It took two world wars to mobilise women into the workplace on anything like an equal basis – but that was 70 years ago and the march towards real equality has been crawling along at tortoise speed ever since. Which is astonishing when you consider three things.
One, that we’ve now got more female than male graduates and they’re breaking into traditional ‘male’ industries across the board. So, it’s not a question of brainpower.
Two, that technology and the internet have radically transformed the workplace in the last 10 years – enabling work life integration, powering flexible working and liberating all of us to be valued by the quality of our output rather than our ‘presenteeism’ in the office. The old industrial model of 9-to-5 full-timers is therefore rapidly being consigned to the dustbin.
And three, that the evidence is now in: women are the most productive members of our workforce. An EY study found that women in flexible roles – in sharp contrast to common assumptions about ‘not pulling their weight’ – women waste less time and are more productive than any other category of worker. Aside from all the equal pay and equal treatment legislation – which is vitally important, but frankly has done little (yet) to move the dial – and behind all the societal pressure for companies to be fairer, more diverse and inclusive, is one overriding fact: it actually pays off. There’s stacks of research, such as the RSA’s report, that unequivocally shows that companies who embrace flexible working are more productive, more profitable, more innovative and have happier staff.
Given the above, you’d think all organisations would make it their priority to introduce or expand flexible work options to attract and retain highly motivated, productive women. Right? Well, for some, yes, and we are thrilled to be working with them; but for too many, sadly, no!
Once women hit their mid-20s and want to move from full-time to flexible working, primarily to accommodate the needs of their families, they run into a career wall. In trying to balance work and family, they end up carrying nearly all of the caregiving responsibilities. If they put their careers on hold for even a couple of years they risk being side-lined from leadership positions, and losing out on pay and promotion rather than being rewarded for their increased productivity. Fairness doesn’t come into it.
Partly that’s because we still live in a largely patriarchal society, with a workplace which is hard-wired to a full-time culture, long working hours and high-pressure competition. In my view we must stop talking about women’s work and men’s work, ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ jobs – there’s just work that needs to be done, at home and at work, be that unpacking the dishwasher and cooking pasta pesto or being involved in a board level discussion or strategic sales meeting. Both sexes are equally capable of doing both. The way to resolve the current chronic imbalance is to enable women to work flexibly and to encourage men to lean in more at home. In 2015 the government introduced shared paternity leave but take-up has been low because many men are afraid to be seen as lacking in commitment and ambition. Gender stereotyping goes back to our earliest formative years and it’s hard to shift; if children see that men largely go out to work while women still do the majority of the housework (as well as going out to work) then they perpetuate this behaviour.
I still run into this attitude. A partner in a leading law firm admitted to me that their long-hours culture is merely a negotiating tactic “designed to break the opposition”. A senior executive of one of our largest global investment banks turned to me in a recent meeting with a frown on his face and asked: “but what do these people (i.e. women) want?”. Small wonder that in 2019 just six FTSE 100 company CEOs are women, and they earn 54% of their male counterparts.
That’s why four years ago I set up 2to3days with an initial focus purely on mothers as I wanted to get our model right, and this is where the pain point for women is most acute. During this time 2to3days has grown an incredible reputation for the quality of our flexible roles and the companies are blown away (unsurprisingly!) at the high calibre of the candidates. Now I am thrilled to announce that 2to3days is opening up its community to ALL highly capable women who want to pursue their career on a flexible basis.
Come and join us so that we can shine a light on your drive, motivation and talent. We do not specialise in one functional area or industry sector – we specialise in you. Our mission is to give women in the UK a collective voice, one place where companies, who value both your capability and attitude to work, can come and find you and hire you on terms that work for both of you.
And of course, it’s also about the men. I’ve always said that we’re never going to advance women’s equality in the workplace unless we advance men’s equality at home. More women in the workplace fulfilling their potential creates both room and incentive for more men to pick up the slack on the home front. If we create an inclusive working culture where flexible working is for everybody, it becomes a virtuous circle. Families and companies will benefit, and so will society and the economy. So for the men out there who champion our mission and share our ethos and values, please join us – come and find your ideal role and enable your partner to find hers so that you can raise your family on terms that work for you both and inspire a future generation to do the same.
If there’s a world war we need to win it’s about changing attitudes and behaviours. We therefore invite every business leader in the UK to put women’s equality and flexible working at the core of everything you do, and you will build a stronger, more competitive, more agile and happier company. 2to3days is leading the movement because I’m absolutely determined that my children and my children's children won’t have to fight this same battle. Life is too short and too precious, and our economy needs to increase its productivity.
So join us – we are stronger together and together we can bring about radical transformation and create a UK plc that we are all proud of.