Policies to champion this International Women’s Day 2023

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, and as we embark on manifesto season, some of our female members of staff have written about policy pledges they’d like the next government to implement. These range from childcare reform to menstrual leave to pay disparity and career progression for women of colour. Read on to find out more!

Simone Connolly, Client Executive: Pay disparity and career progression for women of colour

“The IWD theme of 2023 is to ‘Embrace Equity’ and highlight why equality is not enough and true inclusion requires equitable action. Women in the UK have ‘equal’ access and opportunity in the labour market; however, women remain disproportionately disadvantaged by way of pay and career progression which is further amplified for women of colour.

“Women of colour continue to experience further barriers to career progression and pay parity despite research into the issue which highlights the ways in which it impacts women of colour today. In 2022, research from TUC’s ‘Anti-Racism Taskforce' was published and exposed the varying ways racism and discrimination permeates the labour market. BME women are more likely to work zero-hour contracts and to work in industries without access to flexible working. The report finds that feeling pigeon-holed into specific tasks is a common experience: “BME workers being assigned less popular shifts (night-time, unsociable hours) than their White colleagues, as well as an unequal distribution of labour.”

“The government should prioritise and commit to fulfilling its promises to deliver an active action plan to reduce the ethnicity pay gap, including improving recruitment; representation; and mandatory reporting.”

Sam Boyle, Junior Consultant: Free Periods Products

“In 2022, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all through the introduction of the Period Products Act. The Act ensures that there is now a legal duty on local authorities to provide free items to “anyone who needs them.” As a result, products are now distributed through councils and education providers ensuring that women and girls who can’t afford period products can now access them for free.

“Period poverty affects thousands of women and girls in the UK. In May 2022, research by ActionAid UK found that 1 in 8 women (12%) in the UK struggled to buy period products in the first 5 months of 2022, a statistic which is only set to get worse as we are battling a cost-of-living crisis. Amid soaring inflation and rocketing energy bills, many will be forced to prioritise other household essentials over buying products. Now more than ever, is the time for the UK Government to step up and protect and safeguard women and girls by introducing a similar Bill to that in Scotland. The UK Government has a duty to protect women and girls up and down the country by ensuring that their periods aren’t a worry or a barrier to them.”

Megan MacDougall, Consultant: Menopause Leave

“Menopausal people are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. Yet the issue remains that for far too many, the menopause can negatively impact their careers. The British Menopause Society found that in a survey of 1,000 adults, 45% per cent noted that symptoms related to the menopause negatively impacted their work, and 47% needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms but would not tell their boss the real reason.

“In February 2023, the Government published its response to the House of Commons Women’s and Equalities Committee’s July 2022 report ‘Menopause and the workplace’. The Committee put forward twelve recommendations. Whilst the Government accepted some of the recommendations either in full or part (including to appoint a menopause employment champion to work alongside stakeholders) criticism derives from the government failure to commit to any new policies. In recent days, the Labour Party announced its menopause action policy to support menopausal people in the workplace, including paid time off and action plans for companies with over 250 employees.

“The onus is therefore largely on employers to implement appropriate menopause measures in the workplace. It is encouraging to see more workplaces signing up to the Wellbeing of Women’s Menopause Workplace Pledge (at the time of writing more than 2,000 employers have signed). As we enter the lead-up to the next general election, it is paramount that political parties strengthen their policy commitments on menopause and the workplace, further steps must be taken to support menopausal people in all sized companies. It is crucial that menopausal people are supported in their role.”

Keisha Bullock- Singh, Junior Consultant: Protection of women in digital spaces

“Metaverse, deepfakes, sexting…three portmanteaus that meant little 20 years ago. Now, however, the digital world is at the forefront of our society, bringing with it exciting developments but also a very dark reality. Those three words are all methods or trends in technology that are commonly used to inflict harm on women, with numerous reports detailing the disturbing ways in which women and girls have been assaulted, humiliated and most worrying of all, physically endangered, because of something that occurred on the internet.

“Although the Government is taking steps to protect women online through the Online Safety Bill, including making the sharing of certain types of images illegal, it is not enough. Technology is continuously developing and we are sprinting to keep up. As such, it should be a legal requirement for companies to share details of the risks their emerging technologies bring, and the dangers women specifically face by using them. As we encounter new technological advancements every day, the Government must ensure women are not left in the dark about the ugly reality of the digital world.”

Grace Edwards, Client Executive: Menstrual leave

“Every month, 1.8 billion people menstruate. Of those, around 80% experience period pain in some capacity, 20% cite their pain as severe enough to prevent them from carrying out their usual daily activities and 10% suffer from endometriosis. Despite the prevalence of menstrual pain, it is frequently overlooked in medical and professional settings and the stigma that exists around periods means that sufferers are often ridiculed for missing work as a result of their pain. US period care company Someday has taken to TikTok to show just how debilitating period pain can be, by attaching a ‘cramp simulator’ to men while asking them to try to do their job, sing the national anthem, or remember their own name. While it is somewhat validating to see a man bend over in pain as a result of the simulator, these videos demonstrate that our society lacks the systems necessary to support those who are suffering from severe period pain - and that women’s pain is often not taken seriously.

“Menstrual leave is currently offered in a small number of countries including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Zambia and most recently, Spain. In case of incapacitating menstruation, women in Spain now have the chance to take up to three days of menstrual leave a month, paid for by the Government. Groups including Genderless Menstrual Leave UK and Bloody Good Period have been campaigning for a similar piece of legislation in the UK, which would recognise the ongoing struggle that so many face. Now that Spain has led the way for menstrual leave in Europe, we hope that the UK won’t be far behind.”

Bethan Phillips, Senior Consultant: Reform Childcare

“There is research coming out of Rishi Sunak’s ears illustrating the negative impact the cost of childcare is having on families in the UK. Just this week PwC published a report showing women in Britain are being priced out of work and suffering from a growing gender pay gap as the result of the lack of affordable childcare. And it’s not just women who are suffering, the Centre for Progressive Policies this week released a report demonstrating the UK is losing out on economic growth worth up to £38bn every year because of unsuitable childcare.

“It goes without saying that as we approach the next general election childcare will have to be a priority for both parties. Labour seems to have got the memo, with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson on a childcare tour stopping at Estonia and Australia and learning from their policies. In fact, Phillipson has signalled Labour would make a transformational offer to parents at the next election, pledging a modern childcare system that works from the end of parental leave until the end of primary school. Unfortunately, the current Government seems less committed to transformational change, with rumours of any updates in the budget next week being uncertain and likely to be pushed to manifestos instead. As the country is in the depths of a cost-of-living crisis and more and more women are priced out of re-entering the workforce after having children, any political party hoping to come into power in 2025 would be foolish to not promise a childcare reform.”

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