We have mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. As our co-founder, Laura, said in a note she didn’t intend us to share:
"The first IWD celebration took place in 1911. That’s 110 ruddy years ago, yet here we are in 2021 still having the same conversation about pretty bleeding obvious gender inequality. And what about the other types of inequality?"
The World Economic Forum reckons that gender parity won’t be achieved for another 100 years from now. (Don’t ask about race, disability and class parity, it’s too depressing).
This year the theme of IWD is choosing to challenge norms. Something we’ve been focussing on a lot in the last year.
In starting a new business we’ve been trying to look at everything with fresh eyes. Which is actually harder than it sounds. Stuff that’s ‘normal’ in business, suddenly seems worth questioning. Too often, normal, im-or-ex-plicitly shuts some people out.
One small example of this is our recent discovery that our Articles of Association (the official founding documents of the company) refer to directors as he/him/his as standard. This might seem like a small thing, but language matters.
We thought we’d share a few recent ‘norms’ we’ve been questioning (with input from our team and Board) as food for thought for those businesses keen to do some ‘un-normalising’ as part of their support for International Women’s Day…
“Flexible working hours – subject to discussion”. Could you offer flexibility as standard instead? We’re talking flexibility on when people work, how much they work, and where they work? Could you offer it before people ask? Without paying them less? Could you formalise it in a policy so it’s clear?
“Salary dependent on experience”. If you’re paying your employees fairly and equally, why wouldn’t you be open and transparent about salaries inside the organisation and in job ads.
“It’s impossible for women in leadership roles to take more than six months maternity leave” / “Being ill is a sign of weakness”. Actual verbatim quotes from bosses we’ve had over the years. If your leadership team doesn’t walk the talk, that makes it hard for everyone else. Do they work flexibly? Are they empathetic to people’s individual situations? Do they take shared parental leave / co-parent with their partners? Take time off, encourage teams to do so and generally work in a sustainable way?
“Work has to come first”. Acknowledging that work is a part of life doesn’t lessen its importance. Life outside work isn’t a ‘personal life’, it’s just life, and it doesn’t always happen outside of 9-5.
“Full-time role” / “Office-based”. Why? How about advertising the role, without specifying full-time or office-based and be open to other ways of working. It’s time for part-time, remote and job-share as standard.
“Generous maternity leave”. Obvs we made that one up, never seen that in a job ad. But the point is, what about offering generous maternity and paternity leave, and encouraging/incentivising shared parental leave too?
“Committed to diversity”. With a Board of all older, white men. Or show diversity in publicity materials but report a massive gender or race pay gap. Without any active plan (with deadlines) to change.
“Anyone got a good contact that can make videos?” Going through our B-corp assessment has made us much more aware that where we spend our money matters. It’s worth questioning whether you’re buying from a diverse range of partners or whether you just stick to what you know.
“Strong leader” or “committed people person”. It’s really easy to accidently make people feel like the job or organisation isn’t for them.
“I don’t think they’d have time”. Do you make assumptions on training or project opportunities before asking people themselves? Do you make it impossible for someone working part-time to take on a project? Do you proactively promote internal vacancies to women on maternity leave? Could you think creatively about how it could work (rather than all the reasons it couldn’t)? Are you giving everyone an equal platform to showcase their work and their value?
This work to unpick ‘normal’ will never be done and we’re nowhere close, but we’re committed to challenging the status quo and playing our part in the movement towards equality. Please let us know what else should be on here.
And this IWD, before posting on social, perhaps do some un-normalising first…