Today is International Women’s Day, a day intended to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This is all with the aim of closing the gender gap, a gap which rather worryingly appears to have grown during the Covid pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum and the Global Gender Gap Index, a whole extra generation of women will now have to wait for equality. The Global Gender Gap Index (which benchmarks progress in the Economic, Education, Health and Political arenas) suggests that at the current rate of progress, the gap will now be closed in 135.6 years as opposed to 99.5. This seems to be largely down to the fact that, during the pandemic, women tended to work in low paid work, were more likely to be furloughed and were largely expected to pick up the bulk of family duties. 135+ years to close global gender gap says World Economic Forum (internationalwomensday.com). This is disappointing.
In the legal profession the gap remains concerning bearing in mind that 52% of all lawyers are women and yet only 35% of partners are female). The statistics are worse in London with only 32% of partners being women.
Aside from the fundamental fact that this is just wrong on any level, it makes no commercial sense whatsoever. To lose or fail to unlock a significant portion of your talent is just wasteful and lazy.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is 'breaking the bias'. Every person has some level of unconscious bias. Our brains are overloaded with information and so they make shortcuts and rely on stereotypes and snap judgments, some of which are harmful. Unconscious bias manifests itself in many ways, from likeability bias (men are assertive but women are aggressive or bossy) to maternal bias (women who have children are assumed to be less dedicated to their careers).
Breaking the bias means not just being aware of it, but actively looking for it and calling it out. It means slowing down, challenging your biases and making measured decisions. Those decisions may be ensuring there are women on your board and in every interview panel. They may also be engaging with women going on and returning from maternity leave and ensuring that steps are being taken to accommodate careers and ambitions.
Women that do make it into senior management positions have a responsibility to encourage and inspire other women (and men to be fair) to play their part in breaking the bias and pushing back on those microaggressions. Organisations should be willing to listen and adapt.
We all need to do better and it is incumbent on everyone to take every small step they can to make change.