Tuesday, 8 March 2016

International Women's Day

Every year International Women’s Day is observed on the 8 March and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Although it is a day of celebration, it is also a day of awareness of what is yet to be achieved for women across the world.

This year, International Women’s Day is calling on people to pledge for gender parity and asking people of influence to take action by pledging their support and becoming champions of gender parity. For example, the multinational professional services firm, EY, have pledged for parity, arguing that the UK economy is losing out due to women’s academic achievements and talents not being effectively utilised. 

In light of the shocking statistic by the World Economic Forum, which estimated in 2015 that it will take until 2133 to eliminate the gender pay gap, the gender parity theme could not be more relevant today. The NFWI’s report, The WI at 100: A century of Inspiring Women, which draws on 5,450 member’s experiences, highlights similarly worrying statistics in relation to the role of women in the workplace and leadership roles. 83% of surveyed members believe more women are needed in leadership positions and 59% of members disagree that women have the same opportunities as men in the workplace.

To reach gender pay parity many other complex, societal norms must also change and develop, such as changing the way women are viewed in society in comparison to men, developing a more inclusive and flexible work culture and  promoting positive role models for today’s girls. The NFWI’s report reflects this need, as 82% of members believe that women are judged by different standards to men. These differing standards are then reflected in the workplace, which often results in conscious/unconscious bias.

70% of members aged 40 and under agree that women are penalised in the workplace for having children. An important step to achieving gender pay parity is a flexible work culture. Through implementing progressive policies that accommodate flexibility and integration for all, flexible working can be seen as the norm which in turn changes the culture of prejudice women face during and after pregnancy. 

In addition, 78% of members agree that there are not enough positive role models for today’s girls, and identified Malala Yousafzai as the most popular role model for young women. Without positive and ambitious role models for girls to look up to it can be hard to illuminate a path to leadership and success for girls. By highlighting career options through popular figures girls can be inspired to achieve the same level of success and determination.

A recent step the Government has taken to help eliminate the gender pay gap involves introducing requirements for private and voluntary sector companies, who employ over 250 employees, to publish information about their own gender pay gap. The plans were announced by Women and Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan in February 2016. Firms are required to start calculating their pay gap from April 2017, with the intention of publishing the results on their websites in April 2018.

Although this is a step in the right direction to driving diversity and encouraging women to demand more from their companies, there are concerns that without enforcement, companies may actually publish their own data. Many believe it is essential the Government consults closely with businesses to ensure that the new legislation produces results and helps to close the gender pay gap by prompting concrete actions to tackle the problem, rather than just producing data.

As Regina Moran, chief executive of Fujitsu UK and Ireland highlights, differences in pay are often part of a wider context, as highlighted by the statistics from The WI at 100 report; pledging for gender parity must involve everyone and inspire a multitude of changes to take place, not only in the workplace but also in the wider society.

The NFWI asks that WI members take a moment today to celebrate women’s achievements, past and present, and to speak with friends, family and colleagues about pledging for gender parity. You can find out how to get involved with this year’s pledge for parity theme here.

To read the full report of The WI at 100: A Century of Inspiring Women please download it here.