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Equality - Raising the Debate
Treating everyone with value and respect

Good companies understand that to compete effectively in today’s global marketplace they have to be flexible, adaptable to change, highly skilled and able to attract and retain the best employees. Many businesses know it makes sense to have a diverse workforce. The economic benefits of tapping into all of the talent available to meet particular skills gaps are clear – businesses don’t want to find that they are excluding talented people because of barriers and prejudices in their working practices or policies.

Whilst we embrace equality between men and women in the workplace, this is a strange debate. We are different – men and women have different aptitudes and we are different biologically. There is also tremendous societal pressure on women to be the primary care-giver and the experts say it is better that children are raised by women.

This is a difficult area. The reality is that women have to make decisions that very few men have to. The BIG choice for women is career or family.

As a senior manager in a major multi-national, it was always difficult when very able women came to me and said they now wanted to start a family. As an organisation we certainly did not want to lose these talented and capable employees so we had to consider how we could help them raise children AND still be present in the workplace?

Many companies have appropriate structures and policies in place to address some of these issues – flexible working, more opportunities for men to take a caring role and so on – and these are very important. However the fact remains that a gap in a career does make a difference.

By taking time out to raise children, women are not able to put the same amount of time into their career as men. Change is now so quick, both in organisations and in knowledge, that if you miss any time, then you are out-of-date. Women who take a career break lose out on building their business knowledge and experience. This results in a difference in productivity which is in turn reflected in status and salary differences.

The big question for organisations is how to put mechanisms in place to help women who take a career break to maintain their position?

Women can also do a lot to help themselves – things such as keeping in touch with colleagues whilst they are away, arranging to receive their emails, organising a weekly update meeting, keeping up-to-date with developments in their sector, these are all possibilities. It’s human nature that if someone is out of the office for any length of time, they may get forgotten. Women should consider what strategies they could employ to maintain their visibility.

And yes, it does take discipline to maintain this contact and visibility – it is a choice women have to make.

 

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