In late 2019 Spinnaker contributed evidence to a report for the Women and Work all party parliamentary group (APPG) on inclusivity and intersectionality in the workplace, which has recently been published by its co-chairs, Gillian Keegan MP and Jess Phillips MP.
The purpose of this report is to highlight that women are not a single homogenous group, but rather have many identity intersections. Women experience the workplace differently through various factors.
When you hear the word ‘diversity’ it’s easy to think initially in terms of race and gender, but intersectionality in the workplace, based on a theory first coined by the academic Kimberlé Crenshaw, shows that overlapping social identity categories extend to include socio-economic status, class, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and so on. To think of women as a simple group based on gender can be misleading.
Acknowledging these factors enables employers to build a fully diverse workforce which supports and empowers all women. The APPG aims to assist employers and key decision makers ensure that greater efforts are made to recognise the differing identities of women in their workforces.
Perceived gender roles
Something the report highlighted and stood out to Spinnaker, who have been maritime people experts since 1997, was that the government needs to ensure that young women are pursuing careers based on what’s available in the labour market, and not on perceived gender roles. Quality career guidance should be available in schools, particularly for those thriving in STEM subjects or who may be interested in a traditionally male dominated career such as the maritime industry.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), of which Spinnaker is a member, has found that the construction and rail industry has one of the lowest entry rates for women. Women make up 14% of the workforce, but in order to keep up with demands, the Construction Skills Network estimates that 36,000 new workers are needed a year.
Construction companies are working to include images of women in their recruitment and marketing methods – something we have seen beginning in our own maritime industry – to challenge the industry’s image and create a positive narrative about women within construction.
Studies have shown that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, and also more likely to be underemployed or in low paid jobs. Women are more likely to be in lower paid occupations (certainly in the maritime industry women definitely are more likely to be in support roles and therefore lower paid) –so the challenge for disabled women is even greater.
By excluding disabled people from the workplace, companies miss out on valuable staff. The way we work is very traditional: 9-5, in the office 5 days a week, but things are changing. Employers are becoming much more flexible with hours and work spaces. According to the government, 1.3million people in the UK work from home. Flexible working has also become increasingly popular, including job sharing, remote working and accommodating people’s needs, which helps those with disabilities along with those looking to improve their work life balance.
Allies and advocates
Allyship is best practice in the workplace: eg. white women can be allies to BAME women, men can be allies to women, cisgender women can be allies to members to trans communities etc. Creating a culture of allyship within the workplace can help change take place. Allies can help promote the visibility of their colleagues from underrepresented groups.
Companies often have a presence at LGBTQ+ Pride events, which is highly positive. But organisations should have a consistent approach to ensure that LGBTQ+ employees are supported in their workplace every day of the year.
Diversity policies can help with this, supporting the fact that LGBTQ+ employees are also protected by law. Employers have a responsibility to call out and correct any homophobic language or behaviour; the same goes for any racist or sexist remarks.
There can be untapped potential from marginalised members of a company’s workforce and these measures ensure that an inclusive culture can benefit all employees.
Looking at allyship in maritime, in a 2019 podcast from Nautilus International, deck officer Sarah Stevens said that while gay people have always been at sea they have often had to ‘hide amongst the system’.
‘What we have now is more of an open workplace, where you can be yourself,’ she said, while acknowledging that more needs to be done to support LGBTQ+ people at sea.
Mental health in the workplace
Women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety disorder along with work related stresses and depression. Employer attitudes towards mental health still show a negativity and stigma, so a supportive workplace culture is incredibly important.
Employers should set up robust practices in place to tackle sexism and bullying as well as recognising the warning signs of deteriorating mental health. Again flexible working can be a factor in helping employees feel less stressed within the workplace, allowing them to work around their responsibilities and needs.
The Mental Health Foundation has encouraged an email-free zone between 7pm and 7am to encourage employees to have a good work life balance and be able to switch off from work while at home in the evenings.
A supportive workplace culture can help those suffering from ill health stay in work, and get guidance and support from their employers.
As quoted in the APPG’s report, Georgia Webb of the Young Women’s Trust Advisory Panel succinctly puts it, you want people to be “treated as a person first and an employee second.”
The Women and Work APPG has also published an employer toolkit to help organisations understand what they can do to recognise the differing identities of women in their workforce and ensure that diversity and inclusion policies acknowledge that one woman’s experience can differ from another’s.
Spinnaker will be showcasing these top tips on intersectionality and inclusivity in the workplace in our next blog in March 2020.