Jess Phillips on how to take a stand against workplace inequality

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  • With 67% of working women describing themselves as the ‘default’ parent during lockdown, coronavirus has only taken workplace inequality and brought it home. Labour MP Jess Phillips explains the importance of speaking up. 

    When we look around at the NHS staff, the supermarket staff, the care workers and teachers who have been the heroes of this pandemic, their faces are largely female. Yet at the same time the problems women face have truly been exacerbated by the crisis.

    Calls to domestic violence helplines have soared; the number of women needing a refuge bed have grown quicker than the number of beds to save them.

    While we were less safe at home, at work things for women have been equally tough.  Research shows that women were more likely to work in the sectors that had to completely shut-down, such as hospitality. 75% of furloughed male workers had their wages topped up beyond 80%; in comparison to 65% of female workers. Women lost their jobs more and when they were kept on they were paid less than men in the same position.

    I know from my own home how difficult it has been to manage the revolving door of children out of school, only to return for a few days before they are isolated again. Mothers were one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to say that they were doing the majority of childcare during school and nursery closures. For single mothers and mothers in low paid precarious employment, this will have been completely unmanageable; with nothing in the way of crisis childcare considered.

    ‘I want us all to speak up about the bullshit in our lives’

    I’ve already heard of businesses using the pandemic as an excuse to ‘restructure’ – alarmingly, a woman in my constituency told me how her company had only furloughed female employees. I believe as unemployment rises, and the risk of job losses increases, people will feel the pressure to remain silent on unsafe work practices, unfair decisions or unreasonable demands.

    We cannot let a pandemic be used to open the door to crappy bosses and bad stuff in our workplaces. Within my book Truth to Power, I use the stories of brilliant campaigners who took on governments and multinational companies to inspire people. I want us all to speak up about the bullshit in our lives. So how can you take a stand against workplace inequality?

    workplace inequality

    Jess Phillips MP (Getty Images)

    How to speak out against workplace inequality:

    1. Create a team

    First of all, never try and do this stuff on your own. If you can team up with colleagues and agree to advocate for each other, that’s a brilliant first step. Bad bosses will always try to divide and conquer, so create a team. Speaking up for someone else’s benefit is always easier than doing it for yourself. So if you have been working perfectly fine at home and want more flexible hours and arrangements going forward, speak to some of your colleagues about it. Come together to speak up for what suits you all.

    2. Get behind a campaign

    There is always strength in numbers, so if you can then join a union. Or link up with a campaign. If you believe all the pregnant women at work are being screwed over, join Pregnant then Screwed. If it’s disability discrimination you are seeing, then Disability Right UK can help. There will be others in your position, so look for a campaign and join it to make a difference.

    3. Know your rights

    It’s also really important to look over your workplace policies and remember there are laws in place to protect you. Read the mission statements and policies of your employer. Make them live by the lovely words they often write in their glossy annual reports. For instance, I’ve come across companies with amazing PR suggesting they’re all about progress and equality. In reality they’re absolutely terrible to their staff.

    4. Hold your company to account

    Challenge your company on who they say they are. Speaking up is nerve-racking and risky. But saying nothing and living with crap in a job that’s making you unhappy, or unable to manage childcare, or physically unsafe is scarier.

    If you want something different, I’m afraid you’ll have to speak up. Of course, slagging off your boss behind their back is fun, but it never changed the world.

    *Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on BS by Jess Phillips MP is out now*

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