International Women’s Day: striving for societal equality for women

A lot has changed for women in the last 100 years. In most countries, we have the right to vote, equal rights to employment, a right to education and to own property.

Last year, the UK celebrated 100 years of women’s franchise (although full voting equality was only achieved in 1928). The Metropolitan Police celebrated 100 years of women in the force, and this year marks 100 years of women being allowed to practice law.

We’ve certainly come a long way, and today these rights are something that we mostly take for granted. I certainly cannot imagine a time when equality was not the norm.  So while men and women are mostly equal in the eyes of the law in the UK (the jury is still out on equal pay), women are still striving for change. We are equal in law but are we equal in society?

There are many examples of gender stereotyping outside of the home: toys, traditional fairy tales, clothes, and advertising, and these need to be addressed. It got me thinking, what gender stereotyping are my kids growing up with at home?

My husband and I both work full time. We are both professionals. We jointly own our property. We jointly contribute financially to its upkeep. We both have university degrees. So we’re equal right? Phew! My kids must be able to see that.

I also take my two children to school everyday. I do a full day’s work. I then pick them up from the childminder’s every evening. As we pull up to the house they ask me: ‘Is Daddy home?’ ‘No, he’s still at work’. I do their homework. I cook their dinner. And as they hear my husband walking through the door, they scream with delight ‘Daddy’s home!’. Bedtime is a shared responsibility.

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that promotes flexible working, and for the 15 years it has been running, it has enabled women to have successful professional careers and juggle family life. #Balanceforbetter certainly feels like something we’ve already achieved, but many companies have yet to catch up.  

Some, though, are doing great work to achieve gender balance. Diageo has launched a series of 13 videos featuring inspiring employees from across the business. The majority of the interviews are women, but one video caught my attention, as it features a man. James Ashall is CEO of Movement to Work, an initiative to promote employment opportunities for young people that is supported by Diageo, a founder member of the movement. Ashall explains how taking parental leave, supported by Diageo, changed his outlook when he returned to the workplace and inspired him to strive for social purpose in his professional life.

Promoting shared parental leave, making it the norm for men to be the main carer, allowing men to have flexible working hours so they can fit their professional life round childcare provision. Companies like Diageo are supporting these societal changes, but more need to follow in order for gender stereotyping to really be tackled.

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