March 8th marks International Women’s Day – a day where businesses around the globe go into virtue signalling overdrive. Is it safer to step back and avoid the scrutiny? Of course it is, but change only happens when we acknowledge there’s a better way to do things.
It’s intended to be a day to highlight the achievements of women, along with the challenges faced and hurdles overcome by half the population. But in recent years it has become an opportunity for big brands and governments alike to shine a spotlight on their most recent, female-focused initiative while successfully casting a shadow over the bits they’d rather you didn’t see.
Bits like the gender pay gap (8.3% in the UK*), or the obscene cost of childcare (65% of one salary in England**) or one of the many, many other barriers which put women a step behind before they even get started.
Well, yes and no. On one hand there is a gender pay gap, women at Hodge earn 76p for every £1 made by their male counterparts when comparing median hourly wages. We also missed our Women in Finance target which aimed to have women in 45% of leadership roles held by October 2022, falling short at 38%.
But, and it’s a very important but, great strides are being made within the business to rectify these areas and it’s more than just empty promises, real change is being made. Change which starts with not only recognising where we fall short, but understanding all things are not equal and fairness begins when we look for ways to close the gaps or adapt them in a way which reflects the unique needs of each person.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Embracing Equity which is basically about recognising equal opportunities do not equal true inclusion. Giving everyone an equal opportunity is great, but serving up a beautiful meal, set out on two lovely plates and saying “tuck in” will work out a lot better for someone with a knife and fork than someone with their hands tied behind their back. One is going to get to dessert a lot quicker than the other and probably enjoy the experience a lot more than their rather messy dinner companion.
Equity is spotting that difference, and figuring out what each person needs to achieve the same goal in the fairest way possible.
In the past 12 months Hodge has introduced an Equality Network which has executive sponsorship and membership from across the business. The network’s purpose is about more than giving people a voice, its mission is to hold the business to account. It’s about creating lines of communication within Hodge to understand the challenges faced and developing real, tangible solutions. It’s about looking beyond Hodge and sharing best practice.
As we said at the start, Hodge has a long way to go, but change is already well under way. In 2020 we introduced equal maternity and paternity leave, meaning both female and male employees were entitled to 20 weeks fully paid leave after the birth of their child. Since it’s been introduced, 11 women and 12 men have been able to have extra time with their families. Something which may seem like a small change but, if we hope to achieve equity for men and women in the work place, we need to change the narrative. Having a family affects both parents – the cost of childcare, the mental load of full time work and a family – these are not women’s issues, they impact us all.
In the past 12 months we’ve seen 17 women undertake Hodge-funded courses, 18 women promoted into more senior positions and welcomed 60 women into the business. We’ve discussed the impact of the menopause, welcomed speakers to share their experiences and set the course for Hodge’s approach to diversity and inclusion.
Of course these are just the steps taken so far. We continue to work with Careers Wales, visiting high schools and educating young people on roles in finance and tech. As a business we have committed to a succession planning strategy which will mean there will be at least one female successor in place for each leadership role.
Most importantly, we are actively encouraging every member of staff to speak up about the issues that mean a lot to them. We’re kickstarting this with an open staff forum hosted by CEO Dave Landen, CFO Jan Preece and a number of other leadership team members. No subject will be taboo, all questions will have a place and any that don’t have an answer during the session will be acknowledged and followed up on. Crucially, there is already a suggestion box in place to gather the questions and comments from those less comfortable with speaking up in a public forum.
There’ll quite rightly be an awful lot of criticism of businesses talking the talk without walking the walk today and while Hodge has a long way to go, we are embracing the feedback, embracing the statistics and embracing equity every step of the way.