Why are we still talking about gender equality in 2021?

Natalia Bochenska, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager in London, UK
26 March 2021

The majority of my bosses were female. In fact, my very first job out of uni was for a female-led brand, a woman whose courage and ability to push through despite difficulties inspire me to this day. Surrounded by female-only colleagues, I didn’t really see how fortunate I was to start my career at a place that shows women can rule the (business) world too. 

Because not everyone is that lucky. 

Despite my unusually female-led work experiences, the truth is, very few of us make it to the top. There’s research that shows only 13 women are CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies. Yes, you read it right – 13. And all of them are white.

The sad reality is that the higher the level in the organisation, the less likely we are to see a woman in there. Take a look at this data: female representation within support staff starts at 47%, but a quick glance at a number of senior managers (29%), executives (23%) and board directors (20.6%) and we can see a pretty clear picture – one that has lots of Steves and Johns in it. 

But the lack of role models on the global leadership scene is just the beginning of the story. Because the picture becomes even clearer when we hear that 42% of women experienced gender-based discrimination in the workplace, including being passed up for key assignments, experiencing repeated slights, and being treated as though they weren’t competent enough. Mothers were also 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit since the start of lockdown, and 14% more likely to have been furloughed. And that’s really not acceptable.

So, why is this still happening in 2021? 

Not counting jobs that were just a mere extension of domestic tasks, women first began entering the workforce during the First World War to replace enlisted men. Over a century later, and somehow the majority of women still shoulder the brunt of the ‘invisible’ workload – housework, family responsibilities, life admin. Only this time, it’s on top of their day-to-day jobs. It’s also quite clear that COVID-19, with all the lockdowns and school closures that followed, has just made it more apparent, exacerbating many inequalities that still exist for working women. 

I’ve recently read a brilliant article from Becky Hewitt, CEO of Changing Faces, sharing her very honest view on what it’s like to balance homeschooling with CEO-ing. The negativity towards flexible or part-time working (that never really ends up being just part-time), and the pressure to emulate men’s traits and behavioural patterns in the workplace to be considered ‘successful’, are unfortunately all still a big issue. So is the mental health that suffers as a result.

Big changes start with small steps.

The push to improve gender diversity has increased over the years. There are investors that only put their money in businesses whose CEOs are women. There are companies like SheCodes to help bridge the gender gap and create more opportunities in the tech industry. And there are co-operatives like Suma who take an equal-pay promise to a whole other level, paying all of their 190 employees the same, regardless of whether it’s a 26-year-old newbie or a 65-year-old who’s been with them for decades.

While that’s quite a radical example, it’s the small steps that can make the biggest difference in creating an inclusive and female-friendly workplace. Leading the cultural shift within your organisation, understanding that employees have their own needs, wants and dreams. Treating them as people, not just numbers. Improving wage transparency and tackling the gender pay gap internally. Adequate maternity protection, childcare benefits, ‘bring kids to work’ days, and paid parental leave (not just for mums). Promoting work-life balance, normalising remote working and being really progressive about the flexible working approach in the post-Covid economy. Because if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we really need to start allowing people to manage their working patterns and house responsibilities in a way that doesn’t just work for organisations, but for us as human beings. 

At Somo, we take this seriously.

While we still have a long way to go to achieve gender balance we’re proud to talk about, we’re committed to reaching that point as soon as possible.

We’ve recently launched a Diversity and Inclusion board – 26 representatives from all across Somo who work extremely hard to make our company even more inclusive, inviting and fair. 

To support Somo-ers in adjusting to the ‘new normal’, we’ve made our flexible working policy even more flexible, making sure our people have what they need and can work in a way that suits them best, whether that’s changing their hours to juggle work with homeschooling or getting mental health support. Our culture is built on trust, and we trust people to deliver, wherever they are. More than that though, if things get difficult, we lean in and support – as much as we can and for as long as it takes. 

There’s still plenty of work left ahead, but now that COVID-19 has opened the doors to long-term changes in the organisational structure, culture and employee experience, it’s a perfect opportunity to rethink the approach to gender equality and work harder to build a workplace that not just attracts females, but celebrates their differences. 

The world needs a diverse pool of exceptional, inspiring and passionate leaders. To achieve that, businesses really need to take an honest look at how they’re doing – and start acting, because the change needs to happen now.