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How to Embrace Equity on International Women’s Day 2023

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Today is International Women’s Day 2023, and the theme is #EmbracingEquity. The idea of embracing equity, to me, suggests that equity already exists, and the invitation is therefore to accept it readily. In my experience equity is still very much a work in progress; societally, culturally, institutionally and within our communities and families. Nevertheless, I believe we can encourage fairer and more equitable workplaces.

None of us share the same background, life experiences, race, sexuality or education because it is our uniqueness that makes us diverse. Inclusive work environments exist where colleagues acknowledge that it is what makes us different, alongside our own personal biases that contributes to the unequal work environments we have created, and they recognise that change requires intentional, measurable action.

In their survey of women about their views on the workplace, Deloitte asked what their employers could do to advance gender equality. The highest-ranking action was to provide a respectful and inclusive workplace culture – something that is critical for gender equality at work. Workplace culture can be defined as the way we do things around here, and as a leader, it can be interpreted as “the behaviour I walk past is the behaviour I accept”.

For organisations serious about cultivating a respectful and inclusive workplace culture, the focus needs to be on the behaviours that are role modelled by the leadership team and accepted throughout the organisational system. Inclusive leaders honestly examine their own behaviour and increase their self-awareness and understanding of the impact they can have on others. They recognise that inclusion is a journey rather than a destination, and show courage in being vulnerable, curious and open to learning. They develop the skills to intervene and be an advocate for inclusive behaviour, in addition to learning how to be an ally.

I have noticed that it is not uncommon for the most senior leaders to quickly grasp the value of diversity and inclusion and therefore be willing to reflect on their leadership behaviour – particularly when they understand the link between D&I and business performance. It is often middle managers who need a little more support. In my work coaching women as they return to the workplace following maternity leave, the role of the line manager is crucial in the experience that women have of their careers, especially when they become a parent.

McKinsey ‘s Women in the Workplace 2022 report found that female leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate in years. They found that for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave. The primary reasons behind this are that women want to advance their careers but face more barriers than men, they report being overworked and unrecognised, and they want a culture that embraces flexibility and wellbeing.

Research by Deloitte found that:

  • 94% of women requesting flexible working worry that it will affect their chances of being promoted.

  • 90% believe their workload won’t be adjusted if they request flexible working

  • 42% worried their career progression will be affected if they’re not constantly available

  • 60% were excluded from important meetings and as a result lacked enough exposure to senior leaders

However, it is easy to assume that the way to solve gender equality is to focus just on women. I believe that we need to take a far broader, systemic approach to cultivating fairer and more equitable workplaces. Organisations who want to make progress need be proactive by developing a strategy linked to the bottom line that prioritises inclusion, focusing on culture change, structural processes and evidence-based action. Without commitment, there is no change.

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work.

If your organisation would like to understand more about how to support line managers in managing their employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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