International Women’s Day 2021 promotes a number of missions to help forge a gender equal world, one of which is to “forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive, and achievements are celebrated.” Whilst huge leaps have been made in regard to the progression of women in corporate roles, some organisations still have a way to go when it comes to adjusting the norms, expectations and dynamics surrounding gender equality in the workplace as to ensure an inclusive culture.

We spoke with Emma Taylor, Insolvency Partner at Browne Jacobson LLP and Suzanne Linton, founder of award winning digital product studio Freestyle, to discuss their ideas on how organisations should go about creating inclusive workplaces that help to forge gender equality. Despite operating in different sectors, and coming from different professional backgrounds, a common narrative soon emerged.

Treat employees as individuals – nothing more, nothing less

Emma began by saying “Organisations need to stop focussing on equality for one gender at a time. Instead, simply treat everyone as individuals and value each person’s skills – hard and soft – and celebrate the differences.”

Similarly, Suzanne added “It is absolutely crucial that we ensure equal opportunities are in place for the training and development of everyone’s careers, regardless of their gender. Here at Freestyle, we have a dedicated person who is responsible for the development of each member of our team, who works alongside each discipline lead to make sure all opportunities are offered equally, that training is in place and that no one is forgotten about or disadvantaged for any reason.”

Parenthood – make it gender equal, and remember that it isn’t something that can be switched off during working hours

Interestingly, both Emma and Suzanne also reflected on the stereotypes surrounding parenthood, and the role that plays when it comes to assuring – or indeed averting – gender equal environments: “We should challenge expectations around childcare and parental leave by encouraging more men to take time off to raise their children.” says Emma, adding “This will only truly be possible if any negative impact on career progression and income is effectively mitigated as, without it, men will continue to defer to women as the expected norm.”

Similarly, Suzanne added: “Organisations must make it normal for parents, regardless of gender, to be seen as the caregiver for children or other dependents. Allow and encourage staff to be open about having to leave early or start late to attend an assembly, a school play or a parents evening – it’s not just the emergencies that working parents have to make space for. We need to make it normal for men and women to both be involved equally in their children’s upbringing. This needs to be lead from the top – signalling that you are aware and support people leaving a bit early to collect a poorly child or coming in late after seeing their child collect an award in assembly. Parenthood can’t be switched off during working hours.”

Suzanne continues: “We have seen the benefits and the strains of working from home over the last year. We have asked our teams to step up and many have flexed their lives to juggle work, caring for others and on top of all that home schooling. Businesses can use what we have all learned during this time to create a more flexible and understanding environment for our teams, knowing that by being flexible we can all win. Rather than measuring hours worked in a 9-5 set-up, we can instead measure the calibre of what is produced and whether deadlines are met whilst still expecting people to collaborate as part of a team. Hopefully presenteeism is dead, but we still need to build a better format for recognising and progressing/promoting talent when some people are remote, and some are in the office.  If we achieve this then many barriers for women returning to work or juggling school and nursery timings for single parents will be made less and more opportunities will be available for them.”

Ensure representation is authentic and not artificial

Finally, another way in which organisations can enable a tangible shift in culture and help forge a gender equal workplace is by encouraging greater representation of both genders in all roles, to which Emma adds “This needs to be authentic rather than artificial to ensure the right people are being selected for the right reasons and, as such, will take time. This should permeate professional grades as well as internal representation, for example, on recruitment panels.”

Suzanne reiterates this ideology, particularly from a recruitment perspective “Recruitment has to be a key consideration in how we open up to bring more diversity into areas that have been traditionally male. I have to admit to a small amount of positive bias. As a woman I do tend to push a little harder for our teams to consider women when we get a CV for a developer or a digital designer – areas that have been traditionally male. I want to continually challenge the tendency to recruit ‘someone like me’ – but we all need to at least make sure the language in our job ads is not gender biased, so that we can see more female CV’s in the first place.”

The choices organisations make today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. This is why it is essential to continue elevating, celebrating, and amplifying the visibility and achievements of women in the workplace.