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International Women's Day: Are you feeling 'good as hell'?

08 Mar 2020  |  Helen Rose 
International Women's Day: Are you feeling 'good as hell'?

the7stars' Helen Rose shares findings from a new study looking at the enablers and obstacles to creating a great place to work - with a focus on women versus men

It’s 2020 and we’re not short of empowering and remarkable female role models.  Now that’s something worth celebrating this International Women's Day.  Whether your preferred female motivational hero is Sheryl Sandberg or the Spice Girls, this recent quote from Lizzo hits home for me - “You are capable.  You deserve to feel good as hell, if I can make it, I know you can make it.  We can make it together.”

As a Sunday Times top 100 best companies to work for for eight years running, we’re constantly aiming to improve our understanding of what makes not just a great employer, but a progressive place to work - one where women and men feel they can make it and help colleagues to do the same.

In our latest research in partnership with OnePulse, which surveyed 2,000 adults in full time employment, we wanted to explore some of the enablers and obstacles to creating a great place to work, with a focus on what differences, if any, there are for women versus men.

Our findings around pay and promotion are really interesting:  We discovered that both men and women find asking for a promotion really tough. When asked which topics they felt most uncomfortable talking about at work, 48.8% of women said asking for a pay rise made them uncomfortable compared with 39.9% of men. This made asking for more money one of the most difficults topic to raise at work, ahead of other taboo subjects of conversation such as how much sex they are having (46.3% of women found this difficult compared with 37% of men), or taking drugs (a no-go area for 25.1% of women compared to 22% of men).

Asking for promotion is another massive taboo for both sexes. Some 41.3% of women and 33.5 % of men find it  an uncomfortable conversation - both women and men find it easier to talk about taking drugs.

Our findings revealed women in particular citing a desire for ‘open and honest’ work environments along with normalised opportunities where conversations around pay and promotions could be raised for discussion, rather than formal or just once a year review meetings which were felt to be ‘intimidating.’

the7stars has identified four ways to translate these findings into creating more progressive working environments for everyone – especially women.

Encourage an open working environment

Formal structures and processes for requesting a pay rise or a promotion can disadvantage women by making them feel they have to make a convincing case for a promotion rather than trusting colleagues to notice their achievements and put them forward for promotion.

Creating a more open working environment  involves removing these formal processes, allowing collaborative conversations about money and career progress that can be tailored to individual needs and take place via more informal check-ins. An important first step to creating a more open environment is to get rid of physical barriers such as offices.  At the7stars, the office is completely open plan and everyone hot desks, which we believe allows closer integration and greater collaboration across teams at all levels in the company.

Ditch job titles

Whether it’s “Innovation Sherpa” or “Head of Events,” fewer aspects of workplace life are more divisive  than job titles. Recent advice  from LinkedIn warned against using terms in job descriptions such as ‘Ninja’ or ‘Rock Star’ as they can be alienating to women.

At worst, job titles draw boundaries, limit productivity and put a misplaced focus on individual rather than group achievement. Ditching them helps to create a culture that is less competitive with a greater emphasis on collaboration, teamwork, personal creativity and innovation. Conversations about career development become less focussed on moving up a hierarchy and more about continuous learning, acquiring new skills, greater responsibilities and a broader range of experience. Discussions about money then start to pivot around the right reward for people taking on more responsibility, or growing their skills, rather than being tethered to a job title or pay grade.

A workplace free of job titles also helps to reduce the sense there is a glass ceiling – something that 45% of both the women and men we surveyed felt they had been negatively impacted by. It also helps empower women by instilling greater confidence that they can progress more quickly and not feel restricted by a job title’s particular parameters.

Create female role models

With women vastly underrepresented at senior levels within companies the world over - the global average of women on boards is currently 20.6% - we lack sufficient examples of women who have forged their way to the top to be inspired by, learn from and ask questions of. For example: “how did you get the courage to ask for that promotion or pay rise?”

At the7stars, 50% of leadership roles are filled by women - compared to the UK norm of 30% of women on boards. What’s more, some of our senior women also have flexible working arrangements, whether that’s to support their family life as a working parent or to assist them with an entrepreneurial side hustle outside of work. And a significant proportion of women in our senior team have grown into leadership roles over a period of time – some even started out at the agency as graduates.

Axe outdated recruitment jargon

Legislation around equal opportunities does its best to ensure the recruitment process is a fair one.  Even so, 60% of businesses showed significant male bias in the wording of their job adverts according to recent research from job search engine Adzuna. Furthermore, women are known to often be put off from applying for a role if they don’t feel they meet every requirement – a behaviour less prevalent among men. In fact, according to recent data analysis by LinkedIn women are 16% less likely than men to apply for a job after viewing it for fear they don’t meet every requirement.

This makes it really important that the content and sentiment of job descriptions don’t subtly deter women from applying for roles. Watch for phrases which could convey overtly male-skewing values such as ‘hungry’, ‘go-getting’ and ‘results-driven’. Some 44% of women would be discouraged from applying for a job if the description used the word ‘aggressive’, according to LinkedIn’s recent Language Matters Report. So companies need to actively make job postings more inclusive.

A more progressive workplace comes from being more open, transparent and inclusive. And greater openness at work helps create an environment in which all workers – but women, especially – can ask freely and without fear about promotions, pay rises and how much money they earn compared to colleagues carrying out equivalent roles.

As Lizzo would say - you deserve to feel good as hell, have a great day.

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07 Apr 2020 

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