Today is International Women’s Day. At Little Soap Company, celebrating and supporting women is at our very heart, after all our founder and CEO, and the majority of our team are women.
International Women’s Day is about raising awareness and promoting best practice so that gender equality can happen everywhere. Because sadly, that’s far from the case.
It’s not the case in all countries, in all societies and communities, in all industries and sectors, or in all organisations and businesses. And until it is, International Women’s Day will continue to be a powerful and important force.
Shockingly, in 2022, significant inequality in pay still exists. As does inequality in opportunity. Some sectors such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) are well-documented as underrepresented by females, but with lots of proactive and fantastic work now happening with schools and young girls in response.
But there’s also a lack of profile and investment in aspects of women’s healthcare such as the menopause and childcare, that if strengthened would empower women to improve their outcomes and wellbeing.
There’s a long way to go, and the movement remains ambitious and far-reaching.
But as well as highlighting where gender bias and discrimination needs to change, it’s an opportunity to celebrate inspirational women all around the world.
Unlike many awareness days, International Women’s Day goes back a very long way. And to the other side of the world.
The concept began as part of the suffrage movement in New Zealand in the early 1900s, and became gradually formalised, initially as a celebration day by the Socialist Party of America in New York in 1909, then in Germany, before taking off across Europe in 1910. In 1917 in Soviet Russia, protests by female textile workers sparked the February Revolution, eventually bringing about the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and women’s suffrage. It was then that March 8th became set as the date for the annual IWD.
Politically, International Women’s Day was very much a socialist/communist event, and remained so for a long time, until the late 1960s. Then, with a new wave of feminists, the day was embraced across the political spectrum as a symbol of activism and a way to highlight women’s rights and struggles.
By 1975 the UN formally recognised March 8th as a day of celebration and commemoration. It has gained momentum and increased profile ever since, with corporations, media, and celebrities all around the world harnessing its power to highlight injustices, address imbalances, support women, and bring about change.
International Women’s Day might be a day, but the work of the movement is continuous and ambitious. So what can you do, in your business or as a business leader, to deliver better gender equality in the workplace, and support and empower women to achieve their potential?
Listen and learn. Your female workforce knows what they need.
If you’re a business owner, how much time do you spend listening to the needs of your female workforce? Employee engagement is built on listening. Without listening, people simply won’t feel valued. And without listening, you may make assumptions, be out of date on views and issues, and think you are running excellent initiatives when perhaps they don’t hit the mark. You may also run the risk of assuming a lack of poor feedback means everyone is happy. If this isn’t the case, you may end up with a high turnover, loss of talent, or reduction in productivity and performance.
Building into your business culture regular listening and feedback channels is crucially important. These may include;
Asking staff to share feedback, especially anonymously, can be one of the most effective ways to know whether you are getting things right in your organisation, or whether any particular group is feeling let down or undervalued. It can give you a great insight into how people feel, positively or negatively, and help you shape company policy. And surveys can be useful tools for other reasons. They can be used to benchmark feedback over time as you adapt and change, and if positive, it can help with your brand image and attraction strategy for new talent.
✓ One to ones
Of course, there’s nothing more powerful than talking to people on a one-to-one basis. But we all know how busy life is, and how the day to day running of a business can completely take over, particularly in challenging times, and make taking the time to talk to people feel like a luxury. But it really mustn’t be. Keeping communication open as a leader, ensuring female leaders and staff at all levels know your door is always open is key to your staff knowing you think listening to them is important.
In a larger business, this practice needs to be replicated by line managers. They may need specific training and adjustments to workloads so they can take the time to listen.
✓ Women’s forums
Bigger organisations may want to consider a women’s forum, especially if women are a minority in the workforce. This can be a great opportunity to hear from women about their experiences, generate ideas on how to better support and celebrate the contributions of women, as well as attract more women into the business if this is a corporate goal.
✓ A Board member dedicated to D&I
Study after study has shown the enhanced performance of firms who take D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) seriously. This pre-Covid research by McKinsey and Company demonstrated that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile”.
The first stage is to acknowledge the importance to you of D&I by making it a senior level leadership responsibility. This should see KPIs attached to D&I, proper accountability, and embedding it throughout the culture and practices of the business.
Change and support. Show your commitment to equality and wellbeing through your actions.
When you’ve listened, it’s time to react, and act. Do the women in your organisation feel well supported? Do they see it a fantastic place to work and develop their careers? If so then you should celebrate this, keep it going, and even build on it through innovation to do even better.
But if you are finding it hard to attract women into the business or into certain roles, or the feedback from women is that they feel unsupported, or at worst, discriminated against, then it’s time for some serious action.
This may involve delving into every aspect of your culture. You may need to call out poor practice and outdated attitudes. Educate senior leaders and line managers. Review and update company policies and procedures.
Doing so successfully will improve your business performance and your employer brand.
Some steps may include;
✓ Training and workshops on gender bias
Anyone with line management responsibility needs to know how to support and communicate effectively with the women in their team, and how to not discriminate based on gender. The ‘banter culture’ if there is one also must be dealt with as it creates an unpleasant working environment for women and also puts businesses at risk of complaints and even legal action.
✓ Review of your recruitment process
From the wording of your job adverts and job descriptions, to the hours expected, is your talent attraction strategy one that will appeal to women? Does it enable female talent to access roles and then perform their best?
✓ Reviewing salaries and benchmarking pay and reward
According to Statista, in 2021 the difference between average hourly earnings for men and women in the United Kingdom for all workers was 15.4 percent. Surely, any pay inequality in businesses in this day and age is unacceptable. You need to make sure the pay and reward you offer is not discriminatory, and that it is competitive. This may mean a full review or benchmarking exercise.
✓ Review of family and childcare policies
Are your policies designed to empower women to give their best performance or do they discriminate and make it difficult for women with children? With childcare one of the biggest challenges for women, what can you do? Maybe it’s enabling more work from home time, flexible hours, or offering more roles on a part time basis.
✓ Change your approach to performance management
How are you measuring performance? If it’s based on the number of hours inside a workplace or tied to a desk, you won’t be getting the best out of any of your staff. It should be focused on outcomes and quality. Having a culture of trust will mean you get the best out of people, because they will most likely go over and above in return for that trust. This is what occupational psychologists call the ‘psychological contract’ because it links trust and being valued directly to employee motivation and effort.
✓ Check your business practices are supportive of specific issues
How does your organisation tackle issues such as the menopause or miscarriage and return to work after maternity leave? Do your policies offer the support to women that they need, and can you do better? With a growing recognition that women often struggle through difficult situations in their lives, going above and beyond in your support will be greatly valued, helping you retain and get the best from the women in your teams.
Mentor and develop. Use your own experience to empower, maximise potential, and build the confidence of female business leaders.
If you’re a business leader yourself, you’ll know how leadership can be a lonely place. This might be whether you’re an entrepreneur who has created a business from scratch or have worked your way up a business structure to leadership. Being coached, mentored, and developed can make all the difference. It gives talented, aspiring leaders an opportunity to bounce ideas in a safe space, helps build confidence, and offers a morale-boosting voice of reassurance.
Here’s some actions that could help support and empower female leaders;
Mentoring women inside your organisation or via an external mentoring scheme can be incredible rewarding. Many mentors talk about how their mentoring experience was as beneficial to them as it was for their mentee because they realise the depth of experience and knowledge they have, and how this can help others. Many mentors form close and lasting relationships with their mentees, following their business success with great interest.
✓ Career development
What is the career development path inside your organisation? Do women have equal access to it, and would women benefit from specific coaching or support to help them progress their careers and access senior positions?
✓ Board representation
Are women represented at board level? If not, what are the barriers, and how can you take a proactive stance to ensure they are? This will ensure gender balance at senior level and give women the message throughout the organisation that you are committed to gender equality. In the UK, there is some positive news on Women holding board positions, in that the number rose by 50% in five years to 2021. However, the representation figure overall still stands at just over a third, so we can do better.
✓ Supply chain and partnerships
Do you support female-led businesses in your supply chain or in business partnerships? This will send out a clear signal of your recognition and valuing of the work and talent of all the women in your network. Perhaps you can also sponsor a business or industry award for women.
✓ External Efforts
Showing a commitment to gender balance may take you outside your organisation into the community. This might be a case of getting involved with events like International Women’s Day or holding your own events and inviting or providing inspiring female speakers.
Depending on your industry, maybe you can work with schools to develop STEM skills or get involved in initiatives and campaigns to encourage girls into STEM, entrepreneurship, or other underrepresented professions.
As we celebrate our fantastic women at Little Soap Company, we hope that you’ll be doing the same.
There’s always more that can be done though, so we’re always listening and looking at ways to improve ourselves and help others. Women can and do make an outstanding contribution to the world and this must be maximised, recognised, and valued.