Elaine Aarons, employment law partner at Withers LLP and co-founder of One Loud Voice for Women, is passionately interested in helping to develop the careers of senior women and has seen, through her practice, how their career progression can by stymied. In this article, Elaine explains the objectives of ‘One Loud Voice for Women’ and how you can get your voice heard to address gender inequality for women in the workplace in the UK.
How many women’s networks do you think there are in the UK? Include industry‑wide networks, in‑house networks, and professional networks. The answer has not been collated (so far as I know!) but it is definitely hundreds. It could be thousands.
How many networks have made a difference to the progress of women in the workplace? Answer: whilst many have had a positive influence on specific workplaces and the women (and sometimes men) who participate find these networks valuable in many ways, only a small number have moved gender parity forward for the benefit of all employees. I hesitate to suggest an exact number that have made an impact, because some networks may claim achievements that I have missed; one of the best examples however would be the 30% Club.
So the idea was hatched a couple of years ago by myself and my close colleague, Kate Jenkins, at a meeting of the International Women’s Forum (IWF). Namely what could be achieved if you could corral the collective voices of those who belong to women’s networks in order that together they could make a difference? The idea is simple: that if you can say you represent the voices of hundreds of thousands of women, you would be a force that could not be ignored. Not by the press, not by government and not by employers themselves.
The background is familiar to us all. Women have been seeking equality for over 100 years and the progress has been slower than we hoped. Actually, it has remarkably accelerated within the last year and it looks as though gender pay gap reporting, #metoo and even the influence of Meghan Markle is going to make very significant and long-term differences.
That said, the challenge to change things is enormous. On a day to day basis everyone we speak to confirms that women continue to face obstacles, barriers and worse just by going into work and doing their job. All they want is to be treated fairly and to be given equal chances to succeed. It is not a big ask but it seems very difficult to achieve.
So ‘One Loud Voice for Women’ brings together the many existing groups tackling gender inequality for women in the workplace in the UK. We amplify their voices to end gender inequality in the workplace.
We can already say that we represent the voices of about 100,000 women and almost half a million followers on social networks. We would, however, like to hear from all networks and organisations that are working to progress women’s rights in the workplace in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are circa 32.25 million people in work. If just under half of them are women that is nearly 15 million women. If we can reach 5%, that’s 750,000 women!
Who are we and what do we do?
We are a limited company with a management team of five people, chaired by our other co-founder, well-known champion of gender diversity, Carol Rosati OBE and with distinguished communications expert, Jane Atkinson, as CEO. We have an Advisory Board of 12. We have already joined ranks with a significant number of women’s networks to begin the process of bringing voices and networks together. Our focus is on engagement with networks representing women at all levels of seniority in the UK workforce.
- We are neither a political nor a membership organisation.
- We in no way seek to detract from the good work done by other networks – rather we seek to amplify their messages.
- We focus on workplace issues only, ranging from the gender pay gap to sexism and harassment at work, in whatever form it may take.
- We want to help ensure women have equal and fair access to opportunities and training in all sectors of business as well as equal representation in senior management
- We want family life to be fully supported by the workplace.
How do we plan to make the most of the many voices that we represent?
Well there is no better way of explaining it than describing our first campaign. We are proud to be officially supporting the Working Forward Campaign initiated by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (see: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/working-forward). Working Forward is a national campaign backed by some of UK’s leading businesses and industry bodies to make workplaces the best that they can be for pregnant women and new parents. It is free for any organisation to join the Working Forward Campaign. Organisations are asked to sign the Working Forward Pledge and One Loud Voice is asking our supporters to get the message out and encourage organisations to sign up.
In other words, we are doing what we set out to do. If reading this is the first you knew of Working Forward, please tell us if you go on to get an organisation interested so we can demonstrate the effectiveness of our amplification.
If this article is of interest, we are interested to get to know you.
You can follow us on your social media platform of choice: our unique hashtag for your comments is #loudertogether and our current campaign hashtag is #WorkingForward. You can get involved by sharing our content with any network you are involved with and encouraging them in turn to engage with us as well so that we can cascade information to a continually growing number, accessing women and employers at all levels. Please join our conversation and make things happen with us. The more we centralise the discussions around our campaigns, the more effective we will be. With all your voices we can be louder together.
This article appeared in the March 2018 edition of ‘Women in Leadership Newsletter’ – published monthly by Christine Griffin, Executive Coach, Griffinity – www.griffinity.co.uk. Christine is passionate about helping women to build the skills and confidence to get their voices heard and overcome any barriers and challenges holding them back to enable them to step up in their careers.