1918: The right to Vote! 2018: The right to... Work?
Today marks the 100th year anniversary of women (initially over the age of 30 and of property) receiving the right to vote. A huge number of women fought and campaigned for this right and many put themselves, their families at risk in doing so. In the early-20th century until the First World War, approximately one thousand suffragettes were imprisoned in Britain due to an unwavering belief in the equality of women to men in having a voice. To think how many of these women were wives - few I imagine having full support of their husbands like many of us might enjoy today in a society believed a woman's primary role was marriage and kids. They were mothers, taking care of babies, families at home yet still took up the brave and at times risky challenge of fronting this movement. It is fascinating and quite awe-inspiring to read about the lengths that the leaders of the WSPU (The Pankhursts) and other organisations and their campaigners went to, with utter conviction, to make this happen. I am so grateful to these incredible women, for myself and for my daughter. Since that day and when the vote was extended to all women a decade later you could argue that there was a gradual domino effect for the rights of women.
I do wonder though, what the landscape might look like for women today, if they hadn't fought ? How would 'Women's Rights' stand now if the Suffragettes never existed, or had failed at their mission? Where would we be now, in 2018, a full century later. Maybe the vote would've been extended further down the line - probably ... Yet this significant event in history had consequences, leading to women next being able to represent in parliament, to work more freely (catalysed by the World Wars), birth control and a range of other rights leading us to where we are today. Today, 2018. Equals, yes? Maybe. Arguably we are very much so, arguably there is still a long way to go. There are numerous statistics that illustrate this, somewhat alarmingly and we come across them all the time. Pay inequality. 2 women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence (70% of all domestic violence deaths are female). It is estimated that on taking a career break to have a baby, two thirds of women do not return to work and of 427,000 on a career break in 2016, 249,000 were likely to enter lower skilled roles on their return. Many of these women have invested over 3 years and thousands of pounds in a university education and/or have worked themselves up the ladder to senior and managerial positions. To speak of my own journey, a northern girl from a humble background, I worked crazy hard from the age of 13 giving everything to my job (alongside studies and maybe the odd drinking episode on a Thurs, Fri and Sat night...), work being the number one priority through the whole of my twenties. One early role I took up straight after university - I recall requesting a meeting with my boss on finding out that Richard - same age, start date, less work experience and a lower grade degree than I had attained was being paid a fair good chunk more than me! It was unbelievable to me that on having that conversation with my (female) boss I was told if I kept up the good work they would match his salary on review in 6 months. Needless to say I quit. However, I slogged for the subsequent years and with hard work and perhaps bit of luck, eventually got promoted to my ultimate dream job in fashion senior management before age 30. It was everything I wanted and more and I loved every minute of it. You could say the degree, the debt, the cancelled holidays, missed events and averaging 5-6 hours sleep were worth it. But then, we decided we wanted a family and a choice had to be made, a choice which put a very sudden time limit on the fruits of these early sacrifices to climb the ladder and had me question if it was all worth it. I know this story is in good company!
A family could simply never be compatible with the corporate life and industry that I had built my experience in, as it stood in 2016. Lots of people say You Can Have It All but I truly believe that it very rarely the case. You can have an amazing life with wonderful things in, yes, but everything? There always has to be compromise and more often than not significantly more so for the woman. That's not to say it is easy for men, it isn't.... but a fathers life is changed in a lesser way than a mothers on having a family - generally. I question often whether we are passively accepting this or are we doing anything about it? Or is this just how it is, how it should be, as nature intended? Should we be fighting harder to have both, have it all? Part time, flexible working, autonomy to work from home for mothers and otherwise is still very much in the minority and not widely accepted at all in the UK and many other countries. 2to3days.com, an online recruitment agency focusing on part time roles for mothers, reported on a study conducted by Vodafone in the UK that illustrated a 61% increase in profitability and an 83% increase in productivity for companies who adopted a flexible working policy.
There are many demonstrations of these types of positive impact on the workplace and performance when companies allow people to work and comfortably take care of other responsibilities, such as their kids, so why is this still such an issue? Why is there a pool of bright, intelligent, smart, shrewd women with high EQ's who are disregarded as talent within the vast majority of corporate companies because of their responsibility of raising young people, (The Future) or as a result of a 'suspicious' gap in their CV "yeah, I was just chilling for a couple of years, y'know I'm really lazy and un-industrious!". It's incredulous that mothers find it so difficult to return to work either at the level they have worked to for so many years and/or with the flexibility they require to deliver both at work and home, taking care of a family.
There are sites and companies now such as the aforementioned 2to3 days.com in which Founder Juliet Turnbull is working to recruit more and more companies who are open to employing talented and experienced women in a flexible way. They are chipping away at this, influencing and impressing a new way of thinking, company by company and role by role but it is not enough.
There are many issues with regards to women today, in 2018 that still need to be addressed. So many causes that are worthy of the fight that our predecessors initiated and won a century ago. The work question is one that puzzles me personally - as it seems a no-brainer, there is a huge resource of motivated, skilled talent that is being wasted.
So if relevant to you please ask yourself how flexible working or parents returning to work is approached in your place of employment? Could it be different ? The automatic answer might be no... the operations would be affected ... the meetings are held daily .... presenteeism for this field is essential. But ask again. What if everyone was on board from the top down. What if people were more motivated due to a level of trust and accountability and didn't feel constantly guilty stressed and unable to deliver on any least of all ALL of their roles. What could this potentially look like ? It shouldn't be so hard for women who want to or need to go work to balance family life and be a mother. This is something which has to be actively addressed as the Suffragettes demonstrates it doesn't just happen... I'm not suggesting we chain ourselves to buildings but nor should we we plod along waiting for someone somewhere high above and in power to make these changes for us! Everyone matters. So if and when you can have that conversation, make that suggestion, support that woman in the company who is expecting twins and desperately needs flexibility on her return but doesn't want to give up a decade of commitment, if you are given the power to employ - be open to this! With belief, purpose and ACTION we will get there.