'In Conversation with Huw Thomas'
Hi, my name is Bethan and this is the first in a series of opinion blogs I am going to be writing, alongside PMC, named ‘In Conversation with Huw Thomas’. Huw, Managing Director of PMC, and I sat for two hours on a Friday morning in February, over a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich, and talked about many things. We talked about his line of work – IT services to the retail sector – which I knew little about, and my line of work – anthropology graduate turned dance teacher turned blogger and writer - which he knew little about. Over the duration of our chat, we found that the two crossed over in some pretty interesting ways. From this, the idea of our ‘in conversation’ series was born. I am going to be taking snippets of our conversations; the bits where our interests and areas of knowledge overlap, and turning them into pieces which are relevant to retail and business in general.
This first post is going to be looking at gender equality in the workplace. On the eve of the century anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act it feels a pertinent time to think about how far we’ve come and, possibly, how far we still have to go. To summarise, the 1918 ruling gave the first wave of women in Britain the opportunity to vote and be elected to Parliament; women over thirty who owned land or were married to men who did. There remained a few years before universal suffrage was achieved but this ruling was a crucial and influential first step. From here, the twentieth century brought with it huge waves of progress in assuring equality; be it based on gender, age, sexuality, race or ethnicity.
Now, I may not be the first to feel that this progress has taken something of a battering in the last year? A huge question mark appeared over women’s rights when Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Maternity rights and the rights of working mothers have been safeguarded by the EU and, in the next year, will be passed back into the hands of the British Government. Perhaps we can be assured of their safety with a female PM at the helm?
Last month, headlines were once again filled with the news story that a woman had been sent home, allegedly unpaid, from a temping reception job for not wearing heals and lipstick.
On the 21st January this year, millions of women, men and children marched in ‘Women’s Marches’ across the globe. They were protesting the incoming Trump administration in the US and the small nods he was already making toward the reduction in agency women would have over their lives and bodies under his power.
Despite huge progress over the last century, women’s rights still matter and, in light of this, companies and businesses that make it a priority to ensure gender equality at all times, really matter. A huge pay gap still exists in many industries. Women remain at the mercy of their employers when planning families and taking maternity leave. There are still global cultural barricades, both micro and macro; from lipstick to forced marriage, which prohibit women workers reaching their full potential.
PMC’s India branch can be viewed as a microcosm of a broad problem and growing solution to the remaining inequality between genders. Despite near parity between male and female employees in the UK, in India, the story is very different. PMC has gained, and lost, numerous talented and efficient female employees over the nine years it has operated in India. The problem remains largely cultural and the birth and growth of initiatives such as PMC WAY (Women Around You) http://www.pmcretail.com/news/2016/11/03/the-pmc-way/ are making small steps in enabling PMC to employ, train and safeguard women into their workforce, whilst giving them equal opportunities to develop and progress. Just as in Britain, there is a forward momentum toward workplace equality in India and PMC continues to recognise and sit at the forefront of this.
Although, right now, the future of social justice and equality looks a little hazy, there are many reasons to remain positive. The film ‘Hidden Figures: the Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race’ - due to be released in the UK this month - showcases the exceptional role played by female mathematicians working for NASA in the 1960s. The issue remains in the public eye. Similarly, the huge turnout for the Women’s March demonstrates that the desire to continue the push towards full gender equality is not dead.
As we push further into the twenty-first century, it is fair to conclude that businesses who continue to take an active role in ensuring equal opportunities are the driving force of the fight. In their ethical standing, their moral vision and their power to affect change, they are incomparably important. In a world which has been turned upside down, where million-strong protests are necessary, companies are rewarded for their commitment to gender equality. As 2018 peers its head over the horizon; one hundred years since the passing of the Representation of the People’s Act, we can thank those who truly do, and continue to, represent the people.