Taking Action for Gender Equality:  Tips for People and Organizations

Taking Action for Gender Equality:  Tips for People and Organizations

Keywords: gender equality, workplace diversity, inclusive leadership, job sharing, workplace culture, allyship, flexibility, performance incentives, confidence-building

Meet Joy Burnford, founder of Encompass Equality, is a gender equality advocate. Joy’s journey began with a crisis of confidence in a male-dominated workplace and she has since dedicated her life to help women develop their confidence, and inspire organisations to create a better workplace experience for all. In this episode, she highlights common workplace practices that perpetuate gender inequality, such as lack of flexibility and gender bias in promotions. Joy shares insights from her book “Don't Fix Women” and offers tips for individuals and organizations to build more inclusive workplaces, including the use of job sharing.

In this podcast episode of Talk Roleshare we cover the following:

+ Joy Burnford's journey to becoming an advocate for gender equality in the workplace began when her confidence faltered in a male-dominated environment.

+ She learned that confidence is something that can be developed, and founded My Confidence Matters to help other women learn this. She sold that business and today is the founder of Encompass Equality.

+ Common workplace practices and policies which unwittingly perpetuate gender inequality include lack of flexible working; two-tier workforce; office admin responsibilities falling on women; networking events held outside of work times and bias in promotions.

The pandemic has enabled more flexibility but it's important organizations don't switch back to pre-covid norms.

+ Inclusive leadership should demonstrate the right behaviours from the top down and look out for age diversity across the board.

+ Joy's book Don't Fix Women revealed that implementing gender equality initiatives could result in a better workplace experience for all.

She found job sharing to be an effective tool for creating gender balance, with examples of successful female-female, male-male, and mixed gender job shares.

To promote gender equality and build an inclusive workplace, individuals and organizations should: 
  - Educate themselves and be open to learning 
  - Adapt their leadership style and create incentives to reward performance
  - Promote a culture of flexibility, allyship, and coaching
  - Understand obstacles women face such as hormonal challenges or lack of confidence
  - Take action today

+ Organizations should consider designing jobs differently and job sharing as an option to move towards gender equality.


Sophie Smallwood: What inspired you to become an advocate or gender equality in the workplace, and how did you get started with this work?

Joy Burnford: So it really started with my own story. I've been in business for about 25 years. I started my career working in management consulting for a management consulting firm and a very male-dominated environment. And whilst I was a very confident child, I used to do lots of acting and singing, soon as I went into the workplace, I just started thinking why would anybody listen to me? It was when it took away from the acting and singing. I had notes and I had a script. It wasn't me. As soon as it was about me and my knowledge and experience, I suddenly thought, "oh, other people are better than me at that".

I'd always just shy away in the background and let other people do the talking, and I just believed was the way I was in business. I wasn't a shy wallflower, but, I hated the idea of speaking up. I would never put myself forward for speaking any presentations, I'd always step back from that and let other people do it, if at all possible.

And over the years, I just continued with that, and I set up my own business in 2007 with a co-founder who was amazing. She was the front face of the business and did all the kind of traveling around the world speaking to consulting firms. And I just used to think, "wow, she's amazing. That's not me. I can't do that." And then I suddenly realized about five, six years ago that confidence is something you can learn. It sounds really basic, but I didn't realize this in my whole career. I just thought you were like this kind of person or that. I took a year off after I sold my last business, and I decided to do a bit of reflection on my own personal journey and where I was and started realizing that I didn't like being in the background.

I actually quite liked being on the stage even though I didn't have a confidence to do it. So I took this experience and realized. And I set up a business called My Confidence Matters, which was helping women in leadership in particular. So people had been in my situation to help them learn that confidence is something you can learn.

At the time Sheryl Sandberg was writing things like Lean In and it was very much a moment of let's be more confident and let's step up and speak up and then. Very quickly, I realized that you can be really confident, but if organizations are not set up and designed to support women in leadership positions, you can be really confident, but you're not going to get anywhere, you're going to leave the organization.

So that was where the sort of whole thing came from. I've always been passionate about it, but in 2017, I decided to make this my job and my role in life was to bring this to other people and help. So I'm very fortunate. I've had about 70 articles published on forbes.com around the subject of women's leadership and confidence.

And I spoke to loads of women, senior women in business to share stories about how being confident is. People think people are confident, but actually underneath they're not. So it was trying to share stories about that.

Two years ago I started thinking about the book. Talking to lots of men, business leaders, CEOs heads of HR, DE&I, and looking at this subject matter about not fixing women. It's about changing the systems in place. And so I changed the name of my company to reflect that because the work we were doing was much broader than confidence.


It was about creating an equal level playing field for everybody.

Sophie Smallwood: Can you share some examples of common workplace practices or policies that inadvertently perpetuate gender inequality?

Joy Burnford: So this is a really interesting question, and the pandemic has helped on this first point actually, which was about flexible working. And before the pandemic working flexibly- which was something that a lot of women found very useful to be able to work from home if they needed for childcare reasons or for health reasons- was very unusual before the pandemic. And the pandemic came along and actually made flexibility more commonplace. Most organizations now do hybrid working and they're very aware of this.

But there are some organizations that still think that actually we're going to get back to how it was before Covid. And I really think that's a real challenge and organizations need to watch out for that because if that starts becoming this normal again, that's not going to help gender quality at all.

And you've got to be aware of things like two tier workforce so that women don't start working at home and men go into the office and that's where decisions are made and conversations happen. And if that happens, then that's going to be really, backwards.

There are things like office admin that women always tend to pick up. Writing notes for meetings or making the tea and coffee and those kinds of things. It's really up to men to take a step up and say, "I'll do that. Don't you do it. I'll do that." Women often join network groups and they're the ones trying to do things on the side of their desk.

But actually, they haven't got time for this, but they want to really make change happen. Things like networking in the evenings or setting early morning meetings. These things do not help with gender equality, especially when you have children.

Things like, being told you need to do a presentation tomorrow and can you just learn it tonight? It's "No, I can't do that because I've got to get home. I put the kids to bed, I've got my next job to go to after I leave here." And then bias is also really inherent in all of us, and it continues to exist in the workplace all time.

So when it comes to things like promotions, leaders often tend to seek out people in their own likeness, people who look and sound like them, interested in the same thing. We've got to be really careful and conscious of this sort of bias. We all have it, it's not something that you are bad if you do have this, everybody has it.

Sophie Smallwood: Fascinating. And this mentality as well of, okay, great. Now post Covid, we do remote, we do work from anywhere. But does that actually help to enable equality across the board. I guess is a question I'm putting out there and maybe you have some thoughts.

Joy Burnford: Yeah, you're absolutely right and often when people think about flexible working and they just they put it all in one bucket and it's totally different.

There is so much flexible working. It's not about working at home; it's not about working in the office. There's so much to it, broader than that. Absolutely. And often home working can create more burden for a lot of people because they're feeling they can never switch off.

So from a wellbeing perspective, you've got to be really careful. And that's why job sharing I love because you have to switch off on the days you're not working because you don't want to interfere with your other job share and you really have to stop working. Whereas if you're part-time, you might think I'm just going to just do a little bit on that day cause I've got to do it because nobody else is there to do it.

And if you're a full-time you might put the kids to bed and then you might start working again because it's easy because your laptop's up and that kind of thing. And I remember in lockdown, I heard one organization said they actually, they switched all the laptops off remotely.

Actually trying to force people. And it's also to do with how you role model this as well as senior leaders. I've seen, board members who have role modelling working from home. And they're just never switch off.

They never have a break. They never stop to have their lunch. They never go for a walk. And as soon as you have that at the top of the organization, people will think that's the thing to do. And people might go on holiday and they're working and then employees think "I've got to do that."

I talk in my book about inclusive leadership and top down role modelling, showing what the right things to do are from the top.

Sophie Smallwood: It's a good point, we don't want to take away the remote, but how do you do it in a way so that you can disconnect?

And that wellbeing piece is incorporated. Another thing you mentioned, which I very much relate to, and I'm sure a lot of other working parents will across the board. Are the events. The after-work events. I remember before having children, no biggie. I was very happy to go to after work drinks.

But the moment I came back to work, and I had my child, I remember feeling a lot of anxiety around events that were scheduled after work. Even early in the morning, I could maybe manage, but after work in particular for me, it was really challenging. And I understand the mornings being very challenging for others too.

I remember bringing it up and suggesting in a very friendly way, could we also, perhaps instead of doing after work, do lunchtime events. If it's social, let's leverage lunch hour and take that time. But I remember it fell flat on its face. So another point to think about around bringing in a more equitable workforce is making sure that it is really diverse and age diverse.

Because if you're joining a company where there isn't a whole lot of age diversity that would create a very singular mindset potentially. And I found that when I worked at companies that were diverse in age, I felt like I belonged a lot more.

Joy Burnford: Yeah, absolutely. I hadn't thought about that before about job sharing with different age groups as well because that might be interesting. No, totally. And when I was doing research for the book, there's a bit in my book all about flexible networking and I remember asking men as well as women, what do you think about networking?

Networking is essential for progressing in your career. It is essential. It's a real essential part of your career. To have it in an evening when half the population find it difficult to attend is just awful.

And actually when I spoke to men, they were like I really want to spend time with my family, but I daren't ask my business because they're going to think I'm not committed. It's creating a workplace that's better for everybody.

It's not just creating a workplace that's better for women. Because a lot of the time other people want the same things, it's not just a female thing. It's actually better for being a human being and having that time with family or doing, other things in your life. One of my clients, actually is an HR director, and she was telling me she was being asked to go to board meetings at eight o'clock in the morning, and she's actually a single parent to two boys.

And she asked the CEO, she said, look, we have our board meetings at eight o'clock in the morning. Please, can we move to nine o'clock in the morning? And she didn't for a long time ask this question. And now she's like, why didn't I ask sooner?

"He said, yeah, no problem. We'll move it to nine o'clock." So it's actually being brave. If you're in that situation as a woman and you are struggling with this, just ask the question because what's the worst that can happen? They can say no, but if you don't ask don't just expect it to happen because I know it'd be great if people thought about it, but often people don't.

So do ask the questions. Absolutely.

Sophie Smallwood: So your book Don't Fix Women has been well received and has started many conversations around gender equality at work. And you mentioned you've been published many times in Forbes. Can you share some of the most surprising or thought-provoking feedback you've received about the book?

Joy Burnford: Yeah, it was a really interesting question, and it's only came out in November, so it's still quite early days. But the one thing that surprised me actually about writing a book was when I set out to write it, I thought it was all about women and in, helping to advance women in leadership positions in business.

But the thing that surprised me most was through doing all this research was actually, if you do the things I'm recommending, it creates a better workplace for everybody. And that's the key. It's not about saying women are better than men. It's not saying men are better than women.

It's about saying we're all human beings and we all need to be treated as individuals. Personalization is a golden thread that runs through my book, and I hadn't realized quite how much that was going to come out actually when I started. Because I was like yeah, of course, men might want to spend more time at home as well.

Or they might want to do job sharing because they can do something else with their time. But they're not working. And actually the second thing, and I'm not just saying this cause I'm on this podcast, but job sharing was probably the thing that's caused most interest actually in this. And I remember when I was researching topics for the book and I heard Will McDonald, who's an all-male job share with an all-male job share to Aviva, he's profiled in the book, and I heard him talking on a webinar. And I thought, "wow, I hadn't even considered job sharing as a tool for gender equality."

And so I put it in the book, and I then started doing a lot more research around it and yeah, I just don't think people have thought about it. And all male job shares are a really good way. Doing a joint male and female job share, which equals gender balance, doesn't it?

At the end of the day, you've got men and women. So that's been something that people have picked up on time and again in conversation. And I've done talks specifically around job sharing as a result of the book because people are really intrigued, "oh, it won't work in my organization. I'm like it might, you just need to have a go."

Sophie Smallwood: There's a job share that I'm aware of that works at Google in In Switzerland, he's a man. He shares his role with colleague who is a woman. And the reason why he's job sharing, nothing to do with childcare.

His children are grown up, but it's because he's at a point in his career where he's invested a lot in his career at Google. He wants to carry on that trajectory in, in a job that is obviously. Aligned to his skills and experience, but equally he serves on a number of boards and investment committees, etc.

And he wants to be able to make time for that without it negatively impacting his work at Google. So the career portfolio use case is very relevant across genders, but certainly it's one we've seen with men as well. So obviously as the co-founder of Roleshare, I'm passionate about promoting job sharing as a way to create a more equitable and flexible workplace.

You don't always have to work flexibly in a job share. We're seeing an increase in co CEOs who aren't necessarily working flexibly. It's just the job is that big. It's great for flexibility, but also for providing the right level of skills and support in a role that is a very large. I'm just curious to know if you've seen successful examples of job sharing in your own work, and if so, what benefits you have observed.

Joy Burnford: Absolutely. And I'm constantly looking out for more people to talk to. So if anybody's listening and they want to share with me, join, connect with me on LinkedIn. I love hearing stories about how it's working so we can role model. A couple that I talked to recently, it was Charlotte Cherry and Alix Ainsley, who are the director of Talent and Learning for the John Lewis partnership.

And they've actually joined, they've moved as a job share partner around lots of different organizations and they first did it because if they wanted to balance work between their young families and work, but then they've also as a result seen a lot more benefit in terms of increased confidence and going for opportunities together.

So they probably wouldn't have moved if their role and progressed as fast if they'd been on their own because they didn't have the confidence to do it. And they talk about, a lot of people think that job sharing's about stepping back and doing more sort of administrative type work.

And actually they think it's about stepping up and it's not an easy option. It's been a real career accelerator for them. Laura Walker and Chloe Fletcher, who, are Sr. Director of Finance Transformation at Asda. They spotted an opportunity to job share and they didn't work together, but they knew of each other, and they love it because they know that somebody's covering the work on their days off. They can also really switch off, as I was saying. And as an organization they've cited increased focus on productivity, which is really important in senior roles.

Where the risk of burnout art is high. And one of the other things when I spoke to them actually was that the manager who the job share worked for has now gone on independently to start recruiting for a job share partnership.

Sophie Smallwood: Yeah. I love that you mentioned some of these examples. Just want to touch on a few things you said. The confidence bit is something we found is really fascinating and has been mentioned numerous times across all the job shares we've interviewed.

This elevated confidence that each person gets from this, what I like to call ultimate allyship of the job shares. The career accelerator? Absolutely. I remember when I was fundraising at one point, there was this one investor who asked me why would a company want to hire somebody who wants to work part-time, including job share, aren't they not really ambitious?

The reality was that he just didn't understand at all the motivation and the psychology of people who want to do this and the psychology behind people who want a job share in particular, I will say is fascinating.

They're extremely collaborative individuals. They are people who are extremely ambitious in all aspects of their lives actually, and they have the soft skills you would want in people on a team to that are promotable, right?

We do have a lot of men on our platform who are looking for job. We're about, say 60 40% on our platform. And just a few weeks ago, I was very excited to see a white man and a black man applying together for a job share.

Joy Burnford: Yeah. And younger generations as well. It's now because we're talking about these things more, , I don’t know what you are finding, but people in younger generations coming through are thinking I don't want to stick in a job for life. I want to do lots of different things.

I want to do a bit of this, I want to do a bit of that. And I want actually, maybe doing job sharing might be quite good because then I can do something else on the side. And yeah, it's fantastic and life is changing, the way of work is changing. We have to be much more flexible and agile and different skills.

And that just lends itself so beautifully to job sharing, having different skills that you can draw on. Two brains are always better than one.

Sophie Smallwood: So looking to the future, what do you think are the most important steps that individuals and organizations can take to promote gender equality and create a more inclusive workplace?

Joy Burnford: So there are five steps.

I'll try and keep them brief. So step one would be around educating yourself and being aware of gender equality. It could be starting with reading a book like mine or, listening to some webinars, going to a women's network event, or thinking about things like reverse mentoring and listening to people within your organization.

So really educate yourself and be open to educating yourself. Don't need to know all the answers, ask questions, be curious. Step two is about adapting your leadership style. And consider if you are, or, if you have inclusive leaders and look at what they're doing, ways you can drive change and make a difference.

Think about how your performance is rewarded. I know a lot of companies now are linking things like gender equality to bonus performance but bonus payments. And if you're not achieving what you need to achieve, they're taking their bonus away, which is a really interesting one.

So think about your leadership style and being more inclusive. The third step would be about thinking about the culture of your organization through a gender lens. So when you're thinking about your organization, how are you thinking? Think about it with different diverse groups in mind.

And again, so I talk about the three cultural framework frameworks of flexibility, allyship, and coaching. And they're just three, but they're the ones I feel that really help with the gender balanced business. And also, as I said before, it doesn't just help women, it helps every.

Step forward, be understanding the obstacles that women face. In particular, there are many obstacles that women can face. And I break them down into three different ones. Hormonal challenges, including things like miscarriage, menopause, maternity and monthlies. Things like childcare, elder care, and self-care. And confidence, which you've spoken about.

So just be really inquisitive and again, talk to people in your team or at home. See how you can help. And then the fifth and final point is just start making change happen today.

Just, in terms of job sharing, people say, "I'm not sure." And I'm like, "just start. Just have a go and just see what happens." Stop talking and start doing. It'd be really great to see if what I'm talking about can help people to take a small step, which will create a ripple and then in turn will create a big wave of change in the future.

There's a Chinese proverb that says, what is "the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second-best time is now. So I always leave that with people to say, do something today to try and move the dial.

Sophie Smallwood: I love it. That's great.

And just on that point, we were just at an event in London. This week around flexible working, and I had so many people come who were excited about flexible working and would love to see job sharing as something that companies adopt more and they just didn't understand why more companies aren't doing it.

I do, I understand why, because when we started this journey, we were doing and still are doing things that don't scale, right? Doing everything manually. So we went through the process, like matching people for roles and different jobs and literally it didn't take a whole to get foggy in your mind when it comes to matching multiple people to roles.

The additional factor of one actually makes it very complicated to do ad hoc. Now, if companies are stuck on that, yes, this is hard to do manually. So that's what we solve for with our platform. Obviously, what we found though is that the actual act of job sharing, it's a piece of cake for the people who do it. We all worked in teams before. It's applying those practices and all of the positive aspect of being a team player, I would say, on steroids, but for the good of the business.

Joy Burnford: Yeah. And actually coming back to your question earlier about what is stopping gender equality, in terms of job sharing making it up to the women, or whoever wants to do the job sharing, to put the business case forward. You should as an organization be thinking about how can we design jobs differently?

And this is an option that we offer.

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