Written by Helen Callaghan, HR Manager at ICS Accounting


On Friday 8th March I attended an International Women’s Day event at the Kings Arms Lancaster, which was hosted by the Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce.

The theme this year was #BalanceForBetter and the event focused on building a gender-balanced world, in which we all have a part to play. The day started with an introduction from The Growing Club, a local not-for-profit organisation that run business training events specifically for women. They help women at any stage of business through their courses, monthly skills workshops and weekly meet-ups. I didn’t know much about them beforehand and it’s great to know we have these support groups in our area for entrepreneurial women.

We then moved onto a workshop with Wendy Bowkers from Role, titled ‘Now-ness is the truest form of Sanity’. She talked about how we should grow with our employees in a holistic way, focussing on the now which may help to avoid burn out within the workforce. Interestingly, she stated 80% of a good conversation is listening, a statistic that made me think twice. To prove this point, we did an exercise in pairs, one person read a poem and then talked to their partner about it. The partner had to just listen, no nodding of the head, no smiling, just eye contact. I must admit I found this very odd as I like to acknowledge that I’m listening, and from the expressions around the room I wasn’t alone in this! The point of the exercise was to realise we need to listen to each other more. I agree, we don’t always listen to each other, we think we do but ideas and thoughts pop in our mind when we are mid-conversation. My question would then be, what could we achieve if we listened more?

It was then time to move onto a panel debate chaired by Wendy Bowkers. The panel members were:

* Nikki Hesford, MD of Hesford Media

* Professor Dame Sue Black, Pro –Vice-Chancellor (Engagement), Lancaster University

* Charlotte Rawes, Director of Apprenticeships and Employer engagement, Lancaster and Morecambe College

* Caroline Raynor, Partner, Baines Wilson LLP

* Colonel Rosie Stone, Deputy Commander (Reserves), British Army

The panel talked about career advice in schools, how we now have equal opportunities whereas in the past women may be directed to care, beauty and secretarial roles. Charlotte explained that the local college focuses on the skills of the candidates and what each individual wants to achieve to decide on their career. This is great, I say all jobs can be equal, I personally would like to see more men in HR as I think as a profession it is a female-dominated industry. It does make me wonder why, as there are many men who have the attributes required of HR, but they aren’t putting themselves forward. Charlotte also discussed how they’re increasing mental health awareness amongst their apprentices and using Sport for England to help relieve stress which is great as modern day society puts a lot of pressure on our young people.

Rosie then spoke of how the military has strong female activism. A more diverse military in both gender and ways of thinking can only be a good thing. As an organisation, however, they have always had equal pay and straight reporting parameters, which was (and unfortunately still is) way ahead of many private companies.

Caroline supports companies when it comes to employment law. She talked about agile working, enhancing maternity and paternity pay and how employers need to be proactive with true flexible working so they get the optimum work from their employees. 86% of people now see agile/flexible working as the most important benefit of employment and if businesses fail to embrace it, they’ll miss out on the best talent. The 9-5 is outdated in a globalised, technological world and employers are slowly realising this.

This event made me think about equality as a whole and reflect on what we’ve achieved so far, but there’s still some resistance to change so we have a way to go! I think employers are becoming more equal but, as women, we can miss out on things due to our tendency to be more cautious or we stretch ourselves too thin with work and home life. I’m not alone in having too many plates spinning at one time…I need to think more about the now!