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Deborah Hargreaves, journalist fellow for the Foundation, is setting out to talk to as many women as she can about their experiences at work, how they would change things if they could, and how companies could be run along different lines, meeting in groups, individually, online and face-to-face.

 

It feels, says Deborah, as if these are questions that few women are asked and the response has been overwhelming.

Themes covered

Equality

Women in the workplace

Put simply, we women have had to fit ourselves ergonomically, physically, mentally and emotionally into a man's world of work. It wasn't designed for us much less for the next generation we are bringing up. I would argue it is increasingly unsuitable for many men too.
Yve Newbold

So says a woman who had a very successful career as a lawyer and in the boardroom. Yve Newbold was one of the first women to serve on a corporate board in Britain, becoming company secretary at Hanson, the industrial business, in 1986, and went on to join other boards as a non-executive director. Although she has had a long career in the corporate world, she feels it was not designed with her in mind. I have spent the last couple of months talking to women like Yve and many others at both ends of the career spectrum and in between. This is part of my project on women in the workplace under the Friends Provident Foundation journalist fellowship programme.

There are many inspirational women who are trying to do things differently in order to make work suitable for them – often challenging entrenched views on their roles and functions.

Women have different requirements from men in the workplace for reasons of biology, caring responsibilities and values. They are often in low-paid work, bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity policies and the insecure employment conditions imposed by the modern workplace. Even women who progress up the career ranks are paid less than men for similar roles – the gender pay gap is currently 18%. Women in managerial positions complain about frequently being mistaken for an assistant to a man – who is usually their junior.

There are some deeply ingrained expectations about how women will behave. When they confound those expectations, the outcome is not always positive. Men are given more license to act in a firm, decisive way, but when women behave similarly, they are often seen as hectoring.

I have spoken to women about their horror stories such as being made redundant while on maternity leave – taking a three-month old to meetings about the department being axed. Women have lots of issues around caring for babies and children, but also they are more likely to look after their parents or other elderly relatives. A return to the workplace after that is tough.

Women do not want to be seen as having special needs. Many would like flexibility, but don’t want to be seen as pushing for unique treatment.

If men could just ask to leave early once a week to go to football training, maybe. It wouldn’t make me feel so bad about leaving early to pick up my kids from school.
A Mother

We all accept the status quo because that’s the way it’s always been. But we could change it – it’s within our power. The workplace has been designed around a man’s career pattern and male values, but it is not set in stone. We have to convince those who run organisations that there are many benefits to be gained from a modern workforce run in a more inclusive way and we just have to get more women to the top.

If you would like to talk to Deborah about her project or have a story and ideas to share, please contact her on deborahhargreaves@gmail.com

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