t the best approach, it crucial to listen and understand your employees needs and hardships.

As a business owner, if you were to start small, what are the first three things you would do?

  1. First, data: Women don’t all need or require the same things to feel motivated, engaged and connected at work. So first, I’d suggest talking to those who identify as women in your teams - either via a survey or through focus groups - and ask questions relating to their experience, how they can be better supported, what do they need in order to feel more engaged, or motivated to “stay”.
  2. Second, also data - what is it telling you? Is there a gender pay gap? Is there a difference in retention rates between different groups? What insights can you get from this? (I’ve put this one second because whilst looking at stats will illuminate where the problems are, your team’s experience will guide the solutions.
  3. Own where you’re at. You can’t move forward if you don’t talk openly about where you are starting from. Doing this also shows you care.

Zena

  1. Do your research: There’s a vast amount of information and data available, and you can even create your own. Data is hugely important to support your business and how it approaches “equality”.
  2. Get to know your employees and market: As mentioned above, everyone is different, and has different needs, wants, and desires both in and out of the workplace so get to know the market, and more importantly get to know the individuals. This links back to the above, creating surveys, holding focus groups, and doing research will highlight what action you need to take.
  3. Start at the top : For real equality to happen, this requires a shift in organisational culture, which typically starts at the top of the company. Without setting a precedent how can we envision change!

Are there any day-to-day changes that people can make to promote equality in the workplace?

Hannah

I think the #ChooseToChallenge campaign is super relevant here. There’s plenty of ideas here on where to start and anyone can get involved! I think one of the other key things about International Women's Day is that it's about celebration - championing everything women have achieved socially, economically, culturally, politically, personally and more - and you can do this close to home, with the women who you love and want to lift up.

Zena

Take it out of the office and into daily life: It goes beyond our workplace to our home life, too. What we teach not only the younger generation but our social circles and family, about who they are, what they can achieve and how they can contribute starts early. Walking it out in our actions and communications in daily life removes fear and creates places for change, which will then transpire into the workplace.

How can both men and women contribute to challenging gender inequality? Are there any differences?

Hannah

Equality (and equity) benefit everyone - who doesn’t want to be treated like an individual and valued for their unique talents? Because it’s everyone’s issue, everyone has a part to play in tackling it. Men are vital allies in the fight against inequality - they can and should challenge it whenever they encounter it - that includes day to day things like playing a role in ensuring that everyone is heard in meetings and challenging discriminatory behaviour.

Zena

There should be no differences in my opinion, I know this article is about International Women's Day, but gender inequality works both ways, and everyone should be doing their piece in the battle against it. There are also situations where men are unequal to women, what everyone as humans beings should be doing is recognising that we are all exactly that... Human beings. We are all connected, all equal, and all shouldn’t be afraid of standing up for ourselves or others when we feel or see situations where people are undervalued, unequal or being discriminated against.

What advice would you give to women (or anyone else for that matter) experiencing workplace inequality?

Hannah

Tough one! Very dependent on the situation - experiencing microaggressions or of course outright discrimination takes a huge toll on your ability to perform at work and there’s no one way of dealing with that.

I suppose one first thing I would say is you don’t have to experience it alone. If you feel comfortable raising the issue with your manager, another leader in the business or a member of your People team, that’s a good place to start. If not and it’s not viable to leave your job (that’s easy to say, and far less easy to do, particularly in this tough economic climate) is to tap into your support network - your friends and family, the people who lift you up.

Zena

It completely depends on the situation, environment, and desired outcome. Something I have realised, is the value of having allies throughout your career cannot be stressed enough. I have been fortunate to move to a company where I have female role models to confide in and go to for advice, rather than feeling like I’m in a boys' club with no voice! Talking with people about what you’re going through is so important, sitting in silence is letting them win, stand up, make yourself heard and don’t be afraid. I encourage people everywhere to look out for one another, so no one is alone.

What’s Superscript doing to promote equality?

Hannah

I think one of the most important recent changes is the introduction of a gender neutral parental leave policy. Statutory time off for fathers is shocking and shared parental leave, the government’s response has had a take up of between 2-8% - this just isn’t enough. When fathers aren’t able to take adequate time off, it reinforces traditional gender roles and means caring responsibilities fall disproportionately on women. Everyone loses.

We’re also investing in a Management and Leadership Programme to nurture talent - whilst this isn’t specifically aimed at women, they make up a good chunk of the cohort and we’re excited to nurture future female leaders at Superscript in this way. A final thing worth mentioning is the work we’re doing on our interview process - we use Equalture in some teams across the business and we’re also bringing more structure into our interview process to mitigate bias.

Zena

As a recent employee at Superscript and working within Talent and People Ops one of the main reasons I joined is because of the effort, and recognition from leadership all the way through to be fair to everyone and it truly shows in the employees!

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