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. Within your market/industry sector, what progress have you seen businesses take to progress gender equity?
Building Societies were created to provide mortgages and savings products for the local community. So they have always striven to be inclusive in order to represent the communities that they serve. The Family Building Society is no exception. We have an incredibly diverse and inclusive workforce, especially when compared with the demographics of our locality. Recent changes to our policies on family leave, hybrid and flexible working have all helped to make working women’s lives easier. We have also recently created a Diversity and Inclusion role at the Society to continually look at how we can be more inclusive.
2. What is one action companies can take to further balance their talent attraction strategies?
There are still very few women working in IT. Out of my IT team of 42, 10 of those are women. That is better than it was 20 years ago when I was at university, where I was one of two women on the Computer Science course. The aspiration has to be to have 50/50 so that we have a more balanced working environment. Since I joined the Society, we have worked with our local girls school to offer work experience opportunities and we had our first girls join us last summer. We have also reached out to the local university to offer graduate placements. We have our first female Computer Science student with us at the moment and she is thoroughly enjoying it. These are some of the ways I think we can change the balance; by proactively offering opportunities in IT to women and girls as early in their careers as possible.
3. What is your top advice for making job descriptions more inclusive?
In the last 12 months, I have seen hybrid and flexible working become an expectation rather than something desirable. We have done a lot of recruiting to prepare for a large change programme and, if hybrid and flexible working hadn’t been included in job descriptions, I might not have received a single CV! As a company, I also think it is important to call out the fact that a key tenet of your business is to employ a diverse workforce and have a truly inclusive culture. We should be actively trying to level the playing field for everyone.
4. Do you think that more companies adopting a hybrid working pattern has helped to shift pre-conceived conceptions about flexible working for women, and why?
I think hybrid working and flexible working policies that firms are adopting are game changers for women and families. The one upside of covid was the world realising that staff are just as productive when working from home and working flexible hours. The flexibility that women have dreamt about for years has become important to everyone, not just women. In my team, I have seen the balance change in relationships and men (who work flexible hours) taking a more equal share of childcare responsibilities. I think this has helped to give lots of people (both men and women) a better work-life balance and feel less pressured, free from the belief that they need to be sat in an office all day to be productive.
5. What advice would you give women in the industry you work in?
Believe in yourself and be brave. The biggest difference that I have seen between the men and women in my teams over the years is confidence. Women are equally capable but sometimes lack the confidence to speak up, which I think can sometimes mean that they are overlooked. This is obviously not always the case but is more common than you might think.
6. International Women’s Day is also about celebrating women and their achievements. What woman/women inspire you?
My Mother inspired me from a young age. She constantly told me to study hard, be brave and ambitious and not to give up. Whenever I have a setback she always tells me to keep going. I can still remember the first time I was inspired by a woman at work and thought wow! I was a Junior Project Manager and she was the Programme Manager. She was the only female leader within the IT team in that company and she was a brilliant Programme Manager and took no rubbish from the blokes!
7. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Expectation and representation. When holding a leadership position, there is an expectation that you will always need to be available, whether that’s in the evenings or weekends, whenever there is an issue or for early morning/evening meetings. I think some women find that off-putting. They worry that it will be impossible to juggle family and work. However, if women can see other women in leadership positions, and those women are open and honest about how they manage, then it encourages other women to believe they can do it too. I have two school-age children, and juggling my family commitments with work is tricky sometimes. But I am open with both my CEO and my team about the flexibility that I need to make that work. My CEO is happy as long as I am effective in my role and deliver my objectives. I offer my team exactly the same flexibility.