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Making work better for women: our members’ views

5 March 2021

To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke to Prospect members about gender bias and got their thoughts on what could be done to make work better for women and, in turn, better for everyone.

Prospect branch rep and Chief Fire Officer at East Sussex Fire Service, Dawn Whittaker, spoke of how we can make the workplace better for everyone through brave leadership. As a leader, she is pledging to empower women to have critical conversations. “That’s really important in my sector, which is quite hierarchical”. Your rank shouldn’t deem whether or not you can speak out, and we need leaders at every level of an organisation.

The ‘default male’

Ele Wade, President of Prospect and Senior Patent Examiner at the Intellectual Property Office believes that one way we can improve, not just the workplace but a number of outcomes for women, would be to stop the perception of the default male.

“It’s something that drives how we think about policies and change.” We need to start thinking that a worker can be of any gender and revert away from your starting point being the default male and thinking “how do we change the work to make it better for women? That’s sort of the wrong way round”.

Graduate trainee archaeologist and Prospect member Ashleigh Neal says that she has never felt she shouldn’t be working in commercial archaeology alongside construction workers because she is a woman. She points out that her employer takes steps to ensure women are supported at work, by providing sanitary kits in all the toilets, for example.

However, she says there are some other practical things on site that could be improved. “The changing room facilities we were provided just did not stack up in comparison to what the men got”, especially considering there were fewer men working on the site.

Women’s PPE: atrocious

Another issue for women working in archaeology is PPE. “Women’s PPE is just atrocious, currently we’re having to scramble for it because there’s only so many that get ordered”, and it takes longer to order than men’s sizing. Wearing ill-fitting PPE can be unsafe on site and is something that employers should address.

‘We can rethink how we work’

Jess Bryan is Chair of Prospect’s archaeology branch and Senior Archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology. She said one of the issues that has risen to the top of the workplace agenda this past year is flexible working. She believes it’s key for so many working in archaeology who may have had to consider leaving the industry due to caring or parenting requirements.

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can rethink how we work and I’d like very much for the industry to continue to think outside the box”.

We want to hear you think we can make work better for women

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