International Women’s Day (IWD) is about raising awareness of women’s equality and celebrating their achievements.
This year, the fight for equality is even more important, with recent statistics showing that the Coronavirus pandemic has affected gender equality in the workplace. A report published by Fawcett Society on Equal Pay Day 2020 found that 43% of working women were worried about losing a job or promotion during Coronavirus compared to 35% of men.
As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, we asked some of our Simpson Millar colleagues what this means to them and how they’re choosing to challenge inequality.
What International Women’s Day Means to Us
“For me International Women’s Day is about taking a moment to celebrate the many amazing achievements of inspiring women throughout our history, who have contributed so much, but have far too often been overlooked”, says HR Business Partner, Emma Kirby.
“It’s to reflect on how far we have come in accelerating women’s equality, but also acknowledging there is still work to be done to achieve a truly equal society.”
Head of Public Law, Imogen Jolley, and Partner and Public Law Solicitor, Angela Jackman, also talk about reflection.
Imogen says IWD is “an opportunity to reflect on how far women’s rights have come over the past 150 years, even during my working career over the past 25 years. There is still much more to achieve but I have faith that progress is being sustained.”
And for Angela, it’s “a time to reflect on the successes and ongoing challenges that we face as women. It is a time to celebrate our strengths and achievements and also to show support for each other.”
But for Caroline Fox, Senior Associate Solicitor, IWD brings up feelings of frustration as well as reflection: “Whilst I enjoy celebrating the achievements of women and seek to utilise this day to promote issues that unfortunately disproportionally affect women, the concept of having to have a specific day for women saddens me”, says Caroline.
“It shouldn’t be necessary. We are over 100 years since women were permitted to become Solicitors and there are still significant gaps in pay and in senior leadership positions.”
What Challenges Have You Faced because of Covid-19?
Coronavirus has brought challenges for everyone over the last year, especially those who have had to juggle working with homeschooling. And women in particular have reportedly felt the strain the most, with The Fawcett Society report finding that 1 in 3 working mothers said they’d lost work or hours because of childcare duties.
Both Caroline and her husband found this new way of working challenging: “Covid has been hard for everyone and the periods of time that we homeschool was especially difficult,” she says. “My husband and I are very much an equal partnership and this is why we have been able to weather this storm together.”
For Imogen, she’s noticed some benefits to working from home: “Prior to Covid-19, I travelled frequently and this meant very long hours and less opportunity for family and ‘me’ time.”
“Whilst I prefer engaging face to face with colleagues in the office, I think the balance that can be achieved by working more at home is preferable and better for mental health in the long term.”
Angela also misses the face-to-face social interaction with colleagues and talks about the difficulty of maintaining the right work/life balance when working from home.
But Emma has praised the flexible work-life balance, as it’s allowed her to focus on her career development. She says “It’s given me the opportunity to study for my Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioners qualification, which I’d have struggled to fit in other wise.”
How Are You Choosing to Challenge Inequality?
Imogen, Caroline and Emma all speak about promoting equal access to opportunity in the workplace.
Demanding Equal Pay and Equality in Senior Roles
As one of the leaders of Simpson Millar’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group, Imogen has been pushing for gender pay to be one of the key issues to target.
“I am also very keen to ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for women in respect of promotion and progression so the balance of women in more senior roles is more equitable,” she says. “Supporting female colleagues and empowering them to succeed is key to that.”
Encouraging all Colleagues Equally to Succeed
But Caroline emphasises that we should still be encouraging men to succeed as well as women: “I am a huge advocate for all my colleagues to succeed whether they be male or female, and my door is always open to anyone who wants advice on how to put themselves forward.”
Removing the Stigma around Women in Business and Society
For Emma, it’s about “removing the barriers, stigmas and dare I say the politics, so that we can have open, honest and transparent conversations. Women make significant contributions every day to organisations and society, and if organisations fail to harness and embrace women’s contributions, they’re missing a massive opportunity. By harnessing the qualities and contributions of women, empowering women to have an equal voice, they will ignite even greater contributions and success. So for me it’s a win, win!”
She also talks about her role as a Transformational Coach: “I spend a lot of time celebrating and supporting the work of some of the most inspirational women, who have achieved amazing success in their fields of expertise, but so often their success has been driven by an inner desire to prove themselves, having been silenced or told they couldn’t achieve their goals, because they’re a woman.”
“However, it’s not their success that makes them inspiring to me, but their genuine desire to highlight and celebrate the achievements of other women.”
Educating Ourselves and Supporting Each Other
Angela also focuses on the importance of celebrating women’s successes and publicly praising achievements. She also talks about the importance of educating ourselves and setting an example: “I try to challenge gender inequality by educating myself on the obstacles still faced by women around the world and supporting campaigns where I can. I also support women on a personal and professional basis and try to set examples for my daughters.”
While the last year has undoubtedly created some challenges, and there’s still more work to be done, if we all choose to challenge inequality together, collectively we can strive for a fairer and more inclusive world.
As Emma puts it, “by helping others grow, we grow ourselves and we are so much more powerful when we work together.”