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Gender equality and allyship: actions to inspire inclusion in the workplace

by | Mar 20, 2024

Gender equality, flexibility, wellbeing and allyship are important ingredients in making the workplace better for women. On International Women’s Day, Fiona Murchie, managing director of Think Global People, facilitated a wide-ranging discussion on how to enhance the lives of women at work at our Think Global Women event at the Institute of Directors. Marianne Curphey reports. Additional reporting by Ruth Holmes.

In this article, we collate the ideas, suggestions and experiences of the many global experts who attended the event into a series of policy guidelines employers and organisations can use to enhance inclusivity.

This framework will benefit all employees men as well as women to help increase diversity and inclusion and open up greater opportunities for all.

Flexible and hybrid working practices

Covid has brought positive changes, especially in terms of flexibility and remote work, benefiting both working mothers and fathers. Now that many organisations are starting to insist that staff return to the office, those companies that offer flexible and remote work arrangements are likely to be better able to recruit and retain staff.

Organisations could help working parents by:

  • Allowing maternity and paternity leave to be split between both parents, rather than limiting the amount of time the father is allowed to take off work
  • Introducing flexible working arrangements to prevent burnout, particularly women who are caring for children and elderly parents
  • Implementing flexible working hours, respecting personal time and important family commitments
  • Highlighting the importance of senior leaders embracing a culture of flexibility, modelling flexible working and advocating for job-sharing opportunities
  • Recognising the challenges of balancing dual careers and childcare responsibilities
  • Understanding that women often carry the greater mental load of managing childcare and household tasks, which can impact their ability to prepare and perform at their best at work.


In conclusion

Open discussions between partners and employers can help find flexible arrangements that suit the individual needs of all employees.

Men would also benefit from a workplace culture that is more inclusive and family-friendly and that recognises unsocial working hours are challenging for fathers as well as mothers.

Wellbeing, resilience and mental health

Employers should remain vigilant about the effect on mental health and wellbeing of both working from home and the transition back to in-person work post-covid. While some employees have found the ability to work from home very liberating, others suffer from loneliness and a lack of support.

Organisations could help foster wellbeing by:

  • Implementing wellbeing training policies and promoting mental health first aiders in the workplace
  • Offer flexibility in work arrangements to fit individual needs, including the ability to work part-time and job share
  • Understanding that women often prioritise others’ needs over their own, leading to burnout and health issues
  • Many employees suffer from blurred boundaries between work and home life, affecting mental health and productivity.

In conclusion

Employers and line managers have a responsibility for the welfare of all their staff.

Promoting job sharing, introducing or maintaining flexible work arrangements and prioritising employee wellbeing are key to ensuring that staff are looked after and allowed to do their best work. A happier workforce is likely to be more productive. Wellbeing checks, awareness of mental health issues and taking a genuine interest in your team are essential roles for a line manager.

Menopause Awareness

Some organisations have a menopause policy and work hard to raise awareness about menopause through initiatives like menopause cafes and webinars. Others do not, but should be thinking about what policies or procedures they could be introducing.

Organisations could help provide menopause support by:

  • Creating safe spaces for women around menopause issues
  • Providing additional days off where necessary, which could be framed as ‘wellbeing days’ available to all staff so as not to stigmatise women
  • Monthly menopause cafes to help answer questions and concerns
  • Sessions for men to understand this life stage and how they can support someone they live with through menopause.

In conclusion

There is often stigma around menopause and women are reluctant to talk about it at work. Educating men and women to understand the pressures and challenges around this time of life can lead to a better understanding. Offering wellbeing days for all staff members means that people can take time off when they need it without embarrassment or compromise.

Building confidence and creating allyship

Effective communication, engagement and role modelling are all essential in promoting allyship and gender equality. Younger women in particular often lack confidence and may not be vocal in meetings. Helping them build confidence with practical assignments and feedback can be invaluable.

Organisations could help promote the resilience of their staff by:

  • Encouraging supportive environments where individuals are empowered to set and achieve goals, which in turn fosters confidence
  • Supporting underrepresented groups and becoming an ally for women by championing their ideas and inputs
  • Identifying each individual’s unique skills and abilities and celebrating differences among people to build confidence
  • Training line managers to recognise the skills of team members and to give them support and coaching to develop personally and professionally.

Organisations could help foster confidence and allyship by:

  • Helping team members set goals and work towards them so that when the project is complete, they have learnt a valuable new skill set
  • Giving regular constructive feedback, rather than formal annual performance management reviews, which are historic and backward-looking
  • Those who are in a position of privilege could promote allyship by using their voice and influence to support others.

In conclusion

Organisations should ensure that women are given stretch assignments and projects that enable them to develop career-enhancing skills.

Allyship is a constant, ongoing process, which involves championing others in the workplace. Both men and women can be allies to other women and help them advance and fulfil their potential.

In summary, allyship operates at three levels: at the individual level between colleagues and managers, at the leadership level with line managers and senior staff, and at the organisational level in terms of promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity.

Formal and informal women’s groups can help to promote discussion around the key issues that affect women’s careers. It is also immensely helpful to have role models and to set goals. In this respect, the support of line managers is critical. The key message here is that helping women helps everyone. A more diverse organisation is more likely to appeal to a younger demographic who will be the talent pipeline of the future and enable the business to thrive and survive any challenging times.

International mobility and career advancement

Women face barriers in accessing international leadership positions and a lack of support for spouses during relocations often affects dual-career couples. To take on a senior role, applicants often have to demonstrate that they have experienced an overseas role or have global experience.

Around a third of expatriate assignments initiated by organisations are held by women, but the balance between self-initiated global roles between men and women is 50-50. In other words, women have an appetite for global roles, but may be held back by policies and biases in organisations, even if these are unconsciously implemented. There are also difficulties for couples with dual careers, especially if an employer does not offer support in helping the spouse apply for a visa and find comparable work.

Organisations can help support women’s international careers by:

  • Advocating for policy changes to support visa applications for spouses
  • Increase transparency when choosing candidates for international assignments
  • Recognising that for couples with dual careers, an international assignment can bring tensions around the division of childcare and finding a fulfilling job
  • If one partner cannot find work as a result of relocation, that can put an emotional and financial strain on the family
  • Using the support on the ground from service providers can also be immensely helpful and reassuring to couples and families when they are moving location
  • Vertical segregation means that women tend not to be in the senior jobs from which the candidates for overseas assignments are chosen.

In conclusion

Often there is insufficient support for spouses when relocation is taking place.

Employers need to be transparent about the level of family support they will provide, including help with visa applications.

Organisations could consider providing career support and career counselling to help women push their careers forward.

It can be advantageous for companies to advertise that they want women to take international opportunities because it will widen the diversity pipeline and enhance the reputation and brand.

Pay disparity and pay equality

Women experience pay disparities, requiring advocacy and action. Potential strategies include raising cultural awareness and identifying the skills needed for more senior roles.

Organisations can help support women’s equality in pay by:

  • Recognising the impact of the culture of the organisation and not expecting women to be able to flourish where there is bias and discrimination
  • Signalling the need for coaching and career development for women, but being aware that this will not be enough if those women are being held back by cultural or systemic barriers
  • Educating line managers to support women better and providing coaching and feedback continuously.

In conclusion

Salary transparency is essential to avoid bias and unfair remuneration policies or issues.

Women can set up formal and informal networks to gain the skills they need to raise their profile and ask for promotions and pay increases.

Fair pay is an essential component of a robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy, which is increasingly required from organisations by regulators, laws, stakeholders and investors.

Leadership representation in education

Women are underrepresented in education leadership roles, especially in international settings. Role models, coaching and encouragement are needed to empower girls and young female leaders and help them see that their future could be in a leadership role.

Organisations can help support women’s leadership roles by:

  • Ensuring that education and teacher training promote gender equality and support female leadership development
  • Tailoring strategies such as career coaching to drive forward women’s career advancement
  • Making sure all employees understand how to upskill to adapt to changing work patterns

In conclusion

On a global basis there is a shortage of international female leaders and the education sector is no different. Many organisations are having to recruit internally, which can be good for women, but this does not always provide opportunities to the wider potential pool of international talent.

There are misconceptions about certain jurisdictions and geographies, for example, the Middle East and India, where women’s leadership is advancing, but the perception is that there are limited opportunities for female leaders.

It is important to provide role models for girls in school and at the youngest age. Managers and organisations can “tap women on the shoulder”, encourage younger female leaders to step up, involve girls far more in leadership programmes, and look at teacher education in colleges and universities.

By educating females in the workforce, and encouraging them to strive for female leadership, there will be support for the careers of younger women. For everyone in education, there is a need to drive your career, take responsibility for developing your skillset, and encourage younger women to do the same.

Feedback from facilitated roundtable discussions

We asked delegates to exchange in sights on how international organisations are supporting all employees and particular women, to flourish in the fast-changing global workplace. Also to highlight where women are being let down.

  • Dual Careers
  • Global Mobility
  • Women’s Health and Wellbeing
  • Allyship
  • Education

Questions for the tables:

  • What are the key issues for women?
  • How can these be adressed?

Plus call to action:

Experience the Think Global Women: Inspire Inclusion event held in London for yourself.  Watch the videos as an individual or share with your organisation and stakeholders. Facilitate your own discussions and then share your feedback with us. Your views and allyship will help to accelerate pay parity and promote inclusive workplaces around the world.

This is a summary of the feedback from our roundtable discussions on 8 March. We can’t wait to hear what ideas and action points you suggest for best practice guidelines. or call +44 (0)1892 891334 to discuss how your organisation can get involved.

Video Highlights from Think Global Women 2024

Keynote speaker Joy Burnford

Panel Discussion with Patrizia Kokot-Blamey, Amira Kohler and Marianne Curphey

Round Table discussion