Why International Women’s Day is more important now than ever before
Have you seen the film ‘Made in Dagenham?’ It tells the story of a strike by a group of women at the Ford car factory in Dagenham, England in 1968. Despite doing specialised work sewing upholstered seat covers, the women were classified as unskilled workers and therefore weren’t paid the same as men. The women’s strike sparked political debate and led indirectly to the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
I mention this now in the context of Monday’s International Women’s Day. In the fifty years since that strike, the world’s changed a lot: most of our lives have been revolutionised by technology. And then the last 12 months have seen a huge shift in how many of us work (at home), and interact (with masks, doing the two-metre dance!), and how initiatives that once took years have been achieved in a few months (the vaccine success stories). Change can be fast and positive when needs must.
And yet in some ways, things haven’t changed at all and we have as many reasons as ever to fly the flag for women on International Women’s Day.
Women sacrificing prospects for ‘invisible’ labour
Career sacrifices often fall to women. My mum and dad both worked incredibly hard to give me and my brother the best in life. Yet for their generation it was assumed the woman would raise the family. Even with a progressive and supportive dad, it was my mother who put her career ambitions on hold.
My own experience bears this out too. As I started out in my career, I was a young single parent. I kept my daughter a secret as I didn't want any employer to think that having a child might affect my ability to do the job. Would that have happened to a man? Would a man have had to keep such a secret? I can’t imagine he would.
And now? Women have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that in the last lockdown, UK mothers spent 60 per cent more time than fathers doing schoolwork and childcare; they also did the lion’s share of domesticity. These are some of the essential roles many women do. They are ‘invisible jobs’, often done without recognition. 12 months ago I volunteered at my local food bank where I spent the morning lifting and labelling food with 15 other people, 13 of whom were women. It made me wonder how many women give their time for free to help others - another example of invisible labour.
Women who've made career sacrifices during this time doing those invisible jobs risk missing out on salary raises and promotions, as outlined in this Financial Times article. “We are unpicking 40 years of progress towards gender parity,” says Sarah Jackson, visiting professor at Cranfield University School of Management.
It just goes to show - inequality is rife. It was the case in the 1960s, the 1970s, during my time in the late ‘90s and still today. My daughter Megan is now starting her own career, training to be a teacher. I want her to be able to thrive in a world where prospects for women are on a par with those for men.
Speak up for gender equality in the workplace
Equality of opportunity and equal pay - it’s hard to believe these still need to be discussed after so long, so let’s keep putting them on the agenda.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by many supportive men who are great allies on women’s equality (I gave them a shout-out on International Men’s Day). But I do wonder if many men out there really realise how bad it is. So when men say to me that they don’t see the problem over pay inequality, I ask them - would you want your son to have better prospects and to earn more than your own daughter? And they are shocked. Then they get it!
When it comes to salary packages and raises, women aren't often as good at asking for what they’d like as their male counterparts. To redress this imbalance, I’ve been coaching women pro bono, helping them specifically on salary negotiation. We do a role play, where I get them practising with me, asking for a raise. And having had that coaching, the good news is that all the women have got what they wanted when negotiating with their actual boss!
And nurturing a speak-up culture, where it’s safe for one another to share what they feel and see, is fundamental to the Ericsson way of doing things. Let’s all get behind this and encourage women’s voices to be heard. For more on this, my colleague Dan Kerber has written a great blog post (What not to say to foster a speak-up environment) on why this is important.
Improving female representation
In the US, there’s what’s known as the ‘John problem’. There are more Fortune 500 CEOs named John than there are women CEOs. We have a similar issue here, though ours is called Peter - more CEOs named Peter lead top UK companies than female CEOs! That’s not right.
We all need to take responsibility. When I'm hiring, I look at creating a diverse and inclusive team, and I’m pleased to say 63% of my team are women. The female ratio in the Europe and Latin America market area rose throughout 2020. But we need to do more and that’s why we are looking to drive up female representation across the organisation.
What we are doing at Ericsson
Last year we launched ALTitude, a leadership acceleration programme for women. 52% of initial participants have experienced a role change or promotion since completing the programme. And the good news is that 94 new women candidates were nominated to join ALTitude in 2021! Accelerating the hiring of women externally should also increase the number of female leaders within the organisation.
As our Chief People Officer, MajBritt Arfert, writes in her blog post ‘A people-centered journey never ends’, it’s an ongoing process:
“We recognise that improvement is a journey rather than a destination, and that it involves continuous attention, effort and involvement in how we lead our company forward.”
Let’s celebrate inspiring Women!
So this week is a reminder to champion and celebrate great women at all levels. But particularly, in light of the extraordinary challenges faced over the last 12 months, I’d like to shine a light on women starting out in their careers. Recently I have been inspired by the stories of two young women: Hannah and Beth.
Hannah’s one of my daughter’s friends. Last year she was working part time as a librarian, but then lockdown hit and the libraries closed. Hannah volunteered to run the social media for Surrey Libraries and began doing book readings on Facebook. Her efforts have since been rewarded with a full-time role. I got to know Beth when I saw her LinkedIn post in which she told of being made redundant from a hospitality role during lockdown. It was a very engaging, personal story. Rather than just click ‘Like’ and move on, I decided to get in touch to see what I could do to help. It turned out Beth was great at social media, so for five months she helped out as a consultant for my husband James’ business. Now she has a full-time job. What I love about Hannah and Beth is that they are great examples of being enterprising, persevering and taking an opportunity by the horns. They both put themselves out there to speak up - I think women need to do that more.
There are many women in my life that I’m grateful for, and I hope you know who you are. I also want to say ‘thank you’ to my mum for doing all those invisible jobs when I was growing up. And to my daughter for becoming such a strong woman, a role model in her own right. And of course, I’d like to thank all those brilliant women I have the pleasure of working with here at Ericsson.
IWD gives organisations a welcome opportunity to highlight those still-essential conversations. It also provides us with a great reason (as if we should need one!) to show appreciation to the women in our lives who deserve recognition.
So who can you reach out to say thank you to this week? Is there a colleague who’s been extra-supportive, an inspiring role model you’ve noted or someone doing great work speaking up for women in the workplace? This week - let’s champion all the good work women do, both visible and invisible!
Read more about Ericsson’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Read more about gender equality at Ericsson.
Read more about International Women’s Day at Ericsson
Read more about Hilda Ericsson, one of the first women in business.
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