This week (on 8th March) sees individuals and organisations across the world marking International Women’s Day – an initiative set up 44 years ago by the United Nations to shine a light on the accomplishments and successes of a group that has historically suffered inequality in the workplace, as well as in wider society. Sarah Case, from MHA Broomfield Alexander, shares her experience of rising through the ranks in the traditionally male-dominated finance sector.
Gender equality in the workplace continues to be a hot topic and, although much progress has been made to improve opportunities for women in business, the fight remains as poignant as ever.
Gender inequality presents itself in many forms – discrimination in education, employment, pay and workplace legislation in areas such as maternity and child care are all factors that can create barriers for working women. Although it is the pay gap that often attracts the most attention, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes an annual report that measures inequality across four pillars: economic opportunity; political empowerment; educational attainment; and health and survival.
WEF research suggests that the gender gap has closed significantly over the period the report has been published, but it also contains the alarming prediction that it will still take another 202 years for women across the globe to experience a complete gender parity. So, despite attitudes around gender equality clearly changing for the better, reflected in wider society by things like the #MeToo movement, it’s no wonder that awareness days like International Women’s Day garner so much support.
Businesses themselves have a significant role to play in bringing about the change that still needs to happen. As a director in Wales’s largest independent accountancy firm, I’m proud to be able to say that our team includes lots of talented individuals of both genders, while providing equal opportunities for all. I started here as a trainee accountant and worked my way up to become a member of the senior leadership team – but that’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges along the way.
I remember in the early days, trying to juggle being a new parent and having a career was difficult to manage. First there’s the logistics involved in delivering the hours whilst keeping pace with changes in areas like technology and legislation. There is also the well-documented guilt that impacts on everything – the balance between being good at my job but also being a good parent.
Networking can be challenging for women too and I’d say it’s one arena that definitely hasn’t changed at the same pace as the rest of the business world. The timing and format of lots of today’s business events still alienates many women, which explains why many of them are still very male-dominated affairs.
Working in finance, I’ve certainly seen a marked difference in the opportunities available to women and there are so many more ways you can change and shape your career these days. I see it with our clients too and organisations that promote a diverse workplace tend to be more successful, as the alternative views and perspectives that come forward result in better decision making and outcomes. I work with a lot of charities and this also goes for boards of trustees. It also highlights the importance of senior decision makers in shaping the pace of change, recognising potential barriers and having the strength to stand up against inequality.
When I think about International Women’s Day, I feel proud to stand with other experienced business women and try to do what I can to inspire the next generation of female business leaders, whether that is through formal mentoring programmes or just offering a bit of advice here and there. The world of business can be tough and it’s very easy to bear grudges or carry around a chip on your shoulder, especially when it appears that you didn’t get something, purely because you are a woman.
There is also a temptation to alter your values or behaviour to emulate others, but experience has taught me that is never going to yield results. So, the message I’d give to any ambitious women trying to forge a successful career in business is ‘be true to yourself’. Always try to bring your own stamp to your team and your organisation and, when you find the right fit, you know that you’re working somewhere you can really shine.