More than meets the eye

Diversity – and equality – is something I think about a lot. I am very biased, but I was fortunate enough to be raised by a brilliant feminist mother, who proudly sports a t-shirt proclaiming “This is what a feminist looks like”. As a result I developed a deep-set, unshakeable and core belief early on that there should be equality between men and women. And perhaps given I am also a woman, when I think about diversity and equality I tend to focus on gender.

Recently though I’ve been part of a few conversations about other kinds of diversity, parts of our identity that may not be visible to the eye but that can be just as important. Its been genuinely thought-provoking.

The first was centred around the concept of need. As I’ve mentioned on here many times, I’m a Trustee of an amazing charity Young Women’s Trust, which helps young women trapped in low or no pay. In the years I’ve been working with the charity I’m still struck by the number of young women we help who, on paper, don’t meet the traditional definition of being ‘needy’. They may well have a degree, come from lower middle income homes. But after graduation they find themselves unable to secure work, falling into a soul-destroying downwards cycle of weekly trips to the Job Centre, whilst claiming benefits and sending out countless C.V’s not to get even a single acknowledgement back. The repercussions on mental health, self-esteem and well-being are horrific.

I was moved to tears by a recent anonymous YWT case study by a woman who suffered awful childhood abuse, spent her teens battling depression, anxiety and self-harm, stuck on long waiting lists to get help. But she did well at school and then at university. In her own words:

“My academic record disguised the carnage that was my private life…I had a series of abusive relationships…violence and abuse had been part of my life for so long that I didn’t even recognise there was a problem.”

When she finally realised she needed help and asked for support, she didn’t get it, because she wasn’t deemed needy enough. She had a bank account. She hadn’t been sectioned so her mental illness wasn’t bad enough. People actually said these things to her. She ended up homeless, sleeping in a general hostel.

The story has a happy ending. Following support – in this case provided by the Young Women’s Trust via coaching – she found a job, and feels like a different person;

“For the very first time, I am hopeful for my future.

One of my favourite things about my job is the travel. When I stay overnight, I get put up in really nice hotels.. Work are always very apologetic, but I love it! They don’t know that I am used to the hostel. With no privacy and a mouldy shower and a narrow uncomfortable bed. My very first night away, I danced around the room in my pyjamas, jumped on the bed, took the world’s longest shower and stayed up all night watching TV. I finally felt like I’d made it.”

This incredibly touching and frankly heart-breaking story was a real reminder that we are still very quick to judge based on what we can see. Often success in diversity at work is perceived as being able to look around the room and see lots of people who don’t look alike. Need is often judged based on appearances, as it was with this girl. That’s one of the reasons I love TfL’s recent ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ scheme which is all about need that is not immediately apparent.

This is not to say visible differences aren’t important. One of the reasons I think we still need to explicitly focus on ethnicity or the gender divide is because these things are still a problem. But its also the unseen differences that bring great diversity to work and I realise now that I’ve been guilty of not always recognising or valuing that. If you had a group of managers in a room and all of us had similar upbringings, values and social status then you wouldn’t necessarily get massive divergence in opinions that would mean we delivered the best results. I work for a company that has a diverse customer base and ultimately companies whose employees and product designers reflect their customer base achieve much more. The internet is littered with bloody insulting examples of men developing products for women who think they’ll make it ‘appeal’ by painting it pink. The woman in this case study likely brings a completely different life experience from her colleagues, yet none of them know a thing about it.

I heard another example along the same vein from a middle-aged, middle-class white man at an industry event this week who was feeling a little frustrated by being lumped in with all the other middle-aged, middle-class white men and assumed they are the same. He pointed out that if you put him in a room with Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump they would all be completely different (and not just because Donald Trump isn’t exactly what I would call middle-class…)

There are certainly instances of charities finding it harder to fund-raise for causes that aren’t as obviously needy. I used to work in the digital inclusion space and it was certainly slightly more tricky to raise funding for teaching people how to get online when it was being weighed up in direct comparison to other groups with ‘clearer’ need. But I can’t be prouder to be involved with a charity that works with the woman who need help – regardless of their background or qualification or any other tick box definition of what constitutes need.

And with that I can’t possibly not finish on a little fundraising plug to donate to Young Women’s Trust via my sponsored Sahara Desert Trek! Obligatory Just Giving Page is here. Now to get to that training….

To pay rise or not to pay rise, that is the question

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s blog post about women on boards, and the frankly ridiculous things a few people appointing – or rather not appointing –  women onto boards said, I wanted to touch on the issue of gender pay.

This has clearly been a hot topic recently with the Government’s introduction of mandatory gender pay reporting, although post some high profile media coverage – which seemed to focus on a few big companies and criticism of the ways the reporting has been structured – it feels a bit like its fallen away.

I have been very fortunate to formally and informally mentor a few exceptional women in recent years and consistently, unsurprisingly, navigating promotions and pay arise as constant themes. Regardless of gender, it is clearly something that comes up again and again whilst working.

A lot has been written about gender differences in pay. The survey my charity Young Women’s Trust did of 800 HR professionals actually found that the majority (67%) didn’t think there was a difference between men and women in relation to ambition, though 25% did think men were more ambitious. In relation to asking for pay rises though, the number who thought gender didn’t make a difference dropped to 51%, with 39% saying male employees were more likely to speak up.

Some light Google-based research shows that the actual evidence about gender-based differences in approaches to pay is more of a mixed bag. A study by the University of Wisconsin, Warwick and the Cass Business School found no difference in the likelihood of asking for a pay rise between genders, but you can also find articles citing studies, like one from global market research firm Mintel published earlier this year, which found that women report being half as confident as men at asking for more pay.

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‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’… bullsh*t

I should start this blog by saying a bloody big bravo (or rather brava) to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for yesterday publishing a list of the worst explanations they received from FTSE 350 CEOs and Chairs for not having more women on their boards and calling bullsh*t on their excuses.

The gems that made the list included ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’,‘ we have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn’ and ‘the issues covered (by the board) are extremely complex’.

In case you were wondering whether we’d finally succeeded in time travel back to the dark ages, no, its still 2018. And yes, I did say FTSE 350 CEOs and Chairs. And no to the owner of the last comment, women’s brain are not hard wired to be less capable than men’s. My various WhatsApp groups and Twitter timeline were quite rightly full of rage, a proud, loud and well-justified ‘angry feminist’ response.

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GALs and Visonaries*

As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve just finished reading Mary Beard’s ‘Women and Power: A Manifesto’ (which has now been book-napped by my mother, and I will be taking back for a second read very soon!) It really took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting to have such light sharply shone on things about the relationship between women and power, or how women in power are treated, that I’ve either never noticed or had never thought about the implications of.

On Friday I wrote about how powerful women through history were often made more ‘masculine’, or effectively had their femininity removed, in order to make them more acceptable, just like the ancient Greek goddess Anthea. I mentioned there was one other thing that had struck me reading the book.

That was the discussion about women speaking about women’s issues. And how Mary brings into question whether this is done just because women want to, or because this is the ‘safe’ space we are allowed to comfortably occupy, front and centre, in the public sphere. She looks back – obviously – to the ancient Greeks and the Romans and the few examples of women who were allowed to “publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole” and even then only in “extreme examples”. She also points to a few more modern-day examples where the public speeches made by women which we hold up and laud are often women speaking about ‘women’s issues’. The implication being that the well known speeches made by men in contrast are much more diverse.

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