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Choose to Challenge!

Choose to Challenge!

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On Monday 8th March 2021, women across the globe will be celebrating their achievements on International Women’s Day, with a theme this year of ‘choose to challenge.’  International Women’s Day is an annual focal point for women’s rights and has a history dating back over 100 years. And wow, have women got a lot to be proud of this year!  It’s only March and we’ve already seen Kamala Harris sworn in as the first female Vice President of the USA, as well as Whitney Wolfe Herd becoming the youngest female CEO to take her company, Bumble, public – with a revolutionary approach to dating where women are in control and make the first move.

Although we have much to celebrate, the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the obstacles women are still facing in today’s society. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported that 60% of key workers are women1 and, according to the Women’s Budget Group, 133,000 more women than men were furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.2  It may not come as a surprise to many of us that women are more likely than men to either be a key worker or engaged in precarious casual employment.   For example, 77% of the NHS workforce are women.3  That alone is a staggering statistic, highlighting the crucial role women are playing in the battle against COVID-19.

Different sectors have inevitably been affected by the pandemic in different ways.  A significant contributing factor to gender pay and pension gaps in our society arises from women taking time away from the workplace to care for children, which in turn can have an impact on them climbing up the salary and promotion ladder.  With this in mind, could there be a silver lining to COVID-19?

Huge numbers of people have been working solely from home during the pandemic, in contrast to their working lives before.  This means that family life has changed and, now more than ever, we can see some gender stereotypes beginning to fade.  In many families, both parents are helping with home schooling and childcare as COVID-19 has thrown everything up in the air and both sexes have had to juggle careers with family life and being hands-on parents.  Is it possible that home working may allow more women to return to work faster after maternity leave?  Could this shift also mean that more women may choose to work full-time as opposed to part-time, due to the potential for more workplace flexibility in the future?  It may also be easier for parents of both genders to fulfil work and childcare responsibilities with greater ease, as flexible working becomes the norm.   All in all, could we now see the gender gap start to close?

Turning to the pension gender gap, we know this is a knock-on effect of several factors, including those highlighted above. Scottish Widows have carried out extensive research on this topic and have encouragingly reported that things are moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot to do. Scottish Widows have found that women make up the majority of the lowest earners, around 69%, and are saving £1,300 a year less than men into their pensions.4  Given the disparity between men and women’s earning and saving power, it’s no surprise that we see a ‘retirement gap’ between the sexes later in life. This is not something that should be ignored in any fair society, but should instead be seen as a prime opportunity for us all to ‘choose to challenge’ and help to dismantle the obstacles that create these inequalities for women.

One of the ways that businesses are looking to address gender inequalities is in board representation.  Helena Morrisey DBE, ex-CEO of Newton Investment Management, who has nine children and whose husband is a stay-at-home dad, has established the 30% Club. The 30% Club is a campaign group consisting of business chairpersons and CEOs taking action to increase gender diversity on boards and senior management teams.  Their goal is to achieve a minimum of 30% female representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.  They believe that only organisations that ‘foster truly inclusive cultures – cultures that embraces women who look, act and, importantly, THINK differently – can reach their full potential.’  This is encouraging, but let’s that hope instead of just talking about it, we see some solid action in the UK!  Women have come a long way in the last 100 years, but it would be unacceptable for it to be another 100 years before we see true equality.

So, on Monday 8th March 2021, International Women’s Day, will you ‘choose to challenge’ in your organisation, raise awareness with your friends, and help women take action for equality?  In my opinion we have no choice – it is a must!


1 https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14763

2 https://wbg.org.uk/media/press-releases/equal-pay-day-2020/

3 https://www.nhsemployers.org/engagement-and-networks/health-and-care-women-leaders-network/women-in-the-nhs#:~:text=The%20contribution%20of%20women%20in,NHS%20infographic%20for%20more%20information.

4 https://adviser.scottishwidows.co.uk/assets/literature/docs/2020-women-retirement-report.pdf