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Home » Inclusivity in the Workplace » Women employees don’t need ‘fixing’ — the workplace system does

Helen Hodgkinson

Chief People Officer, TLT LLP

Women have always had to pivot, turn and shape themselves to fit a male-favoured workplace business model. However, new generations of employees are demanding change.

Companies don’t set out to be discriminatory, insists Helen Hodgkinson, Chief People Officer at law firm, TLT. Most have good intentions and want to do the right thing. Despite this, problems remain.

For instance, women still encounter obstacles like unconscious bias, gender stereotyping, sexism, limited senior roles representation, inadequate flexible working support and awareness gaps on women’s health issues in the workplace.

Proactive flexibility beyond statutory requirement

However, when it comes to better workplace flexibility, there’s an encouraging sign: from April, employees will have the statutory right to request flexible working from day one of employment. That’s great, agrees Hodgkinson — but companies should offer this type of opportunity anyway, without being asked.

“Any forward-thinking business should know that we all manage our lives in different ways,” she says. “For example, as a working mum of three, no two weeks are the same for me. If, post-pandemic, a company has gone back to mandating traditional ways of working, it’ll find it has problems recruiting and retaining talent.” Flexible working contributed to TLT reaching 33% female partner representation, exceeding its 2025 goal by two years.

Don’t fix the women
— fix the system.

Better understanding of women’s health issues

Similarly, businesses that aren’t alive to women’s health issues will need to be. In February, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued new guidance about menopause in the workplace and an employer’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010. “I cannot stress this enough,” says Hodgkinson.

“Women have their own sets of health challenges, which can significantly impact their ability to do their jobs: menopause, endometriosis and reproductive issues are just some examples. Providing additional support to women facing these issues can go a long way to keep them in the workplace.”

Business model adapting to women’s needs

To effect real change for female employees, Hodgkinson emphasises securing senior leaders’ support. They must actively engage with staff, seeking input on the support they need and initiatives they want to see implemented.

Setting ambitious targets for gender diversity will mean a business is holding itself accountable to do things better — much like TLT’s new target of achieving 50% female partners by 2029.

For a long time, women have had to pivot, turn and shape themselves to fit the current — and male-favoured — business model. “That is no longer sustainable,” insists Hodgkinson. “For new and emerging generations, it is time for that model to change. Don’t fix the women — fix the system.”

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