This year’s Women’s History Month provides an important focal point for Leonardo’s Equalise network group – one year after it was established – and a chance to consider how it is changing attitudes amongst the company’s UK workforce.
“We launched the group a year ago on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019,” says Equalise chair, Louise Dale. “As with anything new, in a large company like ours, the whole initiative and strategy is likely to be out of many people’s comfort zones. People were asking ‘What’s the agenda? Why are they doing this? What’s it all about? Is it another box-ticking exercise?’”
In the face of a healthy dose of scepticism, the past 12 months have seen Equalise communicating a soft and simple message of ‘this might not affect you, but I bet it affects someone you know’.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female or non-binary. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay or queer. None of those things matter because we’re all human beings, and ultimately things happen to human beings,” adds Louise.
It is this approach which has seen positive engagement from a mix of people and groups around the UK sites, according to Helen Allen, who is vice-chair of Equalise.
“Gender balance is people balance, and people balance is good for everybody,” explains Helen. “Ultimately, gender balance affects 100% of the population, so if we can achieve visibility and understanding – supported by education – we’ll be very happy indeed.
“However, before being able to change behaviours, you have to change attitudes, which is our remit for our three-year term leading Equalise. There’s no point in forcing people to do things differently if they don’t believe in the reasons behind that change. This is why we began by focusing on education and awareness.”
Celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day
Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are ideal occasions to discuss the issues around equality and promote the message that the more equal our workplaces are – moving beyond the gender balance conversation – the better is it for everyone.
“Such events give us the chance to celebrate what women are contributing to society, science, the world…just as they have always done.
“Anything we can do which improves the visibility of women within our organisation and women’s roles in society, has to be a positive for us because there aren’t that many of us in the company. Things are changing but there is still so much more we need to do,” maintains Helen.
While women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – fields in which there continues to be female under representation) is a key strand of the overall Women’s History Month campaign this year, the network group is also focusing on women’s wellbeing.
“We aim to make it an accessible way of understanding, sympathising and identifying with women in the workplace and beyond,” Helen explains.
Louise certainly believes her responsibility and sphere of influence is both in the workplace and beyond.
“I tell my children every day they can be who they want to be. But it’s not just my children I should be setting a future for; I should be doing it for me, my colleagues and my friends. If we can create a workplace where everybody can come to work and feel ok, feel safe and that if there’s something wrong, someone will care and help them, then I’ve done my job,” she says.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a white male or a black female, we all face issues in the workplace. The Equalise network group is about raising awareness of issues around health and wellbeing, bringing people together through common causes, and people having the assurance to know that they’re not alone. With 7,000 people in Leonardo’s UK business, the chances are that someone else has experienced the same or something similar to you.”
Giving women the power to make informed decisions
As the group embarks on its second year, Louise and Helen believe that there is a need for greater engagement with employees at all stages in their careers, but particularly women in the company who may be planning on having families.
“Ultimately, the aim of Equalise and Leonardo’s other network groups is to support people who may not have felt supported at times in their lives or in the workplace. Until we have a strong enough voice, we can’t positively impact change,” says Louise.
“Female members of staff need to consider where their careers are going, where their lives are going, what their choices are going to mean,” adds Helen. “Therefore, we have to work hard to not only meet the people who are naturally going to come to us with those questions about part-time working and their career, but also reach out to those people who aren’t making those decisions yet, ensuring they’re part of the conversation before they have those sorts of decisions placed upon them. Equally, for people who are later in their careers, we need to be reaching out to them and seeing how things could be improved for younger colleagues when they reach the latter stages of their own careers.
“The work we do as a network group is only part of the puzzle. We’re hugely proud of all our members, particularly our site leads who do such a good job. We’re extremely hopeful and positive that the work we do as network groups will continue to be supported and built upon across the company, not just at operational level, but at strategic level too. We have real hope that the future is a positive one for all of us,” concludes Helen optimistically.