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​IWD: #EmbraceEquity with Elizabeth Willetts, Founder & CEO at Investing in Women

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 year ago
  • Author:by Andrew Mackay

​​​​This International Women's Day, I interviewed Elizabeth Willetts, Founder & CEO at Investing in Women, and she shared her thoughts on how we can #EmbraceEquity.

Equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful. The IWD 2023 campaign theme seeks to forge worldwide understanding about why equal opportunities aren’t enough, and a focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA.

International Women’s Day belongs to everyone, everywhere. Collectively, we can all help create a diverse, equitable and inclusive world.

1. How can companies strive for more equitable talent attraction?

Consider what applicants need during the recruitment process. Whether that's more inclusive job adverts to ensure there's no gender bias, when you schedule job interviews (not during a school pick-up time, for example), or overly interrogating someone about their career break.

Encourage interviewees to look beyond the CV and consider the transferable skills that person may have gained in other roles - and outside the traditional workplace. With a little training, they may be an excellent fit for the role and a huge asset to the organisation, and some outside-of-the-box thinking is always beneficial in any team!

2. What is your top advice for making job descriptions more inclusive?

If you can offer flexible working, include it (with details) in the job advert.

Only 3 in 10 job adverts mention flexibility, despite 5 in 10 employees working flexibly and 90% of people wanting some form of flexibility at work, and that 90% aren't just mums - people want flexibility for all sorts of reasons - and they come from all demographics, including those with disabilities, hobbies, and nearing retirement. Gen Z states flexibility at work is increasingly important to them. They don't want to be stuck in an office for 8 hours a day, five days per week, so the world of work really is changing.

And many of our (primarily female) community have openly said they will only apply to a job if the advert mentions they can offer flexibility. By mentioning flexibility in your job advert you're telling a prospective candidate they are welcome and will belong at your organisation.

In 2019, Zurich was the first UK company to advertise all job vacancies open to flexible working. The result was nearly 20% more women applying for senior roles. And senior female hires rose by a third.

3. What advice would you give women in the industry you work in?

That recruitment doesn't have to be as 'macho' as the agency you work in would have you believe. I started my recruitment career working for a company where 'masculine' and 'locker room' behaviour was encouraged and accepted - be it through drinking games/punishments, long hours - including accusations you were a 'part-timer' if you left at 6 pm, initiations, and boasting about conquests etc.

But I've been in recruitment for almost 20 years now. I currently work part-time from home, and it's proving to be a brilliant career to fit around kids. Most of my competitors are female-owned businesses, but rather than viewing them as the 'enemy', which we would have done in years gone by, I actually feel part of a supportive community where we cheer each other on.

Recruitment has opened some incredible doors for me, I've met some amazing people and businesses, and I know my job changes people's lives. You don't get much more rewarding than that!

4. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Too many companies seem unwilling to work to retain women if they become mothers. Becoming a parent is a huge life-changing event, and people need to feel supported by their employers, and although it certainly doesn't mean the employee is any less committed, companies need to be open to making certain adjustments if they want that individual to thrive. This is particularly true for the primary caregiver (the vast majority of whom is female) if they wish to retain more mothers in today's workplace and build the female leadership pipeline for tomorrow.

Ways companies can retain and promote more women could include:

  • Responding promptly, positively and constructively to any flexible working requests they may receive

  • Encourage women and parenting networks within their organisation where employees can build informal bonds with those at a similar life stage to them

  • Invest in Return to Work coaching to ease the transition back to work for those who have taken parental leave

  • Measure who is being promoted and getting those pay rises to ensure no gender bias. Men are much more likely to put their hands up and ask for those pay rises and promotions, so you need to ensure your female employees aren't getting overlooked

5. International Women's Day is also about celebrating women and their achievements; what woman/women inspire you?

As an entrepreneur, it would have to be another female entrepreneur. And there are some absolutely incredible ones out there who have grown their businesses from scratch, including Sara Blakely (Founder of Spanx), Melanie Perkins (Founder of Canva) and Dragons Den, Sara Davies, who grew her craft business from her dining room table.

I also really admire Carol Middleton (the Princess of Wales' mum), who grew her multi-million-pound business, Party Pieces, from her kitchen during school hours. She now has a thriving £6m company with full-time employees but has been able to balance that success by being a hands-on parent and now grandparent.