Guest blog by Pascal Culverhouse, Founder and Managing Director of Electric Tobacconist Ltd
The UK is entering a period in its history that many of us have had little experience of. With labour shortages already causing problems, we can only wonder how we are going to fare as the government begins its Brexit negotiations.
But for a much longer time, there has been a more pressing issue in the UK’s labour market: the issue of gender. Not only is equal pay still something that women must fight for, but some women also struggle against stereotypes and stigmas on a regular basis. We need only look at the front cover of a recent popular newspaper to see how two major female politicians, on the edge of making life changing decisions for their countries, are trivialised and objectified.
The problems we face in creating a working environment where everyone is treated equal are complex. They run deeper within our society than some would like to admit. Change must be fostered at every opportunity, the largest of these is in the workplace.
The Current Climate
We might see the UK as quite a progressive country when it comes to gender equality. Statistics suggest that traditional gender roles are slowly becoming obsolete. But there are many examples where stereotypes and inappropriate behaviour still exist. A recent study showed that 40% of women had experienced gender-biased hiring practices.
Emma, who works in the tech industry, told us how male-dominated industries could create uncomfortable scenarios. Though it wasn’t enough for her to want to change industries, often these situations can be brushed under the carpet, or ‘normalised’ because of the ‘nature of the industry’. Is this something that can, or should, simply be ignored? Or is this part of the problem that leaves industries like construction sorely in need of female employees?
Other challenges to the UK’s workforce are accessibility and flexible working hours. These two problems often affect one another, with inflexible working hours making certain industries inaccessible to some. This is one of the reasons why we have seen a growth in the number of part-time, self-employed women. If a job does not offer you the flexible hours you require, then you must find one (or create one) that does. For some people, this can come in the form of being self-employed and working around the things in your life, rather than instead of them.
It’s unfair to place all the blame on the employers. With my business, Electric Tobacconist, we found it hard to find suitable female candidates within the electronic cigarette industry, regardless of accessibility or work flexibility issues. It’s an early issue for the relatively new vaping industry and, as a result, our office does not have as diverse a workforce as we’d like, but we are always trying to find ways to work towards a more integrated future.
An Integrated Future: HR Responsibilities Post-Brexit
It would be fair to describe the current political climate in the UK as tense. While the fall in the value of the pound has generated business through international sales, especially so in the manufacturing sector, it’s fair to say that the situation with our current workforce is unpredictable. As much as 6% of those employed in the UK are from the EU (study from 2015, rates are predicted to have risen by 2017). It’s difficult to imagine how the country would run if we are to lose the benefits from the free movement of labour.
Perhaps this is the perfect time to modernise the way the UK treats its female workforce. I am by no means suggesting we should only champion equality when faced with economic turmoil. I’m suggesting that perhaps Brexit could act as a catalyst for change. The problems we are discussing are those faced by women at work. But is it not possible that Brexit could become the solution to this?
If the flexible hours that allow families to raise their children and still work become more of a reality, maybe fewer people will be forced to leave their jobs because of other priorities. Whatever happens, we hope that all employers promote equal opportunities and try to diminish accessibility issues and gender stereotypes wherever possible.
Author Bio: Pascal Culverhouse is the Founder and Managing Director of Electric Tobacconist Ltd — the UK’s largest supplier of e-cigarettes in the UK. Pascal’s HR responsibilities have grown massively since his business started in 2013. He values a fair approach to staff recruitment and feels that retaining staff is essential to growth.
*Note – The name in this article has been changed at the request of the participant