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Speaking out to #BreakTheBias

In 1996, I had recently founded BFI and was meeting a potential partner to work on a national energy training contract we had been awarded. My male co-director and I went to this chap’s London offices, where, after his secretary brought in the tray, he invited me to pour the coffee and addressed his thoughts to male colleague. I am still embarrassed that I didn’t speak up but fumed silently as women often do. Of course, I found another company to work with. Such breath-taking sexism may be less common now, but real equality in the workplace, in the UK at least, still seems like a distant utopia.

#BreakTheBias today and EVERY DAY

BFI's extensive research over the past 18 months indicate there is still a long way to go. Women have taken on the lion’s share of domestic chores and home schooling during lockdowns. When family members are ill, it is invariably women who take time off work. Domestic abuse has risen, with women overwhelmingly the victims, and, despite a lot of hot air from lots of organisations, the gender pay gap still persists. And with companies still chaotic about who and when to return to work, many women are still being overlooked for promotion or inclusion through not being physically present at work. Research carried out by Benenden Health shows that a quarter of menopausal women thinking of leaving the workplace as employers are unable or unwilling to accommodate their changing needs. And recent research from EMW Law indicated men’s uptake of paternity leave was at a 10-year low.

The equality movement in the workplace needs a good shake

Until women’s contributions are valued and recognised properly, the shocking gaps will remain. Women face very specific biological challenges, and despite a lot of talk, there has been patchy progress in the way employers accommodate these needs. Breaking the bias is a laudable aim, but a once-yearly hashtag is not cutting it. We need commitment at all levels to ensure that women are properly supported at work. And it is women who need to speak up and make sure they are being taken seriously, to prioritise their own careers and professional development, to demand workplace accommodation, promotion and reward on a par with male colleagues. And when they do, I’ll be happy to pour their coffee.

Article written by Elizabeth Smith, Director of Research - Business Forums International

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Women in the Workplace Summit 2022

On a global scale, women have been hit the hardest by COVID-19’s effects on employment and are now threatened with the potential of a permanent plummet in the female labour force participation rate. 

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