Supporting women in the workplace This week we celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s a day where we pause and celebrate and spotlight women's achievements while also calling out inequality, which unfortunately still lingers in workplaces around the world.
Earlier this month, our All In Club and Inclusion Exchange, two initiatives at BAE Systems dedicated to creating open and ongoing discussion around diversity and inclusion, brought together women from across BAE Systems Applied Intelligence and the public sector to examine six challenges which women continue to face and what can be done to overcome them.

1. Daily microagressions

Examples of daily microagressions are when women are frequently interrupted by both men and women (studies show men and women interrupt women more frequently than they interrupt men), and having a point ignored and then someone making the same point a few minutes later.
Whether this is unconscious or conscious, meeting participants often prefer to listen to men making these points, rather than listen to even senior women making the same point. To address this, we need to be more aware of this problem and have a culture in place which makes people feel comfortable about calling it out when this happens.

2. Female specific health issues

Women don’t always feel comfortable talking to a male line manager about female specific health, such as menopause, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Very personal issues are often difficult for people to talk to anyone about, and this isn’t an issue restricted to the workplace. But because they are talked about so infrequently, the symptoms are not well known, for example not being aware that some physiological effects of female specific health issues can impact self-confidence and self-esteem.
One way of dealing with this is to outline the expected impact and set out what might be needed in terms of support. This emphasises the importance of open communication – don’t assume people do or don’t know, instead enquire, ask, and have regular conversations to normalise it, much like other topics have been in the workplace.

3. Male allies

Men need to be truly included, and bought into, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. This will enable them to understand the challenges women face, identify what support would be most useful, and also help them accept and address their own biases.
While some men are allies without realising it, the important thing is promoting that they are one and being open about it. Male allies are vital because they exemplify the culture at an organisation and help show recognition of the issue. Men taking an empathetic approach is key. They need to try to really understand the world from women’s perspective to see the different opportunities or barriers in order to get the best out of everyone in a team.

4. Challenging clients and suppliers

How do we handle situations in which clients or suppliers display sexist behaviours, and how we can encourage women to feel comfortable reporting it?
It’s easier to hold your own colleagues to account, but it’s harder when there is a commercial relationship and different local cultures and expectations to consider. The first step is to hold what matters to you close, and be really open about it by hosting inclusion sessions, sparking conversations about what diversity means and what challenges are faced. Leading on this shows what matters to the organisation.
Challenging clients requires being aware of what’s going on and taking the time to see what’s happening. Spotting patterns of behaviour is key to identifying the systemic problems that may exist within organisations. It’s important for everyone to understand that certain behaviour is not acceptable and to encourage people to call behaviour out when it’s not appropriate.

5. Leadership diversity

It’s key that we understand why employees decide to stay, or not, often defined by the working environment. So role modelling is key, calling out good and bad behaviours to create an environment where people feel comfortable, and believe they are the best version of themselves at work.
Part of a leader’s role is to develop a diverse range of people who can step into their role, not just developing someone like yourself, who would do it as you do it. This requires taking different approaches as some people don’t realise they have the skills to develop into certain roles and so convincing them to apply is very important. Women often don’t publicise as much about what they are working on as men, therefore it’s the responsibility of leaders to be conscious of spotlighting their achievements.

6. Supporting growth

Women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion or stretch roles. Microaggressions often lead to self-limiting conclusions. What should we do to change that?
Women need to know they are part of a succession plan and part of this is related to how we keep in touch and extend support to women on maternity leave for example, and how actively should career managers/leaders be in keeping women up to date.
The impact of role models can be huge, particularly women leaders who combine having a family with managing a large team.  But it’s not just about women leaders – this is also an area where men can be really visible and be strong allies. Having more male parents step up and taking flex roles because of childcare sends a really strong message that both men and women have to balance family and normalising this is key.
Clearly, this is an ongoing journey. But the goal of truly gender equal workplaces will surely propel us over the inevitable bumps which adorn the road ahead.
Learn more about Diversity and Inclusion at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence 

About the author
Sam Williams is a Consultant at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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Sam Williams

Consultant, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence