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4 things bosses can do this International Women’s Day instead of pink logos and hashtags

Menopause and menstruation leave, flexible working, gender pay gap and ethnicity pay gap reporting are all real ways to make workplaces more accessible for women.

Real action is more important than empty sentiment and hashtags. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

“Women display natural humility, self-awareness, self-control, and emotional intelligence and the tech industry should embrace the rich possibilities that can be unlocked by harnessing these skills”, reads a quote, from a man, sent to my inbox this International Women’s Day to promote his tech business. 

I’m not having it.

Aside from being grossly sexist in its description of women as one homogenous group, aren’t we all done with International Women’s Day being used as an opportunity for trite self-promotion?

Every year this special day rolls around on March 8 and companies across the world hold meetings to brainstorm how they can demonstrate their commitment to women’s equality. A few popular ideas include: shout outs about the achievements of female staff members, an inspiring quote from a Suffragette, or turning the company logo pink. Cute!

And yet across these very companies, women are paid on average 14.9 per cent less than men, and only two in five senior management positions are held by women. 

It may be perplexing why women continue to be paid less or are less likely to make it into senior positions with all these pretty pink logos going around, but it might just be because real progress needs structural change.

Here are some real ways companies can improve their workplaces for women, combat workplace sexism, and strengthen their business model in the process. 

And remember, just because something isn’t a legal requirement under the current government, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

1. Introduce menopause leave

One in 10 women leave work because of menopause

“Sometimes women leave work because the menopause symptoms are too much to bear, other times it’s because they are not being supported adequately enough in the workplace,” wrote co-founder of Pausitivity Elizabeth Carr-Ellis in the Big Issue, calling for more government action around menopause rights. 

“Either way, a good employer should be addressing this because we are losing vital experience and valuable role models for younger women”, she continued. 

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Campaigners’ calls for the government to do more to encourage — or force — employers to support women experiencing the menopause have gone largely unheard, with minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch dismissing the idea of trialling menopause leave because it was proposed “from a leftwing perspective”.

With menopause rising up the agenda, Labour has announced that if it were to win the next general election the party would bring in a host of workplace support for women going through the menopause, including paid time off, a right to work home, and a requirement for large companies to publish and implement a “menopause action plan”. 

2. Offer real flexible working

Flexible working has largely been associated with working from home, but how working hours are arranged is an equally significant element. 

With women more than twice as likely to be forced to quit their job due to unpaid caring responsibilities including children, relatives or loved ones with disabilities, flexible working can help keep women in work. 

Working arrangements that give employees flexibility over their working hours and working location can massively help working parents or carers juggle their job with the school run, hospital trips or other elements of care. 

Working mothers campaign group Pregnant then Screwed wants employers to advertise all jobs as flexible, unless they have a good reason not to, with jobs designed as flexible from the outset. 

For those who want to take things a step further, six in 10 employees who took part in the biggest-ever trial of the four-day working week, held in the UK, said they were more able to combine their work with caring. And it might just be the future

3. Report your gender pay gap and ethnicity pay gap no matter the business size

Employers with 250 or more employees are required by law to report their gender pay gap, which is the difference between men and women’s average pay across the organisation. 

You can use the government’s gender pay gap search tool to find the information for yourself, but  smaller businesses with less than 250 employees are exempt. 

Releasing their gender pay gap figure allows the public to “hold companies to account for the inequalities that exist within their organisation”, according to co-creator of the Gender Pay Gap Bot, Francesca Lawson, speaking to the Big Issue on IWD 2022. 

It also gives organisations themselves the opportunity to see more clearly how equal their organisation is and work towards making it better. 

Given that women of colour face double the discrimination, with 75 per cent having experienced racism at work according to the Fawcett Society, campaigners also want mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting to address inequalities in pay between employees from different ethnic backgrounds.

4. Introduce menstrual leave

Spain recently became the first country in Europe to introduce menstrual leave of up to three days paid time off — extendable to five — for all who menstruate. Speaking on the bill, equality minister Irene Montero told the Spanish parliament that without such rights, women are not full citizens. 

Menstruation can be physically painful and bring moderate to severe mental health impacts. But, explains, Terri Harris, education manager at Bloody Good Period, “​​periods are not an illness”. 

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Bloody Good Period campaigns for a world built to accommodate menstruation, and argues that periods “require specific consideration in the workplace, especially given that in most cases symptoms will be recurring each cycle.”

At present in the UK, anyone experiencing severe menstrual pain or associated mental health impacts would have to use a company sick-day – if they get them, or sacrifice a day’s wage. Statutory sick pay is currently offered by the UK government at £19.87 a day, but will only be paid on the fourth day of absence.

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