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International Women’s Day

Today marks International Women’s Day and as we take the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of women we still need to recognise the continuing challenges women face in the workforce.

As a firm we are proud that we can say we have a large proportion of women at every level of our organisation. As employment and immigration lawyers advising businesses and individuals we are also acutely aware of the challenges faced by women where legal frameworks and social conventions still present obstacles to women achieving success in the workplace.

Focus has been previously placed on more tangible disadvantages faced by women such as equal pay and one cannot dispute the progress that has been made towards equality in the workplace. However, there is also now thankfully an increasing awareness of the wider disparities affecting women that can hamper true equality.

The Motherhood Penalty

The “motherhood penalty” refers to the additional burden placed on working mothers when compared to their male counterparts. Campaigning groups highlight numerous factors that create this disadvantage including the often prohibitive rising cost of childcare, that women are more likely to work part time compared to men, as well as the more intangible “mental load” that women typically take on as parents.

You can take away from this is that women are great multi-taskers – but that begs the question of why there remains a disproportionate number of men in the upper echelons of organisations (including government).

The question we should all be asking is what more can be done?

There is certainly pressure on the government to provide more support with childcare costs which has no doubt had an impact on the upcoming roll out of additional free childcare hours for working parents.

There has also been a greater focus on shared parental leave and better statutory paternity leave entitlements which will hopefully go some way to redress the imbalance.  But there is so much more that employers can do, including:

  • supporting working mothers by properly considering flexible working requests from men and from women;
  • ensuring policies are up to date and all employees are aware of their entitlements to take leave when they become parents so that when men wish to take more parental leave they feel supported to do so.


There has been significant recent focus on the impact that the symptoms of menopause can have on women and how this can affect their work – including the government’s consultation as to whether menopause should be a protected characteristic for the purposes of discrimination legislation.

Whilst the government decided against including menopause as a standalone protected characteristic, the debate has called into focus something that has been largely unspoken or ignored for so long and brought attention to the wide range and severity of symptoms women can suffer from. For example, symptoms ranging from debilitating brain fog to the perhaps more the commonly associated symptom of hot flushes.

Thankfully the increased focus on something that impacts 50% of the population has also created an environment where employers can feel more confident when having conversations with employees and employees feel more empowered to ask for their situation to be supported.  Not every woman will have the same experience but at least now it is now common practice to have a menopause policy outlining support that can be accessed and creating awareness for both managers and employees of the impact the menopause may have.


Whilst we have moved on somewhat from the initial vocal days of the #metoo movement, there   remains far too many instances of women being subjected to harassment or discriminatory treatment in workplaces whether as a result of biased practices or sexist remarks born from outdated stereotypes. Every woman will have a host of tales – as one client commented far too recently “it hasn’t gone away, it’s just quieter and less obvious”.

Final comments

If you want to do more, do more…

  • recognise unique women’s health issues and take steps to provide support (even if that is hygiene products in bathrooms, which used to be commonplace but seem to have disappeared);
  • ensure open dialogue about career aspirations and promotion pathways – recognising that women are less likely than men to ask for pay rises and promotions or to properly take credit for their own work;
  • provide training on unconscious bias to try and counter stereotypes such as “assertive men” v “aggressive women”;
  • think about challenges within your organisation that may be an unseen barrier that holds women back;
  • ensure that there are women at all levels of the business, and particularly senior ones, with voices that can have an impact in the decision-making process. As our article last year commented (although not in so many words) if women are not involved in decision making processes the decisions taken may not properly consider the impact of those decisions on women. International Women’s Day – Magrath : Magrath
  • ensure appropriate policies are in place to highlight and mitigate any women specific issues or disadvantages;
  • create an environment of support where women feel they can speak up if they want to raise a concern;
  • be aware of practices and biases which could be discriminatory or put women at a disadvantage.

Finally, we started this article with the promise of celebrating women’s achievements as well as pointing out the challenges they face so we decided to finish on an inspirational note. Lady Hale, the first female president of the Supreme Court once made the following comments when discussing her career:

“I have indeed, on the whole, forged ahead with what I wanted to do or what other people wanted me to do, irrespective of obstacles, criticisms, denigration, sexist remarks or whatever was going on. Sometimes I knew what they were. Most of the time I didn’t know what they were. But in any event, it wouldn’t have stopped me doing whatever it was I thought I ought to be doing”.

Well said Lady Hale, well said!

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