A challenge for Gibraltar
By Fiona Young
International Women’s Day is a well-established day on the Gibraltar corporate calendar, marked by dinners, panel discussions and conferences. This year a number of online events have been arranged by a variety of organisations, who discussed the topic #choosetochallenge.
The dialogue in Gibraltar is always positive, supportive and forward facing with lots of professional women and men taking the opportunity to explain the reasons why gender equality is so crucial and beneficial for society and businesses, if a little disappointed as to why we still need to have the conversations and raise the awareness each year.
The conclusion from IWD events each year is the same.
There is absolutely no reason whatsoever in 2021 why women cannot be given equal status, equal opportunities, equal career development or equal respect to that their male counterparts receive in the workplace.
Additionally, studies are showing that organisations with greater representation of women in leadership positions do better economically and in terms of staff productivity and wellbeing than those led entirely by men.
New research has shown that women leaders performed better during the Covid crisis than their male counterparts, demonstrating that strong female traits such as empathy enabled these leaders to quickly garner a clear understanding of fears their people might be feeling, leading to policy dictated by concern for well-being, which led to greater confidence in the strict plans they quickly put into place.
However, and quite worryingly, women are still experiencing inappropriate and discriminatory behaviour in the workplace based on their biological function (being made redundant while or following maternity leave), physical appearance (objectification) or age (involuntary redundancy or retirement).
These remain regular issues occurring in Gibraltar workplaces, with cases reaching tribunals if not settled beforehand which costs employers both legal fees, time and often lowers remaining staff morale.
Unfortunately, it is often the failure of employers to uphold the right standards and eradicate inappropriate processes and behaviours that leads to cases reaching tribunals.
An employer should not need a tribunal to determine what is and isn’t disrespectful inappropriate or simply discriminatory behaviour between male supervisors and female staff, a male culture and a female work force.
Management and corporate culture, in 2021, should leave no room for doubt as to what is and what isn’t acceptable between colleagues, it should not take a tribunal to have to remind them of established law.
Corporate acceptance, or ignorance, of discriminatory behaviour and practice needs to be challenged.
Take objectification, just look at this this in a different way. Rather than judge the woman on her immediate or delayed reaction to unwelcome comments, let’s look at how we judge a man for making them in the first place.
In 2021 there is no other way to talk to colleagues than professionally and appropriately.
The reason is not just because HR departments and managers have a legal responsibility towards the wellbeing and dignity of their staff, which includes ensuring that staff behave professionally and respectfully towards each other at all times. It is because it is the right thing to do.
Whether someone complains or not: a male employee who is heard to be objectifying women should be asked to stop. Anyone who finds it inappropriate can and should do so.
Objectification of women in this way is yet another way of dis-empowering them, perhaps unconsciously, but yet another example of the glass walls and ceilings that are placed around women, making career development a life-long obstacle course.
It is not office banter and it is usually not consensual, it is “put up with” because either we tend to be so surprised and shocked that someone has actually spoken to us in that way that we don’t quite know how to react, or because women have been conditioned to “put up with” this kind of behaviour for centuries, for fear of losing a job or the opportunity to advance.
Unless we change the outdated assumptions and stereotypical views that still exist about women and the roles that women can take in the workplace we are not going to move forwards.
This means that many of the economic issues that drain money from Government treasuries such as mental health issues, long term sickness, insolvencies and even family break up will not be addressed in a balanced way without a diversity of experience and knowledge being applied.
Women are not the magic wand that will fix broken societies but studies are showing that by giving women greater representation in society and in the workplace, new and innovative solutions are offered up presenting greater opportunity for development and change.
As the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg said “Our system of justice is surely richer for the diversity of background and experience of its judge. It was poorer when nearly all of its participants were cut from the same mold”. This is true for all sectors.
This year I challenge male business leaders to look to their female employees and give them real opportunities to take their rightful place by your sides.
Fiona Young is a GFSB Board member and a member of the policy committee Women in Enterprise (formerly Women in Business); Consultant at Ince, specialising in Employment Law and Tribunal Mediator.