We at the Bristol Women in Business Charter have been focusing on Intersectionality and how its implementation into business strategy does far more for inclusion practices - Sign up to our event
We want to begin with introducing the term and idea of intersectionality for business practise.
After speaking with businesses and individuals there seems to be a lack of knowledge of what it means – having sparked much debate over the past half-decade over its interpretation (Coaston, 2019).
The term intersectionality was coined by leading scholar of Critical Race Theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw some 30 years ago, when she published the paper: “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex” (Coaston, 2019).
To keep it brief, intersectionality is the idea that people have more than one identity, and those identities are inherently combined. For example, an employee might be deaf and be a recent immigrant, your employee may be a woman as well as Black (Studenroth, A). As Brittany Packnett, an educator, activist and writer who is Black stated: “It’s not merely that some days I experience racism and some days I experience sexism. Rather it is that oppression shows up differently for me than it does for black men and white women” (Tugend, 2018).
The fundamental benefit of adopting an intersectional approach to equality is that it provides an understanding of the issues that is closer to the lived experiences of all employees, thus allowing you to develop effective strategies to address them. We want to ensure people can bring their whole self to work, not divided up into different groups/identities but to be their authentic self without a bunch of labels on. As we are seeing people from protected characteristics continuously feel that they are not ‘the norm’.
These feelings can also be described as ‘Othering’, a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labelled and not fitting in within the norms of a social group – this then influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed. For example, a Lesbian Woman may not feel her authentic self when attending a women in business workshop, if the group only addresses the issue of white heterosexual women in business – this individual can easily feel like an ‘other’ (Cherry, 2020).
So, what does this mean for existing equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts?
We know many businesses have employee resource groups (ERG) to provide support and a place to be heard for employees, which commonly focus on one protected characteristic – but people are not one-dimensional, e.g. Does an older Asian Woman belong in the Women in Business group, the Asian one, or the multigenerational ERG? You just wouldn’t bother.
The challenge organisations have is trying to work within the law, which has created the protected characteristics into groups. Organisations have used this framework to create the ERG's. In terms of intersectionality, the key thing is for organisations to see the interrelationship between all these groups and understand the fundamental similarities. It is an opportunity to challenge the effectiveness of these groups. As adding up each individual barrier a person faces and creating enough groups to address that, only makes people's existence more complicated (Studenroth, B).
This does not mean to dismantle employee resource groups altogether, but to enhance them further by acknowledging the diversity of its members. Diversity and Inclusion consultant Ashley Oolman suggests breaking down the barriers to intersectionality at work by allowing the ERGs to overlap and interconnect to create a workplace culture where people feel a sense of safety and belonging (Studenroth, B). Examples include your disability resource group collaborating with your resource group for Black employees. And encouraging employees to see the groups as overlapping circles.
Most significantly, ERG leaders need to talk to one another. To share respective strategies, brainstorm and have agreement on how they can support one another to ensure every ERG demonstrates that Black Lives Matter, how to be a LGTBQIA+ ally, how to defend age and gender bias (Callaham, 2021).
over the next few months, we at the charter are focusing on intersectionality and have a public event on the 17th october 2021, 12-1pm. we will be discussing building an intersectional approach into your workplace inclusion program. if you have any early thoughts, please add them to the meetup group.
Callaham, S. (2021) How to Improve Employee Resource Group Effectiveness, Key to DEI Strategy and The Shaping of Workplace Culture. Forbes [online]. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sheilacallaham/2021/07/28/how-to-improve-employee-resource-group-effectiveness-key-to-dei-strategy-and-the-shaping-of-workplace-culture/?sh=25feb28c6b3d
Cherry, K. (2020) What Is Othering? VeryWellMind [online]. December 13. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-othering-5084425
Coaston, J. (2019) The Intersectionality Wars. Vox [online]. May 28. Available from: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/5/20/18542843/intersectionality-conservatism-law-race-gender-discrimination
Studenroth, J. (no date, A) What’s intersectionality in the workplace? Understood [online]. Available from: https://www.understood.org/articles/en/whats-intersectionality-in-workplace
Studenroth, J. (no date, B) 5 tips on building intersectionality at work. Understood [online]. Available from: https://www.understood.org/articles/en/5-tips-building-intersectionality-work
Tugend, Alina (2018) The Effect of Intersectionality in the Workplace. The New York Times [online]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/us/the-effect-of-intersectionality-in-the-workplace.html
Our ambition for Bristol
Bristol has always been a bit different, challenging the status quo and attracting people and businesses that lead on change. We were the first (and only) city in the UK to sign the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life and the first city in the UK to establish a Women’s Commission. We now want Bristol to be the first city to achieve gender equality.
We recognise that employers have a huge part to play in achieving this vision and that many businesses in Bristol want to make progress on gender equality. By recognising, supporting and bringing together those employers who are making or want to make progress, we believe we will accelerate the pace of change and make gender equality a reality.
Our ambition is for all businesses employing people in the Bristol area, regardless of their size, to sign the Charter and work together to make gender equality the way we do business in Bristol.
How the Charter goals were chosen
The seven goals of the Charter were carefully selected. They were identified against the backdrop of women’s under-representation in leadership positions in business in Bristol. This under-representation is in the context that women comprise just over 50% of the Bristol population, are as equally as well qualified as men at degree level (32%) and that 60% of women are economically active in the Bristol area (either in employment or unemployed/looking for work).
However, women’s under-representation at higher managerial/professional levels remains low (8% compared with 15% of men) with women more likely to be found in lower managerial/ administrative and professional occupations (22% compared with 18% of men) (Bristol City Council, 2014) . An initial analysis of just over 200 medium to large business in the Bristol area revealed that 49% have no women on their boards and that 51% had at least one, mainly in sectors such as health and education (Durbin, 2018).
There is a long established business case for increasing the representation of women at senior levels and on boards (e.g. Davies report, up to 2015);based upon improved company performance (e.g. Credit Suisse, 2015).
The challenges of harnessing female talent and increasing the numbers of women on boards is one faced by many businesses and by women themselves. The Charter goals were devised in 2018, to encourage Bristol-based organisations to make an on-going commitment to improve gender equality for women, by setting targets, through signing up to a set of overarching and connected set of goals that could be realistically achieved by any organisation. We keep them under constant review.
The goals are interrelated. They can either be achieved as stand-alone initiatives (e.g. promoting the use of flexible and reduced hours working – Goal 1) or as overlapping goals, e.g. the commitment to increase the number of women at senior levels and on the board (Goal 2) which could be partly achieved through supporting women where they are under-represented through mentoring and networking (Goal 7).
The goals therefore aim to tackle these gender inequalities in employment and to make the workplace more gender equal. All seven goals are evidence-based and can enable organisations to work towards this aim.
For example, in terms of making flexible working at all levels a reality (Goal 1) we know that while almost half of women in employment in Bristol work part-time (43.3%) nationally, just 4% of managers, directors and senior officials, work on a part-time basis (ONS, 2018) (e.g. up to 30 hours per week). One way to increase the numbers of women at senior levels and on boards, would be to make reduced hours working more realistic at all levels in organisations. This can also be achieved through supporting women in lower paid and lower skilled occupations (who are more likely to work part-time) to progress through training and on-going support (Goal 4) and making at least one member of the executive team responsible for reporting on gender equality and inclusion (Goal 3).
Supporting women to progress is also important and evidence suggests that mentoring can assist women with both career progress and general support and to feel valued by receiving such support (Durbin, 2015; Groysberg, 2008) (Goal 7). Mentors can often be identified through formal and informal networking and organisations that support women’s networks are seen to be more gender inclusive.
The Charter also calls for a commitment to close the gender pay gap (Goal 5) and we believe this can be partly achieved by ending the gender segregated nature of work, especially at more senior levels, where the vertical gender pay gap remains a problem for women.
How signatories are using the Charter goals
We’ve seen the companies that signed the Charter in 2019 make great progress. It is a requirement that signatories commit to making progress on at least one the Charter goals each year and that they make and report progress. We’ll be compiling an annual report to showcase that progress every year in April, commencing in 2021.
Companies get to set their own targets on the goals of the Charter which means that, regardless of where they’re starting from, all signatory companies can make measurable progress on gender equality.
Being a Charter signatory is a very public declaration to all of their stakeholders that a company is working actively to make progress on gender equality. Many signatories have also found that the Charter goals have helped them to really focus their efforts on making change happen and they’ve been able to use the goals as a framework to clarify their objectives and guide their actions.
The progress that has been made
We’ve seen one of our founding signatories, Bristol Airport Ltd, use gender neutral recruitment practices to achieve their target (for the year) of 35% female applicants, investing in specialist software to support their reporting around that.
Bristol City Council, another founding signatory, has used workforce data and a new interactive HR dashboard to identify and begin to address diversity gaps in progression, pay, recruitment and flexible working.
One of smaller signatory companies, ADLIB, has appointed 2 women to its Board in the last 12 months. It’s their male CEO, Nick Dean, who takes the responsibility for reporting on gender and inclusion. At Burges Salmon (a founding signatory of the Charter), it’s Senior Partner Chris Seaton who chairs their newly established Gender Taskforce.
Burges Salmon have also introduced a career focus training programme, aimed at improving transparency around career development opportunities. At one of our smallest signatories, Chickp, which employs just 4 people has implemented new unbiased onboarding processes and on-the-job training and they are currently implementing an appraisal process, all with the aim of improving transparency and fairness.
Founding signatory company OVO Energy is working to increase the number of women appointed to their technology roles, revamping the recruitment process and building in checks for gender-bias. As a result women are now 21% of new hires to tech roles.
Another of our founding signatories, Pelican Business Services launched a campaign (#LetsMoveMore) to support internal moves and career progression. This included a management job swap across the whole business, which challenged many traditional stereotypes. Whilst gcp Chartered Architects have added more women to their senior management team and Ian Williams Ltd have further enhanced their family friendly benefits including their maternity and paternity leave provision.
You can find a list of all of the current Charter signatory companies here. We’ll be publishing an interim impact report later this year with lots more information about the progress our signatory community has made. Look out for it on our website and on our social media channels.
How to make progress on gender equality
We know that leadership is a significant factor in making progress on gender equality (and indeed any change of magnitude). Companies that not only have senior managers who are supportive of change, such as Charley Maher at the Wessex Group (Pelican Business Services, water2business and Flipper are all Charter signatories) and Helen Hodgkinson in her role as HR Director at TLT LLP, but also leadership from the middle will make more progress. Signing the Charter has helped leaders at every level bring gender equality to the fore.
Focus, focus, focus. We know that there are many changing priorities in business. The Charter goals can help you keep focused on the right things to do around gender equality and being a signatory helps keep it on the agenda at the right level in your business.
Gender equal businesses operate differently. Making equality part of your organisational culture and ‘the way we do things around here’ brings very different results too. The Charter can help engage people within your business at every level, opening up the conversation about how to make everyone feel they belong and supporting culture change.
How the Charter Team can help
Being part of the Charter community means being part of a group of progressive businesses, openly committed to making progress on gender equality. We bring signatories together at least once a quarter to connect and share their experiences, learning, ideas and challenges about making change happen.
We will be sharing highlights of their progress on an annual basis but becoming a Charter signatory means you don’t have to wait. It means that you can be part of an open dialogue with similar companies and the people who are implementing change within them, finding people and companies that have faced similar challenges to those you’re facing.
We know that making progress on gender equality can be really hard work and it can at times feel like a thankless task. It’s much easier when you know that you’re not alone. That’s why we recognise and celebrate the progress that all our signatories are making.
Join us! Together we can make Bristol a fairer and more equal city. Find out more and apply here.
This blog was co-authored by Jane Ginnever MBA MSc and Professor Susan Durbin PhD MCIPD. Jane led the Task Group that launched the Bristol Women in Business Charter in March 2019 and is now Director of the Women in Business CIC that operates the Charter. Professor Durbin is Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of the West of England, a member of the Women in Business Task Group (part of the Bristol Women’s Commission). She created the current version of the Charter and its goals in 2018.
We have made no secret of our wish for the Bristol Women in Business Charter to be an effective long-term lever to support the move to greater gender equality within businesses in the City and the surrounding area. Given the current circumstances, we decided to launch very quietly as a Community Interest Company (CIC) on 1st April. The CIC has been formed to take over the running of the Bristol Women in Business Charter from the Women in Business Task Group (part of the Bristol Women’s Commission), and we are the team that is running the CIC! We wanted to take this moment to answer some questions on our new transition to understand our aims and what it means for our signatories through a Q&A with the CIC Directors, Jane and Sandra.
What is a Community Interest Company?
It’s a company whose sole purpose is to do something that’s of benefit to the community, usually a clearly defined community. When applying to become a Community Interest Company, one is required to make a community interest statement and explain how the activities of the company will help that community.
Why is the Charter becoming a CIC?
The Charter was launched by the Women in Business Task Group, a group of volunteers and part of the Bristol Women’s Commission. The goals of the Charter are ambitious, and we know that they’re not going to be achieved in a couple of years, so we wanted to create a team and governance structure that would support the Charter’s work in the long term. The CIC structure does that.
What is our aim? And how has the transition into a CIC going to support that?
Our belief is that businesses cannot reach their full potential if they fail to recruit and retain a gender-balanced workforce. The Bristol Women in Business Chatter aims to recognise and support businesses in Bristol and the surrounding areas that are progressing towards the aim. This will help accelerate the pace of change to the benefit for women, the businesses they work in and the communities they live in. The CIC holds us to account on delivering that and makes it more achievable.
What does it mean for our signatories and how will this benefit them?
We’ve already had almost 40 companies, employing over 20,000 people, sign up to the Charter in the year since its launch. We bring those companies together to share their experience and knowledge and learn from each other. We can continue and grow this work as a result of formalising our structure and support more companies to sign the Charter and commit to making progress on gender equality. We are very keen to welcome SMEs and those companies who haven’t made (or any) much progress on gender equality to date. They will get lots of value from hearing how other businesses are handling this and the results they’re getting. We’ll be charging companies a small annual fee to support the work of the CIC going forward, with any profit that’s made once costs are covered being reinvested in the aims of the company.
Lastly, why are you involved?
Sandra: “In order to make meaningful change around what is required to make gender equality in this city a reality, you have to be part of the force implementing the changes needed. Involvement in the Bristol Women in Business Charter gives me an opportunity to collectively lead the way towards that goal.”
Jane: “It gives me the opportunity to actually do something about gender inequality in business, rather than just talking about it.”
If you have questions about our transition into a Community Interest Company, please do not hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Women have been impacted differently to men by the measures put in place to manage Covid-19. The two sectors hardest hit have been hospitality and retail, which both employ significant numbers of female workers. What’s more, only 1 in 10 of low earners have been able to work from home, and we know that 69% of low earners are women. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education found in May that mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit. Additionally women working from home are more likely to have done the majority of the childcare and household chores than their home-working male partners.
Diane Bunyan - Diane convenes the Bristol Women's Commission Economy Task Group. She is a trustee of Bristol Women's Voice and Watershed Arts Trust. Diane works, nationally and internationally as a consultant on human rights and gender equality and was the first-ever women leader of Bristol City Council.
Annabel Smith - Annabel is a leading player in the coordination of the One City approach that Bristol is taking and has been pivotal in bringing people and organisations together from across the city to make that happen in her role at the City Council. She is an expert in the gendered impacts of economic policy.
Sandra Gordon - A businesswoman, a magistrate, and a member of the Women in Business Task Group that launched the Bristol Women in Business Charter in 2019 (and now a Director of the CIC that runs it), Sandra is a member of the Mayoral Commission on Race Equality.
The panellists, shared their perspectives and their expertise with the online audience, focusing on what Bristol businesses are doing and can do to make the recovery from the crisis more inclusive and to begin to rebuild a fairer economy. Sandra Gordon told those listening that cultural change within businesses was key and that “leadership on equality in organisations is everyone’s responsibility, not just the CEO’s”. Annabel Smith was positive about Bristol’s ability to deal with and recover from the crisis: “We’re a city that’s not afraid to disrupt the status quo. The One City Approach has given us a framework for collaboration and the governance methods to support the recovery that other cities are now scrambling to put together”. Diane Bunyan too was hopeful, “Things do change” she said “We’ve got the skills, we’ve got the knowledge, and we know what needs to be done. We need to translate that into action now.”
On the 7th March 2020, we joined Bristol's City Hall in a celebration with thousands of women from across our city with Bristol Women's Voice. The day features more than 50 free events. From workshops on happiness, health, work and climate change, to self-defence classes, panel discussions and art installations brought by many inspiring organisations (including us).
Panel discussion: How to navigate the opportunities