By Robyn Lovelock,
Ambition North Wales
In a special feature for International Women’s Day, Robyn Lovelock, Programme Manager at Ambition North Wales, sat down with Business News Wales to discuss why the occasion is so close to her heart, the key challenges in business revolving around both equality and equity and what needs to be done in order for women to have a bright and prosperous future, whilst continuing to feel empowered.
1. Why is International Women’s Day important?
International Women’s Day is an opportunity each year to draw attention to how reducing inequalities facing women can strengthen business and society. Efforts are needed across most sectors to improve gender biases that disadvantage women and men, but historical disparities mean that gender inequality more commonly disadvantages women – so a day of attention on this issue is important. To look at this in more detail:
A more diverse workforce and leadership benefits businesses: McKinsey reports that for every 10% increase in gender diversity, businesses stand to increase operating profit by 3.5%. Greater diversity attracts a wider pool of talent and offers businesses a broader range of innovative ideas and insights. On International Women’s Day its worth reminding ourselves that some sectors are far from gender equitable – for example, only 15% of women in manufacturing are at a senior level and the sector maintains a 13-16% gender pay gap, and a further gap of 36% for bonuses. It is equally important to consider sectors where men are the minority – such as primary education (15% male) and healthcare (25% male). The benefits of gender equity challenge us to question assumptions that perpetuate these skewed employment patterns so we can get the best person for the job, regardless of gender.
A more diverse workforce benefits society: In 2022, the United Kingdom ranked 22nd on the global gender gap index, placing it behind other European countries such as France, Germany, and Ireland. Inequality has a range of significant implications for society – up to and including a contribution to women dying disproportionately. For example, it took until 2022 for a female dummy to be introduced as a standard car crash tests, Why does this matter? In 2020, there were 13,000 female drivers killed in car crashes in the US; when a woman is in a car crash, she is up to three times more likely to suffer whiplash injuries in rear impacts than a man. Introducing representative female-shaped dummies will help design future cars, driver seats, and other vehicle safety features to make roads safer for both men and women drivers.
While it may not be the whole answer as to why more women are injured in car crashes than men, there is a range of institutional barriers within the manufacturing industry and regulatory bodies meaning this situation wasn’t identified earlier. To achieve equality regardless of gender (or race, age, ability or other characteristic), we need to recognise the social, cultural and in some cases practical barriers to achieving that. Gender equity across an organisation can help raise different questions and support positive outcomes for both genders.
2. In your sector what do you think are the key challenges around not just equality but also equity?
Focusing on equity means looking beyond equality of opportunity (offering the same to both genders) to equality as an outcome (equal participation within the workforce / industry). So what are the critical challenges in delivering equality of outcome – equity – in agriculture, food and manufacturing, and how do we overcome them?
- Start young: While interest in science and maths within primary school is often similar across genders, girls’ interest in STEM subjects wanes during secondary school, with only around 10% of girls choosing STEM subjects at university (compared with around 25% female participation in the US and China). Much more effort must go into exposing girls to positive STEM role models and learning opportunities at a young age and to removal of stereotyped gendered activities in books, advertising, and TV. While I love reading Famous Five books to my two young boys, I actively switch names as I read so that at least sometimes Julian cooks meals and Anne gets a chance to lead adventures!
- Spotlight male allies: As the crash test example above shows, assumptions about business activities being gender-neutral run deep within our culture. Despite progress in gender equality within businesses, males remain in more significant numbers around leadership tables and, as a result, have more opportunities to speak up on any assumptions. This means men building understanding about how assumptions play out into inequitable situations and being comfortable – dare I say, brave? – enough to speak up. I say brave because often solutions to gender equity need to look outside business norms and so may meet resistance, dismissiveness or scorn at first – so require some bravery and persistence. For example, making sure wording in job adverts resonates with both genders, offering flexibility in contract terms, and making sure organisational culture supports a work-life balance for both genders.
- Review your business for equity issues – for men and women: Just the McKinsey report referenced earlier should be enough to make this review a standard activity for all businesses. However, many male leaders believe the playing field is now level and that gender parity no longer needs to be a corporate priority. The data doesn’t agree with this view. And neither do women!
3. If you could wave a magic wand what actions/ activity/ investment could be made that would most empower women in your sector to succeed/ or break down barriers in the future
Undoubtedly, I’d remove gender stereotyping from books, TV and movies. With the revision of Roald Dahl’s publicised books, this has become a sensitive topic in recent weeks, but it’s bothered me for a long time. If we are serious about removing gender stereotypes, we must accurately portray boys being caring, sympathetic and kind, and girls being assertive, brave and loud.