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March – and especially March 8 – is a special time for women of the world. It’s a time to unite, take stock, celebrate success and importantly raise and discuss the issues that continue to hold women back, especially in the workplace.

I had the honour of attending a number of events across London, including participating in Cognito’s annual internal gathering. I listened to inspiring stories of women who continue to push through barriers and learned how much more we need to do achieve true equality and equity.

First, let’s look at the data and facts:

  • 50- to 64-year-old women are the fastest growing demographic in the UK
  • It will take 132 years to reach gender parity in the UK – before Covid it was 100 years
  • In London it takes a woman 5.3 years longer than her male counterparts to purchase a property
  • There are nine female CEOs in the FTSE 100 today, with the proportion of women in board roles rising above 40% for the first time
  • 73% of PR managers are female
  • Iceland was the first country to make the gender pay gap illegal yet in the UK the pay gap widened by 2.4% in 2021

So how can we bring about change, revitalise and mostly importantly, keep up the momentum?   

Encourage and invite men in the discussion – it’s critically important to have men in the room – people with privilege can make change happen. The big step change that I saw this year was the participation and involvement of men in the conversation. As Sheryl Sandberg said: "The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry.”

Step up and be better allies – how can we do this?  It starts with listening. Once we have listened, we can then think about what to do. Allies should be active, visible and take action. This is how we can make change happen.

Put better and more flexible working in place to support women – the lack of affordable childcare for working parents continues, with little or no incentive for working mothers to return to work. Employers need to encourage men to take shared parental and offer more flexible working. At Cognito for example, we increased paternity leave by two weeks in the UK; a small step that recognises the importance of family friendly policies.

Continue to engage and educate – the first step is to have the conversation and don’t be scared to get it wrong. Develop great self-awareness, not just your EQ (emotional intelligence) but also your CQ, culture intelligence.  Fundamentally humans are kind and people have positive intent, but sometimes the communication goes wrong. Be open to feedback and learn. 

There is hope – it’s not perfect but we are heading in the right direction. We are seeing progress; I’m encouraged to see more research and more forward thinking from employers. Let’s keep going and all play a role in embracing equality and equity.

“Be the one that does good and do something”

Yvonne Maher is the managing director of Cognito’s London office