This International Women’s Day is all about achieving greater gender balance in all aspects of life.
The #BalanceforBetter theme serves as an important reminder to employers of the significant role they have to play in narrowing the gender divide between men and women, starting with their experience in the workplace. After all, the way we are treated at work has a large bearing on the balance of society as a whole by reinforcing (or redressing) the roles men and women are expected to play.
This is reinforced on the IWD website, which states, “balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue”, and recognises a “gender-balanced boardroom” as a key objective.
We’ve touched upon this issue of workplace balance before, explaining how employers can play their part through flexible working and exploring the contentious issue of the gender pay gap.
As big believers in practicing what we preach, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked our Head of Human Resources, Victoria Pritchard, to share her experience of working at Ellis Whittam from a woman’s perspective.
One of the biggest hurdles women come up against when trying to progress in their careers is the potential ramifications of choosing to start a family. Unfortunately, research shows that motherhood triggers false assumptions that women are ‘less committed’ to their careers and are somehow ‘less competent’. Even in 2019, the stigma surrounding pregnant women and mothers persists in some workplaces, which often results in them being held to higher standards than their male counterparts, as well as being presented with fewer opportunities. In fact, studies show that the “maternal wall” women encounter when they have kids is the strongest gender bias they face.
Even in 2019, the stigma surrounding pregnant women and mothers persists in some workplaces, which often results in them being held to higher standards than their male counterparts, as well as being presented with fewer opportunities.
As many working mothers will appreciate, returning to work after spending time away caring for a new baby can be a daunting prospect. I’ve returned part-time, four days a week, a decision that was wholly supported by the Board. As soon as I was back in the building, expectations were as high as ever – and rightly so! My objectives and key results areas are just as demanding and strategic as they were pre-motherhood, and that in itself is a prime example of the practical steps employers can take to dismantle the “maternal wall”.
Head of Human Resources, Victoria Pritchard
Balance for Better at Ellis Whittam
Of course, there’s always more we can do as a business and we’re always looking for ways to create a more balanced, equal and supportive place to work. We’re proud to have been recognised by Investors in People with the Silver Award, and we’re determined to go for gold next time. If we are to achieve this, there’s no room for gender bias – we’ll need to harness our combined talent and motivate everyone to achieve Ellis Whittam’s vision in line with our values. According to a recent staff survey, one in five colleagues wouldn’t feel able to challenge behaviour that doesn’t align with our values – so we have work to do to ensure everyone feels able to challenge behaviours appropriately.
The #BalanceforBetter message is something that really resonates with us at Ellis Whittam.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve been focusing on ways to create a better work-life balance for everyone that works here.
Every area of the business has been empowered to set flexible working arrangements that fit with their department’s activities, whether it be start/finish times or working from home.
Through these efforts, we’re happy to have achieved a 22% improvement on our work-life balance measures over this period.
Alongside this, we’re always looking for opportunities for promotion. In fact, 18 people have been promoted at Ellis Whittam in the past 12 months – 50% of whom are women. Not only does this demonstrate our commitment to gender equality in progression prospects, but when you consider that this equates to 10% of our workforce having been promoted, it’s a pretty impressive statistic and one that we’re really proud of.
Another key indicator of gender balance is representation in senior positions. At Ellis Whittam, 40% of our Senior Leadership Team are female, so we’re doing pretty well on that front. That said, when it comes to #BalanceforBetter, passivity is a real concern. Research shows that when one in ten senior leaders is female, half of men think this constitutes representation… and a quarter of women think women are well represented. This highlights that we have even more work to do to not only address cases of inequality but tackle the false perceptions that underpin them.
For me, ‘Better the Balance, Better the World’ has real resonance. I put my skills and knowledge to good use in a voluntary capacity with Soroptimist International, a leading global women’s voluntary organisation that inspires action and creates opportunities to transform the lives of women and girls worldwide. Locally, I am involved in a series of events at Storyhouse Chester in support of Chester Women’s Aid, including theatre and dance, choirs, raffles, workshops and other activities. If you’d like to get involved in their annual International Women’s Day celebrations, you can find more information here.
If you’re looking to achieve better balance in your workplace, Ellis Whittam’s expert Employment Law Advisers can offer practical support with flexible working arrangements, maternity leave and employee pay. Call us now on 0345 226 8393.