This year for International Women’s Day, the aim is to encourage all of us businesses, governments and individuals to ‘choose to challenge’ and create change that will help to forge a gender equal world.
Of course, gender equality is not just for 8 March, but the day provides an opportunity to take stock of where we are and how much further we need to go, both as a society and as an industry. In a year when women have been acutely impacted by the effects of COVID-19, this is more pressing than ever.
Inclusion and Diversity Director
COVID-19’s unequal impact on opportunity
We know from numerous studies that during the pandemic, caring responsibilities have fallen disproportionately on women (1). This has the potential to impede progress towards equal opportunities. A recent Deloitte survey found that nearly seven in 10 women who experienced shifts in their routine as a result of the pandemic, such as home schooling or household chores, believe their career progression will slow down (2).
From a construction industry perspective, this could impact our gender balance efforts quite significantly. Women make up 12.5% of the overall workforce in construction, making us the sector with the lowest female representation (3).
Fixing the system
This means, as we think about recovery from the pandemic and shaping the new normal, we need to seize the opportunities to relook and redesign policies and practices that are inclusive and help us retain female talent. This effort has to start with fixing the system, and the mindsets and processes that hold women back, both consciously and unconsciously. We need the infrastructure for women to succeed no matter what position they are in, and to challenge societal gender norms.
WE NEED TO SHAPE THE NEW NORMAL
Family friendly policies
At Wates, creating that infrastructure has been a focus of our inclusion efforts even prior to the pandemic. For example, last year, we overhauled our family friendly leave policies, increasing paternity/partner leave (PPL) to eight weeks full pay, as well as improving our maternity leave pay entitlement. We already offered enhanced shared parental (SPL) and adoption leave (AL).
According to the Bright Horizon Parental Leave benchmark, we offer one of the highest levels of enhanced pay in the marketplace. Crucially, we have been flexible in how colleagues can take this leave too. For example, PPL can be taken in two blocks within the first year of the childbirth. Similarly, SPL and AL can be taken in the first year, giving parents full flexibility to manage their child care responsibilities in a way that works for them.
Surveys of parents in the workplace indicate that men want to be more present for their children and elderly parents, but that current public policy, perceived expectations and organisational practices act as barriers to this desire. Our experience and feedback from colleagues have demonstrated that where more inclusive frameworks are created, colleagues respond positively to them. 87% of new dads who took PPL at Wates benefited from our enhanced leave.
Transparency is essential
In addition to reviewing policies, it is also important to be transparent about what we are offering, particularly when attracting talent. A 2019 Mumsnet survey of over 1,000 parents and prospective parents revealed that more than eight in 10 (82%) of those surveyed said they were reluctant to ask potential employers about parental leave policies because they feared it ‘would make a job offer less likely’. The same survey showed that, for 84% of respondents, parental leave policies were important when applying for – or considering applying for – a job, but 66% said that at least once they had found it difficult or impossible to find information about parental leave policies when considering a position (4).
Family friendly leave policies are an important step towards equalising the expectation of responsibilities at work and home, and also help in ensuring continuity of careers for women. Advertising them clearly should be an easy first step for organisations looking to improve their gender balance.
The benefits of retaining women in the workforce are clear, not just for women but for businesses as a whole. Research by McKinsey has found that by taking action on gender inequality now, we can increase 2030 GDP by a staggering $13 trillion compared to doing nothing (5).
Let International Women’s Day be a timely reminder to act-now.
-  The Guardian, Rachel Hall (February 2021): Women doing more home schooling during Covid lockdown than men
-  Deloitte (2020): Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women
-  GMB Union (October 2019): Construction industry just 12.5% women and 5.4% BAME
-  Mumsnet (February 2019): Mumsnet calls for big companies to publish maternity and paternity policies
-  McKinsey (July 2020): COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects