What does gender equity mean for businesses this International Women’s Day?
The idea of International Women’s Day (IWD) was introduced by Clara Zetkin in 1910 at the second International Conference of Working Women. This idea was met with resounding enthusiasm, and in 1911 the first IWD was held in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. Over one million men and women showed up to rallies and demonstrations in support of women’s rights. It wasn’t until 1975 however that the United Nations observed the day with celebrations.
This year, the theme for IWD is gender equity.
How is this different to gender equality?
Gender equality is that an individual’s rights and opportunities are not determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, while gender equity is addressing these inequalities and doing so in a way that considers all people without discrimination, regardless of gender.
In the workplace, gender equity is becoming ever more prevalent.
Clare Whitfield, Head of Operations and Surveying at RVA Surveyors was happy to sit down and speak more on this subject:
“Historically in our line of work we would rarely see women applying and going into a career in surveying. I am glad to say that over the past few years we have seen these numbers increasing with the introduction of our graduate programme.”
Clare Whitfield joined RVA Surveyors in 2020, with the remit of streamlining their surveying and operations departments. Since joining, the surveying department has taken on six new junior surveyors and seen the progression of current surveyors into more senior roles. She also helps oversee internal development and training programmes. Currently, Clare is in her final stage of completing her MBA at the Open University, alongside work and being a full-time parent.
“We do have a female-dominated workforce, but currently only 30% of our surveying team is female.” Clare continued, “So, we do have a long way to go, but they are on the up. We need to continue to try and attract talent to even out these numbers in the future and encourage more women to apply for all roles. My role has become more people-focused over time, which is great as I get to be more involved with the development programmes we run. This year the majority of our employees who were enrolled in our junior management and team leadership programme were female. Personally, I mentor several of our current junior management team to help create a pathway for the next generation of leadership – female or otherwise – in the company.”
Historically, different industries and sectors have been considered more male or female. Think manufacturing and nursing. In fact, only 11% of the registered nurses in the UK identify as male. It is considered one of the largest gender-segregated jobs in the UK. Assigning gender attributes to such sectors has seen a damaging effect on the workforce.
Stigmatising stereotypes hinder not only the workforce at large, but contributes to less advancement and diversity in individual sectors.
But it’s not just that some industries have a lower percentage of female workers. According to research conducted by the government, there were 15.66 million women (over the age of sixteen) in employment between October to December 2022. Over 70% of the female population is employed.
Only 19% of small and medium sized businesses (with employees) were owned or directed by women in 2021. Small and medium sized businesses account for three-fifths of employment in the UK.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently conducted an analysis that found that women work for almost two months of a year, for free. A gender pay gap of 15% that, according to TUC’s research, gets even worse after women have children. The TUC’s general secretary, Paul Nowak, said:
“Working women deserve equal pay. But at current rates of progress, it will take more than 20 years to close the gender pay gap. That’s just not good enough. We can’t consign yet another generation of women to pay inequality.”
What actions depict this twenty-year timetable?
Twenty years is a staggering timetable for generations of women coming into the workforce to have to look at, and then accept as a normalised inequality, and inequity. Many would argue that starting at what would typically be the end lifecycle of entering the workforce – that is, the workforce itself, is a rather backwards way to tackle this.
It should begin at education.
Female-coded sectors and educational opportunities – nursing, literature, teaching, to name but a few – are not only considerably underpaid, but underfunded, and understaffed. The equal distribution of knowledge and opportunities should not only be afforded at every level, but encouraged; from preschool to the C-Suite.
Unequal funding at university level – with historically male-coded subjects receiving the most (think math, the sciences), creates not only a funnel of pay inequity going into the workforce, with these jobs typically paying higher, but recruitment issues for female-coded sectors going forward.
If we look at changing not only how we currently work, but fixing a known inequality at its root, then we not only considerably shorten this timeline, but eradicate its need for future generations.
International Women’s Day was created to highlight female issues, female voices, and female solutions.
Without women, the UK’s workforce (and economy) could not function properly. In 1975, 90% of the women in Iceland went on strike – from work, from childcare, from housework. Banks, schools, shops, factories; all had to close, as the male workforce was forced to take on ‘women’s work’ as well as their paid jobs. The ‘Women’s Day Off’ movement became a watershed moment for equal rights in Iceland.
Many women in the UK – and across the world – still take on the majority of childcare and housework while holding down a job. Yet are consistently underpaid, undermined, and penalised in the workplace for doing so.
Achieving gender equity in the workplace means more than an equal ratio in the workforce, but it is just one of the steps forward that businesses in the UK can take to becoming a positive force for change.