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International Women's Day puts focus on equality at work

8 March 2022

New research published for International Women's Day has found that there's more work to do on gender equality in UK workplaces, as leading business groups call on the government to replace the term "chairman" with the gender-neutral "chair".

Online market research company Lucid has polled 1,000 Brits to identify key barriers and challenges for women at work to mark International Women's Day. Its report, Gender Equality in the Workplace, has found that the UK is "making great strides towards equality" compared to other countries; however, there is still work to be done with regards to equal pay, sexual harassment and parental leave.

These findings come as leading business groups, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), the Institute of Directors (IoD), the CBI and Make UK, have written to the government calling for an end to the default term "chairman", as used by Companies House. The letter calls for this to be changed to the neutral term "chair".

Sarah Howard, BCC chair, said: "Currently Companies House still uses the word 'chairman' in its model articles of association and has done for many years … While businesses can change it themselves, many are under the impression that it is a requirement of Companies House. Language matters … It's a small but very significant alteration that will help break down subconscious bias and send a clear message to future generations that they have an equal role to play in running businesses whatever their gender identity."

Meanwhile, the survey by Lucid has found that 82% of men and 73% of women say advancements are being made in the workforce to improve gender equality in the UK. However, 70% of respondents say there is a gender pay gap between women and men in the UK and women are significantly less inclined to believe the gender pay gap will ever be resolved compared to men.

Worryingly, the poll results show that sexual harassment ranks as the highest barrier to women's equality in the workplace, according to 52% of UK male and 45% of UK female respondents.

On a positive note, men and women are becoming more vocal and outspoken about gender bias, particularly amongst the younger Gen Z and Millennials generations. More than half (52%) of UK males polled said they have personally challenged gender bias in the workplace. When it comes to parental support, however, 82% say their employer could improve the policies around maternity and paternity leave.

More women plan to start a business

Also this week, a survey conducted by Small Business Britain has found that nearly a fifth (17%) of women in the UK are considering starting a business following the pandemic, with 48% citing a desire for more money as the biggest driver and 46% wanting the freedom of being their own boss.

The research, commissioned to mark International Women's Day, signals a "major shift in attitudes towards entrepreneurship among women" according to Small Business Britain. Women from ethnic minority backgrounds were also found to be much more likely to start a business; 7% of women who started businesses in the past year are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to just 1% three years ago.

Small Business Britain runs the ƒ:Entrepreneur #ialso100 campaign, which features an annual line-up of 100 of the UK's most inspiring female-led founders. Paulomi Debnath started her jewellery and home décor business, Handmade by Tinni, in early 2020. "My business is heavily influenced by my rich Indian heritage and champions vibrancy, confidence and diversity, which I think are all elements that we should endeavour to celebrate in female entrepreneurship as well."

Michelle Ovens, founder of Small Business Britain, said: "The profound economic and workplace changes that we're now seeing is also sparking an amazing entrepreneurial fire in many women, whether it be out of financial necessity or the urge to 'seize the day'. We must do everything we can to encourage these women and support them to get started and grow their businesses, as their success will undoubtedly underpin the UK's recovery."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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