Bristol Business Blog. Sandra Gordon, director, Bristol Women in Business Charter: We can create England’s first gender equal city

September 6, 2023

Looking at it rationally, having a Bristol Women in Business Charter is counterintuitive.

We should not, rationally, even be discussing the ‘business case’ for women to be an equal and part of a fair and moral functioning economic system.

There would, you could argue, be no rational reason to create a single barrier that would exclude half the population from contributing equally.

Of course, being ‘rational’ in the radically uncertain modern world as it transitions from ‘old’ to ‘new’ has been proven to be tricky. And we know how challenging change, on even an individual level, can be.

When it comes to systemic change within a business, we now know for certain that leaders need support and accountability structures to create and continue the change we need.

We also know that we can create a Gender Equal City here in Bristol.

The Bristol Women in Business Charter (BWIBC) was formed in 2019 by Bristol Women Commission’s Women in Business Task Group, a group of volunteers working together to achieve women’s equality in line with the city’s commitment to the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life.

While there are many powerful organisations supporting women across the UK, each one of the above bodies is a genuine ‘one-off’ – 100% unique to Bristol.

As a Bristolian, and a lifelong believer in the power of inclusion, being involved in establishing and developing these groups has been a great privilege.

At BWIBC, now operating as an independent CIC (community interest company), we work with small to large businesses to create collaboration and build a community actively making a difference for the women who work for them. Collectively, these businesses represent nearly 45,000 Bristol-based employees.

From the University of Bristol, UWE and City of Bristol City College to Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council, and from to law firm Burges Salmon, ethical bank Triodos and financial services group Hargreaves Landsdown, we are all learning from each other.

You can read our recent impact report here, which was presented at a Bristol Women’s Commission meeting at City Hall earlier this year.

And yet, despite the continuing momentum and consistent approach there is work, lots of work, to do. For me, there is a particular need to start to look at who women are at work.

Women are not one homogenous group with only one set of needs. We are made up of a rich tapestry of abilities, skills and preferences.

This is particularly relevant when we look at how women access specific sectors, such as tech and engineering, which are either tantalisingly out of reach or, such as the care or service industry, traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’.

Our colleagues at Bristol Women’s Commission’s Women in the Economy Task Group are already looking at how caring, in particular, impacts the female employee quotient.

There is no question this work is a huge bolster to the economy – but at what cost to women and our future prosperity?

And as Bristol’s internationally renowned gender pay gap expert and former Bristol Women’s Commissioner Zara Nanu MBE recently said on LinkedIn: “The uncomfortable reality is that we have assigned value in paying for work in a largely random and unstable way.

“A way heavily influenced by the habits and unconscious biases of, predominantly, men and we’ve adhered to them even as our economies have evolved beyond recognition.”

Bristol has a fighting chance to change this.

As hard as change is, as a business community we stand on the vanguard of showing other cities and populations how this work is done.

The Bristol Women in Business Charter and Bristol Women’s Commission’s active Women’s Economy Task Group means we are way ahead of the game nationally in establishing ourselves as a city that means business for the whole community.
And, as any rational mind knows, not letting this chance slip by is just common sense.

Find out more about the Bristol Women in Business Charter and, if you haven’t already, sign up here.

Sandra Gordon is a longtime equality campaigner, co-chair of the Commission on Race Equality, member of Bristol Women’s Commission and director of Bristol Women in Business Charter 

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