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3 Ways for Employers to #BreakTheBias for International Women’s Day

Author: Jennifer Liston Smith, Head of Thought Leadership

For International Women’s Day 2022, here are my three data-driven tips on how we can #BreakTheBias.

  1. Avoid ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in the hybrid working world
  2. Acknowledge and support the reality of shared parenting and caring
  3. Keep emphasising gender-inclusive approaches, for everyone, especially the very young

1. Avoid ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in the hybrid working world

Bright Horizons’ Modern Families Index tracks the views of working parents, year-on-year. In our 2022 study of 1,000 participants, 56% agreed they are still able to progress their careers while working flexibly. It’s a gendered picture: 61% of men felt this while only 49% of women agreed.

As new ways of working bed in, in the post-pandemic world, we need to ensure that people who make use of flexible options (whether part-time, remote working, or otherwise) do not get overlooked for career progression. Perceptions of contribution should be based on deliverables, not only on being seen in the right place and the right time. People of any gender who are working in less traditional ways can also be offered mentoring or coaching on building networks and staying visible.

That said, 23% of women in the survey indicated, ‘I am happy to stay at the level I am / I am not looking for career progression’, and 12% of men indicated this. There might also be space to recognise that careers can have plateaus, for people of any gender, when other aspects of life need strong attention. We could allow more for careers that move in steps or spirals, instead of assuming a straight line where every year is an ‘up or out’ moment. There may need to be opportunities to level off, then accelerate again, later on.

2. Acknowledge and support the reality of shared parenting and caring

We’ve heard quite a bit about the pandemic affecting women differently to men: with media coverage of the burden of home-schooling falling more on women. However, we also hear that fathers leaned in and did more at home.

In the Modern Families Index 2022, a growing number of working parents report equally sharing childcare. 9 in 10 participants were in couples, 86% were in female-male couples. When asked who does the childcare in their household, 3 in 10 (31%) indicated that they share childcare equally (36% of the men and 23% of women said this). When asked what the balance had been the previous year, just 13% across genders said they had shared it equally.

We asked ‘If you are taking on more childcare now, would you like to be able to continue to take more responsibility for childcare as an ongoing pattern?’ 86% of the men and 52% of the women said ‘yes’.

Further, when asked, whether they would need to carefully consider their childcare options before accepting / applying for a promotion or a new job, 74% of men and 75% of women agreed.

Similarly, and even more strikingly, among those in our survey with eldercare commitments, three-quarters overall agree ‘I would need to carefully consider my adult care or eldercare options before accepting / applying for a promotion or a new job’. These were 78% of the men and 67% of women.

All of this presents quite a signal to employers and society that priorities are shifting toward family, particularly among men. Talking about and amplifying this trend can help to chip away at biases.

3. Keep emphasising gender-inclusive approaches, for everyone, especially the very young

The charity, Education and Employers matches volunteers with educational settings to share insights into their jobs with children, removing barriers to access. This includes challenging biases about who can do particular jobs. The charity’s long-running Redraw the Balance campaign – inviting children to draw a sea captain, racing driver, engineer and so on (you can guess what they drew!) – has spun off into many similar experiments around the world.

All of us can be limited by society’s assumptions, expectations and biases, especially in our early years, while we are trying to figure out the world and our identity within it. We can break biases by being more conscious in how we engage young children in learning. We need to get beyond giving girls only soft cuddly toys that nurture ‘caring’ and cheering boys along only into riskier more active ‘rough & tumble’ activities. Bright Horizons’ Early Years Educators actively challenging gender stereotypes, as Early Childhood Director Caroline Wright explains.

What will you do to #BreakTheBias?

What will you be doing to #BreakTheBias this year? Will you make sure hybrid and flexible working remains inclusive? Will you resist gendered assumptions about young children’s interests? There’s a range of other possible directions. If you’d like to hear the latest searing commentary on the patriarchy, Laurie Penney has recently published this, which has however met with mixed reviews. Sometimes a rallying cry is a helpful wake-up call. It hardly needs saying, though, that it is highly divisive. Coming back to that more gender-equal perception of parenthood, if you’d be more heartened by a progressive look at today’s fathers, then here’s the advice I offered to employers on International Men’s Day.

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