For the past two years Wirehive have been proud partners of The Drum’s Do It Day. This year I was thrilled that the project we were approached to support was one tackling gender inequality in the workplace.
O2 Business Marketing and Greengrass Consulting had set a timely and relevant diversity challenge: How do we engage men in the workplace to actively promote gender equality and understand the benefits it brings to both men and women? Rather than framing the debate as a women’s issue, the premise of the challenge was that in addition to being the right thing to do, greater gender equality at work is an opportunity for everyone. They even have the stats to prove it.
I was particularly interested in the part of the challenge around men and women enjoying equal access to flexible working.
Having spent the past ten years working in B2B technology marketing I’ve seen first hand how technical developments have enabled male and female employees from large corporates to agile start ups enjoy a more flexible approach to work and support them with their responsibilities at home. In my working life I’ve witnessed the transformation of work from a place you go to a thing you do. However, I realise I have been fortunate. Having chosen an industry that embraces innovation all of my employers – Microsoft, Vodafone and most recently Wirehive – have not just been open to flexible working but provided the means, opportunity and culture to make it a reality.
And here we come to the crux of the issue. Because we have the technology. We’ve had it for years. Flexible working is within the reach of any company today – the technology is affordable, the underlying infrastructure of internet and mobile data is available to the majority of people and the workforce know how to use it effectively – but it’s still not a reality for many employees. And while there are still some jobs where working from home or being able to set your own hours is not possible, for most people denied access to flexible working it all comes down to attitudes.
This is why the #walkthetalk challenge is so pertinent. Driving attitudinal change is not just a numbers game (although no doubt that helps with critical mass) but a question of converging priorities. By encouraging men to get involved in the conversation it’s no longer a single issue campaign but a debate about the type of place people want or – with the ever growing war for talent – are prepared to work in.
In my experience – which the stats show is still an uncommon one – flexible working has never just been something for working mothers. It’s been available to and adopted by men and women alike, not just to share caring responsibilities but to save commuting time and environmental impacts, keep travel and expenses down as well as support a healthier work/life balance. In all of these cases it’s not just the employee who wins but the company gains in terms of improved productivity and employee retention.
In addition, at an organisational level it provides a catalyst for a culture of output to replace a culture of presenteeism. When an organisation truly achieves this transition it even helps combat the likelihood of male managers being promoted over their female counterparts – a situation particularly prevalent if those female counterparts happen to be mothers. From my experience change really can start with a wholesale commitment to trusting employees with flexible working.
So what can you do to get involved? Initially, if you’re at all interested, #walkthetalk just want to stick your head – or rather your feet – above the parapet. As of last Thursday – aptly Equal Pay Day 2016 in the UK https://twitter.com/walkthetalkinfo have been encouraging men to show they’re standing with women by baring their feet on twitter (socks optional) and telling the world why they want a more equal workplace. Their aim is to get 2016 feet by the end of the year.
If you want to help beyond that, there are many other ways to participate. Whether it’s being a champion for gender equality in your workplace, examining your pay structures, recruitment and promotion process or encouraging cross gender mentoring, the Walk the Talk website have a host of ideas for how you can drive small, incremental changes. Their hope is that a year from now, those who tweeted their feet will take to twitter again and share stories of real change in their workplace that benefitted both men and women. I for one can’t wait to read all about it.