Striking the right balance at work

Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

International Women’s Day is a global event which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a worldwide call for gender parity to encourage inclusive behaviours.

The theme for the coming year is #BalanceforBetter. This is not about reducing the role of men, hence the call for “balance”. We all have unconscious bias. It is not gender specific. We all make snap judgements but can counteract this by taking a more reasoned approach. When we tap into everyone’s strengths it creates diverse teams and uses a broad range of talents. 

Performance bias studies have shown employers underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s performance, so women often have to do more to achieve parity. Gender bias can be removed from the selection processes by removing information about gender from a CV in the first stages of selection.

Women have been shown to be held to higher standards in the workplace but often receive less credit and are more likely to be blamed for failure. This means they can wield less influence which erodes their confidence, so they are less likely to secure senior positions and more likely to disengage when faced with repeated challenge.

We all automatically gravitate to people of a similar appearance, belief system or background as ourselves so in organisations where there is a predominance for one group this can have a negative effect on people who are seen as different.

Personally, I don’t feel the answer is to create women-only groups


Maternal bias affects women when they choose to have families, but it has also been shown to affect men too which is important in a world where men rightly want to spend more time with their children. Men can be held back from roles which are considered to be more likely to be associated with women and face bias if they are from a minority group.

Only around 20% of IOSH members are women and women are disproportionately more likely to be represented in the lower membership grades. If our role and influence is to be enhanced within organisations, we need to tap into the widest talent pool possible and retain members within the profession, so this really matters.

When people feel excluded, when they feel they have been treated differently, face greater obstacles or fewer opportunities than those they work alongside, we know it triggers the same response in the brain to physical pain which makes this an OSH issue.

Personally, I don’t feel the answer is to create women-only groups, which isolates men, but to look into how we interact with each other to achieve the same energy and sensitivities. When we achieve gender parity everyone feels happier in the workplace, it is better for business and good for the lives of men and women. 

So, let’s look into ourselves, at the decisions we make, our behaviours. Let’s challenge negativity in a positive manner and not be afraid to call out inequality when we see it because having balance is better for us all.


Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

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