IWD 2022: Creating a Sustainable and Equal Future

International Women’s Day is designed to pay homage to the progress that has been made in the battle for gender equality, but it also highlights the existing challenges that many women still face today. This year, as well as highlighting the everyday prejudices that women face, focus is also being placed on the growing need for sustainable practices within business. Gender equality is essential, and so too is the need to protect our future environment. And from an enterprise perspective, work needs to be done to improve in both areas.

In light of this, we spoke to experts across a number of industries about the need for more sustainable processes and the role that women can play in facilitating a more sustainable future for businesses.

Addressing the Sustainability Issue

Many industries recognise their impact on the environment, and while businesses try to make small changes to reduce their carbon footprint, Deborah Johnson, Head of Sustainability at Agilitas IT Solutions, opens by explaining that enterprises need to alter their entire business models in order to make a difference.

Johnson claims that organisations need to “address difficult issues and change the way they do business in the interest of the planet.

“The urgency of incorporating sustainability within a business model has created abrupt changes which are impacting every corner of the sector,”  she continues. “From offsetting carbon emissions to recycling resources, it all starts with businesses pledging a commitment to sustainability.”

Over the last few years, sustainability issues within retail have really come under the microscope, and an RFID-based approach can help alleviate a number of issues, according to Jessica St John, Nedap Retail RFID Project Manager.

“In recent years, it is clear that shoppers have become more environmentally and socially conscious.

“With millions of tons of clothes being sent to landfill each year, it’s become essential for retailers and brands to find ways to reduce the number of items being produced. With retailers currently operating at 65% inventory accuracy on average, implementing RFID for inventory management can lessen the environmental impact by improving accuracy and preventing additional stock.”

Agilitas’ Johnson goes one step further and opines that gender equality can play a pivotal role in addressing sustainability challenges.

“Gender equality needs to be addressed in companies’ sustainability agenda in order to attain long-term success as companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative, and twice as likely to hit or better financial targets.”

Improving Equality Within the Workplace

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, a 10% increase of women in parliament results in a 0.24% decrease in emissions per capita. It’s apparent that women can make an important difference in the fight for climate change, but how can businesses address the existing issue of gender equality at work? Carlyn Foster, Head Of Marketing, 4D Data Centres, explains that firstly, organisations need to recognise the issue in itself.

“Acknowledging the problem is the first step to addressing the issue. The next is taking action and while there are initiatives being implemented at emphasising grassroots level education that will help encourage larger takeup levels at an earlier age, there is still more work to be done to ensure that this is an ongoing conversation within the sector and broader tech industry.”

Evgenia Koutsouki, Editor of European Medical Journal, which was recently ranked 38th in Best Company to work for in the UK, agrees. Koutouski argues that there is a range of areas that businesses can improve in.

“Equal representation in the workplace starts with taking measures to address societal issues at the core: alleviating women from poverty and racial discrimination, enabling their access to healthcare and education, improving maternity rights, and providing equal opportunities for women and girls, are only a few.

“Equal representation can then be solidified in a workplace setting by creating role models through diversifying the formulation of senior management teams. I believe it is important young women see a reflection of themselves in people of influence in the workplace.”

Caroline Gray-Mason, Director of Water Services at Cenergist, weighs in on the debate, calling for a culture shift within businesses to create real change.

“I think this should start from a company’s inherent culture first and foremost,” begins Gray-Mason. “If gender bias is a process driven from the top-down, then no matter your HR or recruitment policies, equal representation within the workplace won’t stick. I’m fortunate to work in a company where equal representation within the workplace is very much in place, but I’m aware in certain industries, this is still an issue.”

Creating equality higher up in the chain is a top priority according to Sue Dunmill, HR Manager at Mackwell, who explains that this can be the catalyst for the right culture.

“In order to expand women’s access to leadership positions, businesses globally must require top management to foster a meritocratic culture in which performance is rewarded - regardless of gender. It is also imperative to grant candidates the opportunity to build the necessary experience needed for the top jobs. Through a culture based on structure, talent and performance management, people can build enough self-confidence to take the next step.”

Inspiring Younger Generations

Creating equal opportunities for women is the goal, but enterprise also needs women to take them. We have been stuck with a shortage in female representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, but how can we encourage younger women to take up these subjects?

Meri Braziel, Chief Commerical Officer of Glide Group, claims that the answer lies in giving girls proper exposure to these areas.

“First and foremost we can ensure that girls from an early age get an education in all the STEM subjects to gain exposure to the variety of applications that maths and science can bring to life. 

“For example, coding skills can be applied whether you are working on hardcore gaming sites or building a website for a company. Girls will discover if they have an aptitude and interest. Then it is important to understand what careers can use these skills.”

Carole Howard, Head of Network Sales at Beyond Encryption, claims that we can also inspire younger women by “talking about women who are already successful in this space, and by having role models who can help to raise awareness of opportunities because they are already there.”

Meanwhile, Constance Delpeyroux, Lead Customer Success at Qualifio, offers a few words of advice for younger women taking their first steps in their careers: “Be good and work hard, don't lower your standards to fit the model and to be accepted. Be yourself and not a little mouse that apologises for existing, you can do it.”

And finally, Anna Kmita, Team Leader at Future Processing closes with some inspiring words for any women that might have felt discriminated against in their efforts.

If someone tells you that you are too young, prove them wrong,” explains Kmita. “I have been told many times that I am too young or inexperienced to take up a managerial position, and many times I started to believe it myself. However, thanks to my self-denial, self-belief and willingness to prove that I'm not weak and won't give up and that I can handle the responsibilities I've been given, I've shown many people that it's possible and stereotypes are wrong. There's no challenge we can't handle if we just believe in ourselves.”