Last weekend, I took my step daughter Sophie to see a Spice Girls tribute act; as cheesy as that sounds we had a brilliant time! But whilst we were singing and dancing to our favourite songs, I reflected on the legacy that they had created, I was surrounded by women who were empowered and could be whoever they wanted to be.
Thinking about it really took me back to the early days in my HR career, I worked with mainly all female teams until I was offered a position in the transport industry and with gender equality being front page news, I thought that it is time to address what this actually looks like in male dominated workplaces.
It is established that organisations with female representation on their board of directors deliver a 36 per cent better return on equity than businesses with fewer women. It is also recognised that gender diversity is a necessary business issue and a missed opportunity for the UK economy.
My HR career break came when I entered the transport industry working for Circle Express, whilst it was mainly men I worked with, they respected my suggestions for the business and embraced HR as it was regarded as an essential function. Don’t get me wrong, it was not all plain sailing; being a very reactive industry, you could never entirely prepare for everything which supported my personal development in many ways, it just depends how you choose to react and respond to those situations.
I also think it is important to highlight that it is not a one-sided issue, there is a genuine need for women to enter into professions that were previously seen as male dominated. It is no secret that there are skills shortages not just within the transport industry, but it is also prominent in construction, technology, manufacturing and engineering, so it is no surprise that recruitment and retention remains one of the biggest challenges for these industries.
There are a whole host of other factors to consider, such as the impact on these organisations in respect of employment law; with sexual harassment being the current topic of conversation, could this potentially put organisations off from employing women for fear of being politically incorrect? Whilst we all know that this is not only wrong it is obviously illegal, but consideration has to be given that these industries have sometimes operated in the same way for over 50 years, so there is an element of adapting their business practices and culture to ensure they don’t fall short of the law.
Another aspect is suitability of the position during the employee lifecycle; for example if you have a female labourer working on a building site who then becomes pregnant, the employer must exercise duty of care to that employee but must also think about the legal position of the organisation. There is an emphasis upon having adequate health and safety support, but also having adaptable succession planning mechanisms in place to prepare for such situations.
Training has a significant part to transforming these perceptions on all sides; I’m not just talking about a one day workshop or a toolkit that sits on a shelf gathering dust, this runs so much deeper than that.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with hosting Equality and Diversity training, or revising the policy library (in fact I would highly recommend both of these elements). The key to beating the bias is to get into the education system, by supporting career choices for young people is not just essential for organisations, it’s fundamental to the UK economy. Without bricklayers, there would be no new homes for the growing population and without HGV drivers, the distribution system would collapse.
The assumption is that these industries are noisy and boisterous, but in some places, this couldn’t be further from the truth; my experience at Circle Express paved the way for the career I enjoy today. It was my first exposure to working with a board of directors and I was supported and encouraged by all of them, which enabled me to confidently gain the respect of the employees and work with them to avoid the typical “them and us” culture that HR can sometimes encounter.
Whilst I could write a novel on this subject; I believe there is a wealth of opportunity for women to create a successful career within male dominated environments.
Are you a woman working in any of these mentioned environments? If so what are your thoughts on this subject?