What are the driving forces of change for equal opportunities in the workplace?

Article by Faye Liddle-Moore, Member and Mentor at Bloom & Head of Brand Studio at Outbrain

gender equalityIf International Women’s Day has highlighted anything beyond the resilience of women in handling daily gender bias, it’s that much more needs to be done across all sectors to address gender equality.

I have recently been invited to join Bloom, an organisation that champions women’s voices in the advertising and marketing industry, educating businesses on equal opportunities, unconscious bias and allyship, as well as providing women in all stages of their careers and lives with guidance and support in a transparent and inclusive way. I hope to use their platform and my own experiences to further understand and help progress equality for women in the workplace going forward. Just like any other industry, there still exists ingrained bias, stereotypes, and pre-conceived gender dynamics within the corporate space that have long needed addressing.

When faced with any challenge, the first step to a resolution comes from first identifying just what the current barriers are for women and understanding why these obstacles exist in the first place. At that point, we can then provide a list of creative solutions. It’s all about being transparent, open, and honest about the current challenges women are facing, regardless of how difficult they may be.

The current gender landscape

The statistics for course enrolment by gender detail a stubborn and unchanging landscape. 2021 enrolment figures for UK universities highlight a stark difference between male and female course enrollments.

At the moment, women tend to gravitate towards language, art, or service-based courses. On the other hand, men look to ‘skilled’ courses that usually lead to more economically fruitful careers like Maths, Computer Science, and Engineering. In engineering alone, there were over 95,000 more male applicants than females.

At a surface level, this dynamic could be explained simply as separate genders naturally gravitating toward certain subjects and sequential careers. However, this fails to take into account the lack of opportunities, ingrained stereotypes, and minimal female role models that can make particular industries more male-exclusive than others.

Pursuing a career in language, art, or service-based courses, they are still facing an uphill battle against their male counterparts. Creative arts disciplines pertain partly to media and advertising, within this, female university applicants in 2021 outweighed male applicants by over 69%. Despite this, in 2019 29% of staff in advertising are women, and only 12% make it to senior creative director positions.

Regardless of industry, women experience a harder time getting to the C-suite. According to research from Fortune in 2020, women account for 7% of all CEOs that make up the Fortune 500 companies. What’s more, a study in the Oregon State University’s Journal of Management revealed that implicit bias can result in female candidates being overlooked in favour of male candidates during job rounds for executive positions.

Where change must be made

These statistics evidence two key points that restrain gender equality within the workplace. Firstly, career success is falsely attributed to natural career preferences. Even if we agree with this, we still see gender bias toward women that have supposedly travelled the path of least resistance. Second, women in all industries struggle to reach the C-suite, limiting opportunities to influence young females and company structures.

The majority must become allies

What message do we send to women if less than 10% make it to the top of global corporations? The women in these positions can talk about gender dynamics to try and change their company structures to offer women equal opportunities to rise up the ranks, but if male leaders stay quiet the status quo will likely remain.

To help bolster the voices of female leaders, who inspire career-driven females, their work must be celebrated by their male counterparts. Too many male-led companies, in and outside of the Fortune 500, do not express their desire to open the narrative for gender equality. Female CEO numbers will not suddenly increase to the point of an equal share of voice, so it is partially up to the majority – male leaders – to help amplify the minority and join the conversation constructively. It’s not just equal opportunities for women that requires allyship, there are issues to address the moment we begin our careers: be it the expectancy of motherhood and maternity leave or the fact women still face an average of 22.7% pay gap.

In their The Great Return report, Bloom recently conducted a study of 200+ women in communications roles.

Findings revealed that 58% of respondents were worried about telling their employer about upcoming maternity leave. Of the women that had taken maternity leave, less than 50% said they had been issued appropriate support and guidance, influencing the increase in worry to 73% for women announcing leave for their second child. In an environment where women are already disproportionately challenged and stereotyped, these figures indicate failings within many organisations to provide proper care to the evolving lives of women.

Naturally, this has a direct impact on readiness to return to work, with nearly half of the mothers profiled finding their back to work experience more negative than they thought it would be. Companies need to change top-down to accept these natural events in women’s lives, and allies must speak up to support women if they feel appropriate pre and post maternity leave support is not being provided.

Accessibility to role models

To showcase the opportunities that can be afforded to women, they must be able to access the opinions, careers, and experiences of trailblazing women that have come before them. More needs to be done at an educational level to support this, but it is also up to the media to champion more female voices and shed light on gender inequality as it occurs.

Additionally, businesses must take the initiative and offer their resources and guidance to provide women with experiences that work to negate the stereotypes and expectations put upon them. This can come through experience days, speaking events, or in-house podcasts, blogs, or learning materials – most brands can do more to inspire females in school through to those who have already started their careers. Not only will this provide education to the career possibilities available to women, but it will also boost the content that exists around the subject and drive more conversations that help change the current landscape.

Within this, businesses must grant women the opportunity to be successful in C-suite positions, where they can nurture female talent top-down. This is not happening on an equal scale in the current status quo.

Each day, not one day

Lastly, focusing on the voices and experiences of women should not be limited to one day. International Women’s Day provides a fantastic opportunity to celebrate female individuals, groups, and successes, but it is at risk of being siloed as a singular day of recognition rather than a continual effort to improve gender equality in the workplace. This phenomenon was highlighted by the gender pay gap bot, which called out companies whose gender pay gaps did not conform to their celebratory sentiments around International Women’s Day.

We must observe this specific day as a time for retrospect, to track the progress occurring within our industry and treat every day as an opportunity to support female talent, amplify female voices, and level the playing field regardless of gender. Both men and women need to fully understand the dynamics occurring within the workplace, and it is important for women to consider joining organisations like Bloom where the unity of our voices provide a platform to speak openly about gender equality in and beyond the workplace.

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