Inspiring Inclusion: International Women’s Day 2024

Business woman with blond curly hair and glasses, talking and smiling with a male colleague in a jumper who is also wearing glasses.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is “Inspiring Inclusion”, with a major focus on promoting diversity in leadership. Through previous discussions with women in our network; building on our thought leadership in this area, and conversations prompted by last year’s IWD theme of #EmbraceEquity, a strong emphasis was placed on the importance of encouraging men to join the conversation around equity and equality in the workplace. Therefore, we sat down with two men in our network; Drake Peabody, Head of Group FP&A at IHS Towers as well as a Trustee at Equality Starts at Home; while also being involved in Leaders Plus; and Ian McLaren; Group CFO at Core Highways Group Ltd who discusses this year’s theme of inspiring inclusion to drive business performance, to discuss some of the barriers to equity in the workplace and how to start creating more inclusive organisations.

Open up the conversation

Previously, when we spoke with Kathryn Jacob, CEO at Pearl & Dean she said, “This conversation isn’t just about women. It’s about everyone,”. That’s why it’s important to open up the conversation when it comes to tackling gender equality and equity. “More voices mean you ask more questions, explore different ways of finding answers, and change how you look at the issues,” says Ian McLaren. “Making the conversation broader makes sense because diversity of thought is vital.”

Creating inclusive spaces that promote psychological safety is a significant first step to having important conversations about equity and equality in the workplace. No matter where organisations are in their inclusion journey, it’s important to actively create safe spaces and encourage everyone in the organisation to learn and participate in the conversation.

“No one should feel like they’re pushing up against closed doors,” explains Ian McLaren. “Companies need to consciously work to build a culture where people can feel comfortable to talk. You’re not aiming for perfection – you’re giving people permission to talk, to make mistakes, to learn and to improve.”

Promote a more honest mindset

“There can be no shying away from where we are today in terms of equality and equity,” stresses Drake Peabody. “While we the past, we can absolutely change the future. Organisations should be open and honest about this. Take steps to make changes, invite feedback from employees, back up what you say with action, and lead by example.”

Forming small roundtables encompassing a variety of functions within the organisations, while ensuring representation from al levels of seniority and diverse backgrounds including race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, parental/care responsibilities, etc, serves as a pivotal step to gathering anonymous feedback. This feedback can be reported back to the executive level, and then the broader organisations, with action points. Drake emphasised the importance of conducting these roundtables stating, “It’s important to show that these conversations are happening. While everything won’t change overnight, we can all learn along the way and show that progress is happening”.

When it comes to driving change, leading from the top is essential. Live your inclusion values and you will give your workforce permission to do the same. “Inclusion and equality need to be something we work towards together,” says Drake Peabody.

Signal your commitment

One way companies can embed inclusive values is through the use of written policies. Not only will these signal your commitment to equality and equity in your workplace, but they will give your employees confidence and help them feel comfortable speaking up. They are also increasingly useful recruitment tools.

“To ensure the health and wellbeing of your workforce, and future-proof your business, you need to be a good employer,” says Ian McLaren. “Proper policies – whether that’s a parental leave policy or a dedicated equality and diversity policy – will attract talent.”

Written policies ensure you get the fundamentals right. “Build those ‘brilliant basics’ into your company’s DNA,” he adds.

Acknowledge societal ‘norms’

Across their professional lives, people across the corporate spectrum will be faced with issues, ranging from caring for children or elderly relatives, to dealing with illness. However, caring responsibilities are a crux point for equality in the workplace as they often disproportionately impact women.

“Any number of things may change for people as time goes on,” says Drake Peabody. “It’s important to acknowledge the individual in these situations, and often challenge the societal norms that go along with them. Take parental leave, for example. In many cases, there is more limited support – government or otherwise – for men taking time off to be with young children during the first 18 months following birth which consequently puts the responsibility on women.”

“It’s important for each family, each household, to do what’s right for them, but it’s also important to normalise the idea of a man as a caregiver,” adds Drake Peabody.

Address the broken rung

Providing equitable support for parents would go some way to balancing the caring burden and the impact it has on the professional lives of women. As Lorraine Harper, a contributor to last year’s IWD article, identifies: “Because of typical situations around maternity leave and childcare, you tend to get women falling out of the job market, so they become a scarce resource – particularly at more senior levels.”

Unfortunately, the statistics acknowledge this to be true. The past nine years of McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace research have shown that women are underrepresented across the corporate pipeline. Since 2015, however, C-suite representation has shown tentative signs of improvement, up from 17% in 2015 to 28% in 2023.

These “hard-earned gains”, as the McKinsey authors call them, are “encouraging but fragile”, partly because of the ‘broken rung’. “For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager… As a result of this “broken rung,” women fall behind and can’t catch up.”

Take advantage of flexibility

“It’s all underpinned by flexibility, and measuring people on what they deliver, not where or what hours they deliver,” asserts Drake Peabody. The pandemic helped shift many corporate opinions on the issue of flexible and remote work, showing it could work – and helping people balance their working and personal lives.

Indeed, flexibility is identified as a major contributing factor to women pursuing their professional ambitions in the Women in the Workplace 2023 report. “One in five women say flexibility has helped them stay in their job or avoid reducing their hours…  These women are defying the outdated notion that work and life are incompatible, and that one comes at the expense of the other.”

For more advice and insights into creating equitable, inclusive workplaces and enabling change, please reach out to our team.

Written by

Eoin Canty

Eoin is a qualified accountant (CIMA) and a Consultant within BIE’s finance team, with a particular focus on delivering executive search assignments.

He works across a range of industries, recruiting CFOs, FDs, Divisional FDs, FP&A Directors, Group Financial Controllers and COOs, for SMEs, international PLCs and private equity/VC backed organisations.

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