What contributions are women making in the workplace in 2023?
International Women’s Day (IWD) on Wednesday 8th March. The theme this year is #EmbraceEquity. It is a chance to act, and improve opportunities for women in the workplace. After all, equity isn't just a nice-to-have, it's a must-have. Catalyst, a non-profit community for women, found that firms with more women in management positions enjoy 35% more return on equity (ROE) than firms that lack gender diversity.
International Women’s Day also aims to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about discrimination and respect differences.
From tech to business, it’s time to celebrate the impressive progress women at all levels of the career ladder have made.
Where did International Women’s Day start?
The day originated in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City, rallying for voting rights, shorter hours, and better pay. Even before that time, women were making remarkable contributions to the workplace.
The First Woman of Tech
Where better to start than Ada Lovelace? This English mathematician, writer, and Lord Byron's only legitimate child is recognised today for her work in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). She worked alongside Charles Babbage's proposed general-purpose computer. She was the first and, in her time, the only person to see the full potential of Babbage's Analytical Engine to run code. Babbage thought it would be capable of solving equations and doing maths, but she saw that it could perform more complex tasks.
She’s credited for writing the world's first computer algorithm in 1842. Thanks to Ada, the number of developers in the UK private sector has risen by 74,000 in the past three years, according to ONS data in 2021.
Cracking the Enigma Code is one of the nation’s biggest tech success stories. What many don’t know is that 75% of World War Two’s code-breaking operators were women. Estimates show that Bletchley Park was home to 8,000 women. Whilst few females from that era were recognised as cryptanalysts, Bletchley Park’s story still gains momentum, thanks to today’s tech heroines such as software engineer Sue Black.
Wartime Women in Work
During World War One, women worked so that men could enter the Armed Forces. The war created new jobs for women, and factories became the largest employer of women by 1918. They were employed in ‘male’ roles, such as bus conductors, bank clerks, window cleaners, gas fitters, and even the Fire Services!
When World War Two arrived, recruitment drives and campaigns for women began again. In 1941, every woman in Britain aged between 18 and 60 had to register for work. After interviews, they could choose from a range of jobs. Legislation in 1941 made the conscription of women into the workplace legal. Even the Queen - then Princess Elizabeth - trained as a driver and a mechanic. It was women who once again enabled the country to keep on running!
As the service sector emerged and offices replaced factories, more women entered the corporate world, or set up businesses. It has been far from plain sailing. Despite these struggles, women have achieved plenty of success in their careers, becoming Fortune 500 CEOs and even travelling to space!
Findings from Let’s Get Real About Equality: When Women Thrive 2020 Global Report, showed that hiring and promotion rates for women had at last risen to levels comparable to men.
Top Women in Business
IMF research finds that the more women there are in senior managerial and board positions, the more profitable firms are. Top women leading British businesses include:
- Dame Caroline is one of the UK’s most senior businesswomen. She is Chief Executive of ITV, and was previously CEO of EasyJet, where she was one of five female CEOs of an FTSE 100 Index company.
- At 43, Liv Garfield is CEO and Executive Director of Severn Trent PLC. Before joining Severn Trent, Liv was CEO of BT Openreach, where she oversaw the commercial rollout of fibre broadband to two-thirds of the country. Liv started her career as a consultant at Accenture.
- Sue Black is an example of a successful British woman who sees it as her duty to inspire and support other women in following technology careers. Since 2018, she has been a Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University.
There are unique contributions that women bring to the workplace. Female strengths include:
- Different perspectives: Mixed teams mean different points of view and approaches. This can help with creativity and innovation, and help businesses identify new opportunities
- Collaboration: Females in teams can help improve team processes and boost group collaboration.
- Empathy: There is research on women’s empathetic nature, including the ability to understand someone else’s feelings. This makes them better at establishing rapport.
- Communication: Research shows that women have stronger skills in reading non-verbal cues and can therefore communicate better. This can enhance group projects.
- Multi-tasking: It’s not a myth - women are better at multi-tasking, according to a 2013 study in the journal BMC Psychology.
IWD 2023 is a chance to amplify and reinforce the work that is already happening in purpose-driven organisations to identify and respond to bias. Companies are working to #EmbraceEquity - but there is still some way to go. But for now, let’s celebrate the contributions women have brought - and still bring - to the workplace.