Why do we need International Women’s Day? Associate director Ruth Follows pens her thoughts on the topic…
For five years of my life being a ‘mum’ has defined, and, in many cases, necessitated my working choices.
Since returning to work after my first, I became acutely aware of a new demographic I fitted into – the population segment who loved and wanted to go back to their career, but needed to consider their family in that picture. Suddenly, I needed employers who both understood my position and offered flexible working to accommodate that.
This is just one of the reasons we need International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020 (Sunday 8 March). Aside from gender, it also offers those flying the flag for parental support and wider flexible working, like Story, a platform to have meaningful conversations about the benefits of better workplace policies covering this topic.
The family/work juggle
Not that these issues are the sole preserve of women – nor are the pressures of holding down, and progressing, a successful career as a parent. But with the proportion of females identifying themselves as primary caregiver so much higher, the pressures of juggling work with home life are often felt by ‘mums’.
I’m among a 75 per cent female leadership at Story Comms, all of whom are on flexible working patterns to balance a mixture of parental and other responsibilities. Yet, even in the agency landscape, this isn’t the norm, making IWD the ideal platform from which to hammer the flex narrative.
Yet this movement hasn’t sprung up by chance. A quick trawl through Instagram shows me I’m the audience for an ever-growing female-led campaign fighting for workplace equality – @workingmumassociation, @mother_pukka and @pregnant_then_screwed – to name a few of my favourites among a myriad of voices trying, and slowly succeeding, to unite with one voice on the flexible working agenda and drive change.
But there’s a wider picture at play. The burden of increased mortgages and cost of living, exacerbated by prohibitive childcare costs, make it necessary that both parents work. Not to mention the fact women want to grow their own careers and be empowered to do that on their own terms. But what all of this means is that there has never been a greater need for flexible working options – for all.
Benefits of flexible working
The benefits are clear for employers – at Story we have evidence. But this makes it all the more surprising only 11 per cent of advertised jobs offer something different from the Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm template. The Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) shows flexible working yields higher levels of employee engagement, which can reduce staff turnover by 87 per cent, while nine in 10 employees consider it to be their main motivator to productivity. These reasons, plus diversifying the talent pipeline, reducing the gender pay gap and increasing the bottom line, make flexi patterns a no-brainer.
So back to IWD and why Story’s fully behind its goals. It plays a vital part in illustrating the benefits of putting diverse and inclusive policies in place to try to effect change with less progressive workplaces. And, perhaps even more at the heart of the issue, IWD is also about boosting the confidence of working women who believe they can’t compete for senior positions sometimes simply by virtue of their sex, but also because they feel requiring flexible working makes them less employable.