08 Mar 2024
by Policy, Practice and Innovation Team
The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is Inspiring Inclusion, so we spoke with our Chief Executive, Dr Jane Townson OBE to ask her about the importance of this day of recognition, how to inspire inclusion in the workplace and more.

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

As a child, I was close to my grandmother. Granny's family did not give her the opportunity to pursue higher education, unlike her brothers. When she married, she had to give up work as a teacher. Granny longed to learn and to contribute to society outside the home. Women did not gain full voting rights in the UK until she was 15 years old, which gives a sense of the mountain that women had to climb in those days. Seeing the impact of this injustice made me determined to ensure change. Only two generations later, I was lucky enough to go to university and develop an interesting career at senior levels in different sectors, giving me many opportunities to support and develop others.

International Women's Day is a meaningful reminder of how far we've moved towards gender equality in the UK compared with my grandmother’s generation. There is, however, still much to do to ensure women have the same opportunities, rights and respect as men in all areas of society.

Gender equality is essential not only for promoting fairness and justice but also for improving societal well-being, economic prosperity, healthcare outcomes, and overall development at local, national, and global levels.

This year’s theme is all about inspiring inclusion, how do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

Women perform most care-related tasks in both domestic settings and the professional sphere. This division of labour reflects and reinforces traditional gender roles that limit women's opportunities and perpetuate inequality.

Data from Skills for Care show women represent 81 percent of the care workforce and men 19%. In senior management roles, though, women comprise only 69% and men 31%.

The work of care is often economically devalued, with the mainly female care workforce facing low wages, poor working conditions, and inadequate legal protections. This devaluation not only affects care workers' economic independence but also reflects broader societal undervaluation of feminised labour.

At the Homecare Association, we consistently advocate for systemic changes to recognise, value, and support care work appropriately. This includes calls for fair wages for care workers, better working conditions, and social policies that distribute care responsibilities more equitably among genders.

What practices (maternity policy, menopause policy, pay equity etc) need to be implemented to support women as they develop their careers?

Though the UK has a robust legal framework designed to protect women's rights, such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, ongoing advocacy and reform are necessary to address gaps in protection, enforcement, and support for victims of gender-based discrimination and violence. As retirement age increases, for example, more women are reaching the menopause whilst working, and employers need policies and practices to support women through these natural changes.

Caring responsibilities, including childcare and eldercare, have a profound impact on women's ability to take part fully in the workforce. The government must do much more to help families with caring responsibilities, so both women and men can balance their personal and professional lives.

The UK government has proposed legislation to support unpaid carers, known as the Carer's Leave Act 2023. The Act received Royal Assent in May 2023, and the government laid the draft regulations in Parliament on 11 December 2023. This legislation will come into force from 6 April 2024. Key Provisions of the Carer's Leave Act 2023 include:

  • Unpaid Leave: The Act will give employees who are unpaid carers the right to take up to five days of unpaid leave each year to support their caring responsibilities.
  • Support for Carers: The Act aims to help unpaid carers remain in work alongside their caring responsibilities, which is important given the high cost of living.
  • Protection for Employees: Employees taking Carer's Leave will have the same employment protections as associated with other forms of family-related leave, including protection from dismissal or detriment because of taking the leave.
  • Economic and Social Benefits: Experts expect the Act will bring economic gains for employers through increased productivity and reduced recruitment costs, as well as economic gains for the Treasury because of enabling more carers to continue working.
What advice would you give other women who aspire to work in leadership roles across adult social care?

Anyone with a caring nature can thrive in the care sector, and there are many opportunities for women and men to develop interesting and rewarding careers. Given the current gender split in the care sector, the odds are in favour of women rising to senior positions, so there is everything to go for.  

To succeed in any workplace, employees must have values which align with those of the organisation; be willing to work hard and collaborate with others; develop required knowledge and skills; adopt a positive and solution-focused approach; be able to cope with the normal challenges which arise at work; and have the courage and confidence to seek opportunities for development.  

Here are some pieces of advice:

Gain relevant qualifications and training

  • Pursue vocational qualifications: Engage in vocational qualifications relevant to your role in care. These can equip you with the practical knowledge and skills needed for your current role or the one you aspire to.
  • Consider higher education: If you aim for advanced positions, consider pursuing higher education, such as a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership in Health and Social Care, or a professional degree in social work, nursing, or occupational therapy.

Seek opportunities for progression

  • Understand career pathways: Familiarise yourself with the career pathways available in the care sector. This includes understanding the different levels of management and leadership roles that you can aspire to, such as becoming a CEO, director, or starting your own care business. The UK government is working on establishing a clear workforce pathway for care workers, which will outline essential knowledge, skills, values, and behaviours needed for effective work in adult social care.
  • Use free resources: Explore online resources and tools provided by organisations like Skills for Care, which offer information on job roles, skills, and qualifications needed in the care sector.
  • Stay updated on sector changes: The care sector is developing with a focus on supporting people to live independently and reducing the need for hospital treatment. Stay informed about new roles and specialisations that may arise from these changes.
  • Access learning and development opportunities: Take advantage of on-the-job learning and development opportunities to enhance your professional and personal skills, for example, sign up for training courses, seek coaching, cover absence of colleagues, attend conferences.
  • Network and seek support from others: Build relationships with colleagues and professionals in the care sector. Networking can open up new opportunities and provide support as you progress in your career. Seek mentors who can guide and advise you based on their own experiences in the care sector. Peer support is invaluable, as the care sector can be demanding, and we all benefit from the kindness of others when times are tough.

Personal Development

  • Set clear goals: Define your long-term career goals and create a plan to achieve them. Personal development is not only about professional qualifications but also about setting personal goals that can improve your work-life balance and overall well-being.
  • Reflect and improve: Regularly reflect on your abilities, learn from mistakes, and be open to feedback. This will help you grow both personally and professionally.

You can find more information about International Women’s Day 2024 here.