International Women’s Day – a Xennials perspective in the UK

Today is International Women’s Day, and it also happens to be the birthday of our Head of Marketing, Sophie Temple! Take a look at Sophie’s blog post as she shares her thoughts on the importance of sharing this date with the women’s rights movement, offering a unique Xennial perspective.

Today is my 40th birthday; although it’s hard to accept this milestone, I’m also grateful to have been part of this rapidly changing world of women’s rights.

This article focuses primarily on women in the workplace in the UK. I also asked a few women in the office who are young millennials and gen z their perspectives and experiences.

What is International Women’s Day? 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global observance held on March 8th each year, celebrating the achievements and contributions of women throughout history. It also serves as a platform to raise awareness about gender inequality and advocate for women’s rights.

The origins of International Women’s Day can be traced back to the early 20th century. The first National Women’s Day was organised by the Socialist movement in the United States on February 28, 1909. The idea gained international prominence at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910. Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day to be celebrated on the same day across the world to advocate for women’s rights, suffrage, and better working conditions.

In several European countries, the first official International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911. However, the date was later standardised to March 8th, and it has been observed globally on this day since 1913.

The day’s historical roots are closely linked to the labour and socialist movements, with an initial focus on women’s rights, particularly in the workplace. Over the years, it has evolved into a broader celebration encompassing various aspects of women’s achievements while serving as a platform to address ongoing challenges and advocate for gender equality. International Women’s Day is marked by events, rallies, and initiatives worldwide, emphasising the importance of empowering women and promoting their equal participation in all aspects of society.

How far have women’s rights come in the UK in the last 100 years?

Over the last 100 years, the United Kingdom has seen significant progress in women’s rights, marked by legislative changes, social shifts, and increased awareness of gender equality. Some key milestones include:

  • Women’s Suffrage: The suffragette movement fought for women’s right to vote, and the Representation of the People Act in 1918 granted voting rights to certain women over the age of 30. Voting was expanded to include all women over 21 in 1928.
  • Equal Pay: The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 to eliminate pay discrimination between men and women doing the same work. However, the gender pay gap still persists, and efforts continue to address this issue.
  • Sex Discrimination Act: Enacted in 1975, this legislation made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex or marital status in employment, education, and training.
  • Maternity Rights: Maternity leave and pay provisions have improved over the years to support working mothers. The Employment Rights Act 1996 and subsequent amendments expanded maternity rights, allowing for longer leave and better benefits.
  • Domestic Violence Laws: Legal frameworks addressing domestic violence have been strengthened over time, providing better protection and support for victims.
  • Representation: There has been a gradual increase in the representation of women in politics, business, and other leadership roles. Efforts are ongoing to achieve greater gender diversity in various sectors.
  • Women in the Military: Restrictions on women serving in the military were lifted in the late 20th century, allowing them to participate in a wider range of roles.

Despite these advancements, challenges persist. Issues such as the gender pay gap, the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, and gender-based violence continue to be areas of concern. Ongoing efforts include awareness campaigns, policy changes, and initiatives to promote gender equality in all aspects of society.

It’s important to note that progress varies across different areas and communities, and the work toward achieving full gender equality is an ongoing process. While strides have been made, there is still work to be done to address existing disparities and challenges.

My Career Journey as an Xennial

Gender Roles and Early Child Development

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I had the most popular toys like My Little Pony, Care Bears, Barbies, Sylvanian Families and Tamagotchis. While most boys had He-Man, Action Man, Transformers, Lego, Remote Controlled Cars, Meccano, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and Game Boys. Being an only child meant I was encouraged to draw and play with Lego and I did have a Game Boy. Sadly, the majority of parents back then were reinforcing gender stereotypes to children without even realising it.

It’s heartening to hear that some younger women in the office (young millennials or Gen Z) didn’t encounter the same gender biases as I did, being exposed to a variety of toys. However, it was evident that some thought they were given toys based on their gender, indicating the persistence of stereotypes in the 2000s.

Growing Up and Early Career Development

Upon learning my father was to become a parent, he envisioned having a son to carry on his legacy, even selecting the name ‘James’. I can picture his excitement at the thought of father-son bonding activities. However, fate had other plans, and a daughter was born. Imagine his delight when I, attending an all-girls school, enthusiastically pursued woodwork. His joy was palpable as he gifted me a workbench and a complete set of tools for my 12th birthday. 

Traditional Careers and Sexual Discrimination

As I was finishing school in 2000, I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. Although the 1980s marked the era of the “dual-income household”, only about 40-50% of mothers were working; my mother was a traditional housewife. She did what many women did: typing and secretarial classes and administrative support before becoming a stay-at-home mother. 

Because my father worked in construction and had encouraged me growing up, there was a moment when I considered becoming a tradesperson. In the early 2000s, women represented about 12% (now 16% in 2023) of the construction workforce, but there was a lot of sexism in that particular industry then, so I decided against it. According to one survey, 45% of female construction workers have had to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace; this was a study in 2022!! 

I also considered joining the army or navy (11.5% women in 2023, goal of 30%  by 2030 (source)), as I felt I could be better applied doing something practical. Still, the same thing happened there; I didn’t want to have to deal with working in an environment where I wouldn’t feel safe. I still ended up doing something dominated by men, a GNVQ at college in IT, where I was the only girl out of 60 students. I also went on to work in kitchens at pubs while studying, which was also male-dominated (as of 2017, only 17% of chef positions were held by women (source). I just never fancied waitressing or working in a shop, which I guess was a more female-dominated environment. Since then, I have worked in the world of tech in Marketing!

After chatting with the young millennials and Gen Z women in the office, it’s nice to learn that many of them have never felt constrained by their gender when it comes to their careers. They haven’t experienced hindrances in pursuing their desired career paths due to concerns about sexism or lack of acceptance.

In my personal life, I have also challenged what is traditionally expected of women. I have never desired to have children. If I did, my partner would be supportive and progressive enough to share leave. And I have had a keen interest in more male-dominated activities: sailing (around ⅓ women), cycling (around 20% women), architecture and engineering.

Was it the early years of encouragement I got from my father that made me this way? Maybe! 

Sexual Harassment and Working Practices

It’s not been all plane sailing! I remember one admin temp role at a bank I worked at in my 20s, where I ended up in a strip bar with colleagues; this was quite common back then and seen as acceptable. I also had to ward off advances from men at a time when women were blamed and told “we were asking for it” for what we wore. Worse, in my late teens and early 20s, on nights out, I was a victim of sexual assault on at least two occasions; sadly, this is all too common for most women, as proven by the #MeToo movement.

It’s reassuring that my colleagues in the office haven’t faced sexual harassment in the workplace. Sadly, one of them has experienced it outside the workplace. Although still a work in progress, the transformations and shifts in the last two decades provide optimism for a more diverse and fair workplace environment.

The World of Work for Millenials, Zennials and Gen Z

Over the last 20 years, the UK has seen several significant changes and movements that have driven positive change for equality, diversity, and professionalism in the workplace. Some key factors include:

  1. Equality Act 2010: The Equality Act 2010, which came into force in the UK, consolidated and strengthened previous anti-discrimination laws. It provides a comprehensive framework for addressing discrimination based on various characteristics, including age, disability, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Many organisations in the UK have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives, recognising the benefits of having diverse teams. These initiatives include targeted recruitment efforts, unconscious bias training, and the creation of employee resource groups to support underrepresented groups.
  3. Gender Pay Gap Reporting: The introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting in 2017 requires companies with over 250 employees to disclose information about the pay gap between male and female employees. This initiative aims to increase transparency and accountability regarding gender pay disparities.
  4. Flexible Working Policies: Promoting flexible working arrangements, including remote work, has become more common. This shift allows employees to better balance work and personal life responsibilities and contributes to greater inclusivity.
  5. Mental Health Awareness: There has been an increased focus on mental health in the workplace. UK employers recognise the importance of addressing mental health issues, promoting well-being, and reducing stigma through awareness campaigns and support programs.
  6. Increased Representation in Leadership: Efforts have been made to increase diversity in leadership positions. Companies recognise the importance of diverse leadership teams to reflect the broader workforce and provide varied perspectives.
  7. Corporate Governance Reforms: Changes in corporate governance principles have emphasised the importance of diversity on boards. Some organisations have adopted recommendations encouraging greater gender and ethnic diversity in board appointments.
  8. Social Movements and Activism: Social movements and activism around issues such as gender equality, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights have influenced public discourse and expectations. These movements contribute to shaping workplace policies and practices.
  9. Educational Initiatives: Educational institutions and training programs have emphasised diversity and inclusion education more. This includes raising awareness about unconscious bias and fostering a more inclusive learning environment.
  10. Me Too Movement Impact: The global Me Too movement, which gained momentum in the late 2010s, has raised awareness about workplace harassment and misconduct. It has prompted discussions about power dynamics, inappropriate behaviour, and the need for cultural shifts.
  11. Revev

While these changes represent positive steps, there is ongoing work to further advance equality and diversity in the UK workplace. Continued efforts, including legislative measures, corporate initiatives, and societal awareness, are essential to create more inclusive and equitable working environments.

The Future of women in business

To end on a positive note on International Women’s Day, it was great to see the UK government’s decision to lower the income threshold for angel investors from £170,000 to £100,000. This is a crucial step, especially considering the fact that only 72,500 women in the UK earn over £170,000. 

This policy change is a step towards gender equality and diversity in the business sector, opening doors for more women to shape the future of innovation and entrepreneurship.

As we celebrate this progress, let’s remember our collective responsibility to strive for true gender equality and diversity in business. Here’s to a brighter, more diverse tomorrow.

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