8 March 2024

Men, it’s time to use your superpower

Louise Dawson, Managing Partner, reflects on International Women’s Day 2024.

The United Nation’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Invest in Women : Accelerate progress.  At Bolt Burdon, investing in women is at our core.  A female founder and managing partner in 1986, followed by another female managing partner and COO, an all female management team and a group of partners which is 70% female. We don’t just talk the talk when it comes to investing in women, we walk the talk.

We are very aware, however, that this is not the norm, it is far from it and the last few years have actually exacerbated some of the struggles women face as well as bringing difficult new challenges to the fore. We have to work together to inspire inclusion and make change happen.

Why?  Because everyone benefits from equality and diversity, not just those who are being discriminated against.

There are achievements to celebrate and progress is being made.  Just last month there was a significant step forwards in supporting employees going through the menopause, albeit we would be classed as having a disability and I am not sure how I feel about that.  Changes have been put in place for additional financial support for childcare too.

We must not, however, and we must not allow others, to make the mistake of assuming our work is done.  The fight for equality is an ongoing reality.

Off the back of the recent House of Commons’ Treasury Committees’ Sexism in the City inquiry,  Conservative MP and Treasury committee chair Harriet Baldwin said “we have been quite taken aback by just how little things have shifted in the last five years,”

As Kayleena Makortoff explained in her article about this inquiry in the Guardian this week:-

“the post #MeToo focus on diversity and inclusion has failed to eradicate widespread misogyny.

Instead, the “old boys’ club”, according to the committee’s interim report, has been pushed into the shadows. Sexual harassment may be less prevalent in the office, but is more often taking place at conferences and work trips, while bad behaviour has merely become “more underhand and pernicious””

So, in the words of Gloria Steinham, “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off”

That truth is that we are surrounded by both conscious and unconscious bias and hostility on a daily basis.

Conscious in the sense of toxic representations of masculinity on a desperately under regulated social media, glorifying the ability to subjugate women.

Conscious in the sense of some politicians and law makers on a global stage taking steps to erode hard gained rights like the right to have an abortion.

And conscious in the sense of the way our press treat independent, successful women compared to men – Caroline Flack anyone?  A be kind hashtag after someone has committed suicide does not make this okay.

As for unconscious bias, well it turns out we have a misogynistic police culture – when women go and report a violent incident from their partner, then are not taken seriously or treated with respect, and even more recently a misogynistic fire service.

A society where women are held out as the reason for male violence e.g. skirt too short, walking too late at night. Victim shaming, the look what you made me do approach.

And a culture where women working full time and contributing equally to a household, still carry the load in terms of keeping the wheels of a family and an home turning.  I am surrounded by these women, trying to do everything and be everything to everyone.  It’s exhausting.

Yet many people believe that equality has already happened.  In fact, I heard a statistic which said that 40% of men under 40 think we have equality in this world.

Why?  Maybe because we had a handful of very visible, high profile female leaders on the global stage over the last few years, so people start to assume everything is ok.  What more do we want?  But you have to look at the actual stats behind the glossy pictures.  Of around 190 nations, women leaders usually come in at just under 20 – 10%.

We have such a long way to go, and this is in the developed world, we are the very lucky ones.

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed in these moments, but we must not despair.

I recently listened again to a brilliant talk between the labour MP Stella Creasey and the ex-Australian prime minister Julia Gillard from last year, where the importance of having men fighting the cause alongside us really hit home.

Whilst I haven’t been able to find their source, they said that if a man points out something that is unfair to women he is more likely to be believed than a woman pointing out the same thing, as people assume there is a conflict of interest i.e. an ulterior motive at play with the woman, whereas when men speak out that falls away.

An example of this that they spoke about is that public harassment legislation will now be pushed through in this country because a male MP has campaigned for it and so finally misogyny will be recognised as driving crimes against women.  As soul destroying as this may be, and I go back to my Gloria Steinham quote above, we have to keep in mind the bigger picture, and therefore we must encourage the men around us to use their voices.  As Stella said in that talk, they effectively have a superpower and they need to use it.

Men, it’s time to use your superpower.

As the formidable Ruth Bader Ginsburg said so simply, “women belong in all places where decisions are being made” –  which I think perfectly sums up the task ahead.

Forwards we go!


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