Today is International Women’s Day and in this special feature we explore how celebrating differences and embracing diversity across all our demographics is ultimately the key to genuine inclusion – and the pathway to helping fulfil the potential of everyone, everywhere.
For the past 112 years, International Women’s Day has marked a key moment to reflect on the progress being made in bringing equality of opportunity to 49.58% of the world’s population.
There’s certainly much to celebrate here in the UK. This week alone welcomed the first report from the FTSE Women Leaders Review showing that almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, Openreach revealed that a record 600 female engineering apprentices were recruited last year across the UK; and here in Wales, pioneering programmes such as our first all-female accelerator scheme – The Rise Programme being run by We Are Radikl in Bridgend and Caerphilly – and the Cardiff Capital Region Graduate Programme (which has attracted a 50% female graduate cohort) are driving the agenda of an even playing field for all genders.
In many ways, these laudable landmarks are hugely encouraging evidence of inclusive history being made, especially in light of the Welsh Government’s Advancing Gender Equality in Wales Plan, unveiled in 2020 and built very much on deeds not words. Yet much remains to be done. The ONS reports that the equality pay gap for full-time employees is stuck stubbornly at 7.9%. Chwarae Teg notes that in our region, only 28% of women run their own businesses (lagging behind the underwhelming 31% average that exists across the rest of the UK). And, critically, The Fawcett Society’s regular studies have shown how age, race, ethnicity, disability and access to education continue to inform gender inequalities – and most other inequalities.
This is about everyone and all of us
Viewed as an inclusive whole, there’s no room for complacency here in Wales and the UK. Far from it. Britain’s push to level up is a tacit acceptance that inequalities have become in many places too wide, too deep and too ingrained. So, taking the time to look at best practices, successful roadmaps and areas of sustained progress made in female inclusion shouldn’t just be viewed exclusively through the lens of ‘gender’. It should open our eyes to how we can connect and engage with anyone and everyone who is excluded from fulfilling their potential – and in some cases effectively disenfranchised from the opportunities most of us take for granted.
Many people look towards the Government to lead the way in what is so often called Diversity and Inclusion but could equally be characterised as the building blocks of Sustainability and Wellbeing. And with the Welsh Government embedding inclusion in major programmes such as the creation of 125,000 all-age apprenticeships, there are clearly important strides being made.
But a Government alone won’t drive sustained progress in opening up opportunity for everyone. It will only be achieved inch by inch and day by day, in our schools and colleges, through our training provision, role-modelling and workplace cultures. As an example, Openreach attributes their success in hiring 600 female engineering apprentices (including 50 here in Wales) to the inclusive language they use in their job ads and job descriptions. It’s that type of conscious effort made by employers and training providers to engage at every step, understanding that they have a responsibility to inspire and connect, that ultimately makes the difference in someone reaching out for an opportunity – or not.
CIPD Wales recognises that employers (and specifically HR and L&D departments) have a huge role to play in opening up organisations to the talent of all communities: creating a two-way value chain where employers can access previously untapped human capital – and individuals can pursue their life chances as employees.
That approach is at the heart of CIPD Wales’ “Hidden in plain sight – Wales’ alternative talent pool” event, which will focus on helping “disconnected” people into work. Those people may need support in making their first move into the workplace. They may struggle to realise the skills they naturally possess. They may have lost confidence in their abilities – or may even be overwhelmed by the different options available to them. Whatever the obstacles, it’s encouraging that the ‘people profession’ is looking to shape solutions to help potential employees become real-life colleagues, with a pathway to pursue their hopes, dreams and ambitions, regardless of background or orientation.
A day that means a great deal, to a great many people …
We spoke with senior female figures at the heart of business and community life in the Cardiff Capital Region, to find out what this momentous day and the wider inclusion agenda means to them:
Inclusion has been a driving force in life for Cllr Lisa Mytton, Leader Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and CCR Cabinet member:
“International Women’s Day is such an important celebration of gender inclusion, encouraging women to follow the path they deserve to, irrespective of any barriers they may experience simply because of their gender. I left school at 16 and one of the best things I ever did was to join a YTS Youth Apprentice Scheme to work in a travel agency. I became one of its youngest managers and this empowerment gave me the confidence to go to university, where I qualified as a lecturer.
“I then joined ALS Training where I became Head of Quality, working on policies and procedures including equality and diversity – before being elected to the Merthyr Council after taking up the fight to save a field for the community and have been Mayor and, since 2021, its second female Leader. On International Women’s Day, I urge all the women out there to just go for their dreams – don’t let anything hold you back, as you have it within you to be the best that you can be.”
For Philippa Marsden, Leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council and Deputy Chair CCR Cabinet, the importance of role-modelling can’t be overstated:
“Girls and young females need to see examples of women succeeding in varied professional roles and in business generally, inspiring them to enter those professions that have traditionally been the reserve of men – shining a light on career pathways in every sector, including local government and other areas of public life. This needs to happen in primary school to set them on the right path for success – and this needs to be incorporated in all career advice in schools.”
Karen Thomas, Head of South Wales Corporate at Barclays and Board Member of the CCR Regional Economic Growth Partnership, emphasises the positive progress being made across inclusion:
“Only last month Barclays welcomed its first female group CFO in over 300 years, with the appointment of Anna Cross. Half of the UK’s four biggest banks now have women finance directors and the last 18 months has challenged all our traditional thinking to #BreakTheBias – so International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to acknowledge the progress that we have made in promoting role models and championing diversity.”
Cerys Furlong, Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg and Board Member of the CCR Investment Panel, stresses that much work still needs to be done:
“The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias and that’s exactly what we need to do to create a truly inclusive and equal nation. Since Chwarae Teg’s inception 30 years ago a lot of progress has been made, but our annual State of the Nation report published only last month exposed again how characteristics such as gender, race, sexuality, disability, class, age and faith can interact and often produce multiple experiences of disadvantage.
“To create a more equal Wales, we need to focus on the most marginalised first; the people who face the greatest barriers. That is why on International Women’s Day and every other day we need government, business and civil society to act to ensure that everyone in our society can achieve and prosper in Wales.”
And the last words go to Victoria Mann, CEO of Near Me Now and Board Member of the CCR Business Council, who poignantly pointed out:
“The outdated stereotype of George Banks in the film Mary Poppins, leaving home each morning and returning home in the evening, with limited or no consideration for any responsibilities outside of work, is still a reality of the culture in many of today’s workplaces. That’s an extremely privileged position to be in; one that brings with it an invisible competitive advantage over those who cannot leave their responsibilities and thoughts for those in their care at the doorstep. It’s important on International Women’s Day to take a minute to process that thought along with the fact that whilst Mrs Banks could spend her days championing her cause and leaving the children with a nanny, for many people, this is as far-fetched as the film’s creative storyline.
“Life can change in the blink of an eye for each and every one of us and whilst conversations around gender inequality is an obvious starting point for the discussion around the need for a more inclusive, empathetic and compassionate workplace, that change would also benefit the many employees who fly beneath the radar whose life challenges and care responsibilities, whether that be for children or elderly relatives, are not as obvious or spoken about.”