Women have reportedly been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; almost twice as likely as men to lose their jobs through the crisis – and the ripple effects this may have on gender equality in the workplace could be felt for generations.
As a direct result, Milton Keynes Council have pledged to invest almost £250,000 in programmes dedicated to supporting getting women back into the workplace.
One of the beneficiaries of this funding is Women Leaders, who have, together with award-winning global diversity and inclusion strategist, Gamiel Yafai, developed an Allyship Programme which will be delivered to businesses across Milton Keynes.
Speaking to Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership (MKBLP) ahead of the launch of the Allyship Programme in two weeks’ time, Gamiel, together with Women Leaders’ Trustee & Vice Chair, Ruby Parmar, highlighted how the programme’s objective is to increase gender parity in the workforce.
“We’re still not developing women and attracting them at top level. We’re talking about an equal playing field here – it’s about the level of support that people need. The conversations have moved from the ‘why’ to the ‘how’. We need to shift mindsets, change cultures and create an environment which is conducive to the needs of everyone.”
The Allyship Programme is set to help organisations put procedures into place which mitigates unconscious micro inequalities, focusing on the challenges women experience in the workplace: “Most organisations can reveal the gender split but won’t be able to tell you why women aren’t getting to the top.”
Through the programme, business leaders will position themselves on a scale of 1 to 6 – where their business is in terms of support, recruitment and the development and promotion of women, and where they want to get to on the scale – with steps to help them get there.
As a result of MK Council’s funding, the Allyship Programme is free to attend, with a capacity for up to 30 Milton Keynes organisations to benefit from the 2–3 hour sessions, which are tailored to meet the specific needs of each business. Dedicated SME workshops will also be held for small businesses who could benefit from a group session: “Our aim is to impact, inform and help shape recruitment and promotion processes to make more inclusive workplaces.”
Both Ruby and Gamiel were keen to stress that the programme was not just a one-off opportunity: “Our aim is to help businesses identify individuals within an organisation who can be allies, champions within their companies, and we will connect each of them to forge a network of around 20 allies throughout Milton Keynes who can learn from each other.”
While the ally will work to create an inclusive eco-system where equality is spoken about every single day with their organisation, it is the business leaders who are being called upon to participate in the programme itself: “This is the level where change happens. If leaders buy into it – that will lead to cultural change.”
At a time when the UK has, according to The Global Gender Gap report 2020, fallen six places down the global rankings for gender equality, the discussion turned to the hidden culture within companies which is often experienced by women, and why this occurs: “Our unconscious biases are key – they are undeniable and inherent. Research shows that the five most important people in our lives are similar to us, in terms of education, networks and friendships. Our biases contribute to who we employ, develop, and promote, and they showcase themselves in micro inequality.”
The Allyship Programme is set to help organisations identify these hidden workplace cultures and create an environment which is open: “Sometimes uncomfortable conversations need to happen to change the narrative.” Gamiel provided an example of an Investment Bank who thought they had created a homogeneous work environment – until focus groups with employees revealed otherwise.
“Lots of people talk a good game but they don’t actually deliver, it’s just smoke and mirrors. Any organisation that wants to grow and develop has to maximise its people, and what we’re offering them is an opportunity to focus on the gender which exists within their organisation and what they can do to contribute to the success of it.”
Progress has, of course, been made in recent years, the news just this week that the FA has employed its first female chair is testament to this but, as Gamiel pointed out, it’s not just levelling the playing field, it’s raising awareness that it doesn’t matter who works within the organisations – it’s ensuring that the potential is being tapped into.
For further information of the Allyship Programme visit https://www.womenleadersuk.org/allyship/