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International Women's Day 2021: Charlie Thomas

March 08, 2021

This International Women's Day, we interviewed some of our team asking them to share their thoughts on how we can #ChooseToChallenge.  

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

Meet Charlie Thomas, associate partner.

 

1. Which assumptions or preconceptions would you like to challenge about women at work in 2021? 

There’s a few! I’d like to challenge the view that women without children have “made a lifestyle choice” to not start a family in order to get on in their career. You have no idea about that person’s personal circumstances, so please don’t make a clumsy assumption.

Similarly, please don’t assume that women with children are wanting to put their career on hold, or take their foot off the accelerator, or take a step back. In fact, just stop making assumptions full stop; try asking them about their aspirations instead.

And finally, I’d like to challenge the perception that women don’t help other women in this industry. I’ve seen the power of various D&I networks first hand in (re)insurance, and I can promise you that everyone I’ve encountered is willing to help others up the career ladder.

2. Within your market / industry sector, what progress have you seen businesses take to progress gender equality?

I applaud all those firms that elected to publish their gender pay gap last year, despite being told they didn’t have to because of Covid-19. Also, those who reported their gender pay gap despite not being required to, because of their company size. Yes, it’s a blunt instrument to measure gender parity progress on its own, but it is part of the way we can identify barriers to women progressing to the upper echelons and needs to be continued.

I’d also like to applaud QBE in particular, for offering two weeks’ paid leave to help parents balance the need to homeschool during the pandemic alongside their job. We know the majority of homeschooling was conducted by women during this pandemic, and it’s great to see a company offering pragmatic help in this regard.  

3. What is one action companies can take to further balance their talent attraction strategies? 

Really look at your application process and your job description wordings to ensure they are as inclusive as possible. Ensure that your interview process is competency-based and that you have a diverse set of interviewers within your decision-making process. I know that’s three things, not one, but I really think they are all so important.

4. What is your top advice for making job descriptions more inclusive?  

The FT published a great article on this last month, following a study which found that senior roles at UK companies were consistently advertised using less inclusive language than junior roles.

Gender-coded language, as identified by study authors Sia, include phrases such as “results-driven” rather than the more inclusive “able to achieve results”.

But more than that, I think employers need to be more explicit about saying that they embrace flexible working. Look at Zurich – last year the general insurer made a conscious effort to advertise the majority of their vacancies with the option of part-time, full time, job share or flexible working, and the number of women who applied for senior roles increased by a fifth as a result. 

The number of women hired into senior positions as a direct result of the initiative increased by a third. And importantly, the number of men applying for the same roles didn’t drop – it remained the same. 

Zurich also identified certain phrases that were putting female applicants off: ‘tenacious’, ‘fast paced’, ‘authority’ and ‘determine’. And words such as ‘inclusion’, ‘contributing’, ‘meaningful’ and ‘encouraged’ were used more frequently. 

So why not give your job descriptions another look with a gender-neutral eye – and maybe get a few pairs of eyes to look at it before sign off?

5. Are there any companies you admire for the ways in which they celebrate women's achievements?  

I’m struggling to think of any in (re)insurance. I think because, like many other areas of financial services, women in this market don’t want to be recognised for being women, they want to be recognised for being good at their job.

6. What can organisations do to shift pre-conceived conceptions about flexible working?

Well, if 2020/2021 doesn’t convince you that people can successfully, efficiently, and productively work flexibly, I don’t know what will. Most managers and executives I’ve spoken to have been amazed at how effortless the switch to homeworking en masse has been as a result of Covid-19, and while I don’t see the industry becoming entirely home-based in future, there must be a recognition that presenteeism at a desk in a City office does not necessarily make for a happy employee and a productive workforce. It’s about offering a balance and the ability to get the best of both worlds.

7. How can organisations support their employees in raising awareness against bias? 

I’m a huge fan of allyship. HeforShe was an amazing initiative and has led to a much more open conversation around how men can better raise awareness against bias. So read up on allyship, join D&I networks in our market (I can think of at least 10 off the top of my head, I’m sure there are more), attend webinars and MOST IMPORTANTLY talk to women in your organisation. It’s not just the explicit sexism we need to actively fight against, it’s the institutionalised bias we need to identify, and then challenge too.