Mishcon Women’s Forum: International Women’s Day 2016

What would the working world be like if it was started by women?’

This was one of the many questions Chief Financial Officer at British Land, Lucinda Bell, reflected on at Mishcon de Reya’s Women’s Forum on Tuesday evening, held to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016. Addressing ‘Pledge for Parity’, the theme of IWD this year, Bell discussed the broad spectrum of issues facing women today with Mishcon de Reya’s Director of External Affairs, Lisa Tremble.

The event was held in partnership with MicroLoan Foundation – an organisation that helps some of the poorest women in the world by providing small loans and ongoing business training and support, introduced to the firm by Mishcon de Reya Managing Associate, Dina Shiloh, who is a trustee.

The well-known gender pay gap still eludes us, and it appears it will for many years to come. The IWD website highlights that in 2015, The World Economic Forum estimated that the gender gap will not close entirely until 2133. Quite remarkable considering the pay gap does not currently exist between the 20 – 30 age group. And yet, Bell pointed out, when women make it to the top, they often really make it, as Angela Ahrendts demonstrated when she was the UK’s highest-paid CEO as head of Burberry.

It is broadly accepted that the career break – often necessary to care for a baby – is one of the factors that significantly hampers women’s pay. Whilst the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and the increasing adoption of flexible working practices by many companies is undoubtedly a step forward, Bell identified that there is ultimately a ‘total workload issue’ – something which flexible working cannot resolve. So, it’s with this in mind that we ask not just what women can do to make a difference to themselves and others, but how can their companies support them? And how can men make a difference? Because diversity statistics show that gender equality pays. For everybody.

The chance for women to turn situations that are potentially detrimental to their career progression into opportunities was a big theme in the discussion. Time out of work for whatever reason is a chance to reflect, and to reach out to networks, which can be underestimated as a career propelling resource. Returning to work with new perspective can inspire individuals to drive their careers forward – securing promotions in their existing firm, as Bell did, or having the incentive to take a better job elsewhere.

Bell stressed that it is the responsibility of businesses to address unconscious bias when hiring and promoting individuals – something for which there is training available. And gender pay gap disclosure, she believes, is a positive move towards equal pay because it will inevitably raise awareness.

Men can have a critical role in enabling the professional liberation of many women. It’s a matter of tackling inequality as a team. For an opposite sex couple with children, for example, having open discussions about whose career will take priority at which time and planning ahead can reduce the chance of one person’s career being side-lined. This is of course true of same sex couples too.

It is also important to remember, emphasised Bell, that it’s not just about equal pay, it’s about equivalent pay: being fairly rewarded for the job that an individual does and the amount of time it realistically takes to do it. There is scope for many women to be more upfront about their expectations about their pay, and to resist a common tenancy to downplay their value. The time someone spends at their desk has, in many cases, previously led to greater recognition. However the reality is that now more and more women work around the clock unseen from their homes to juggle a relentless workload and increased personal responsibility.

It remains to be seen whether, if each individual enforces equality wherever they can, it may be achieved inside – rather than outside – the next 100 years.

To find out more about MicroLoan Foundation, click here.