Why we ‘Think Women’ and are #Pressing for Progress

Managing editor Fiona Murchie introduced Relocate Global’s ‘Think Women’ event on International Women’s Day as a leap of faith. But even the smallest steps like these can lead to the biggest changes of all, writes Ruth Holmes.

Picture of woman thinking
It felt like a long journey, literally and metaphorically, up to the top-floor meeting room in the Institute of Directors’ warren-like building in Pall Mall. But twelve women found their way and the time in busy schedules on 8 March – International Women’s Day – to join together to talk about what it means to be female in today’s world of work and to take action.From our conversations, it quickly become clear that pressing for change is very much a highly relevant and relatable aim in global mobility, and its related fields of family support and education.

Why ‘Think Women’?

Compared to places where education for girls and equal treatment are not enshrined in law, women in the UK are regarded as “doing ok”. This might explain the general indifference and ambivalence to IWD in the UK, as opposed to the celebrations that take place in countries like, say, India. Yet, actually, among women in the UK, gender diversity and equality are still very live issues. A Financial Times survey published in early March found many more women than men felt further action needs to be taken to balance pay.The pay gap is a well-worn fact, with highly educated women’s pay diverging most markedly from men’s, cutting deeper with the more children a woman has and still impacting women with no dependents. Research on pay and career prospects offers compelling evidence of the impact on women’s working lives of unconscious bias, legislative barriers and culturally ingrained expectations. From the mobility and HR perspective, workplace diversity and inclusion is core to Relocate Global’s editorial agenda. International experience is a pathway to career progression at senior levels. Equality of opportunity in assignment selection is therefore a critical piece of the wider HR and talent picture. Figures are very hard to come by, but estimates suggests women comprise only around 20% of total assignment volume. More research could give us an insight into the actual figures, why this is the case, and the levers for change in talent management, policy design and global mobility support.
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Time is up and time is right now for change

What is evident is that these ongoing inequalities and limited diversity are at odds with what we know good business looks like in the 21st century and the “three Ts” of trust, talent and technology.Companies know they can no longer overlook or undervalue the skills and talents of women the world over.Reputation, organisational performance and trust are at stake. Technology has also given us the tools to screen out gender markers in online job applications, recruitment literature, job specifications and policies.Time should therefore definitely be up on workplace gender inequality. And yes, there is a real sense the ground in shifting, both in business and wider society. This is thanks in part to the lobbying and awareness raising of previous decades, as well as the recent #TimesUp and #MeToo movements.But the truth is, time is not on our side. Of the 2,516 large companies filing their first pay gap report now required by legislation in the UK, three-quarters pay men more. At current rates, it will take two centuries for women’s pay to achieve parity with men.

Committing to action

As Dr Sue Shortland pointed out, there are many horizontal and vertical barriers that have entrenched gender pay gaps as a social norm. Focusing on mobility service providers, for example, one perception was how men seem to make the transition into better paid in-house roles much more easily and how their careers seemed to be on instant and automatic fast-track. Women also spoke of the assumptions made around their career aspirations, and how difficult it is to replicate the male camaraderie and networks that see people hire and promote people in their own image. These are not sector-specific observations. Taking down the obstacles simply requires small, everyday actions to support the next generation experience the world in a more equal, inclusive way that is supported by fit-for-purpose legislation, for example around shared parental leave and the gender pay reporting.To change practice, we also need to change behaviours. Every participant in the room on International Women’s day made a powerful and personal commitment to take steps to help redress the balance. These ranged from restarting career mentoring relationships with young people, to securing research funding to explore the way forward from a sound evidence base, to seeking the support of a career coach and making these changes. If enough people take enough small steps towards better gender balance in our workplaces and in global mobility, then perhaps – in answer to its critics – we won’t need International Women’s Day after all.Email or call Fiona Murchie on + 44 (0)1892 891334 to find out more about Relocate's new "Think Women" community.
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
Read more about the future workplace in the Winter issue of our magazine
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