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For women, a drive towards greater participation and inclusion isn’t without a price tag



I raise up my voice -- not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.’ - Malala Yousafzai 


As a mummy to my nine-year-old daughter, not a day goes by when I don’t think about how her experience of life, work, access, or opportunity might differ to my son. Not because of anything she may or may not have done, but because of her gender. Which makes me ponder, isn’t it remarkable to think that something you don’t have a say over (your gender at birth) can deeply influence how you may experience life? It’s almost akin to a gender-based tax on opportunity. 


As another International Women’s Day rolled past last month, it was great to see the spotlight shone on female empowerment once again. And yes, the world needs to do more to ‘inspire inclusion’. I’d argue women can only participate in society more equitably if greater attention is given to the invisible load that women often carry with them.  It can limit the extent to which inclusivity in the world is truly possible. Meaning, greater female participation in the world isn’t without a price tag. 


Now don’t get me wrong, the ideology here is spot on. We’ve certainly seen the UK and Europe take massive strides towards gender equality, implementing changes such as pay transparency, increasing women’s representation on corporate boards and working towards freedom from violence. But the road ahead is still long. 


According to the United Nations, women perform an average of 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men globally. In some regions, this figure skyrockets to over five times as much.[i] This disparity not only perpetuates gender inequality but also hinders women's economic empowerment and participation in the workforce. My worry is that without meaningful action to tackle this or provide appropriate support, this debate will sadly take decades to move on.  


In its recent fourth annual report, the TEAM LEWIS Foundation (in support of HeForShe, the UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality) revealed that 29% of women want men to speak out against gender inequality when they see it and promote laws against it. Active allyship from men, especially those in positions of power, is vital for accelerating progress – silence really isn’t an option. And when you factor in the huge cost of living crisis marreid by government funding cuts and curtailed public sector spending, the picture it paints is bleak. The report also revealed that 75% of countries will reduce public spending by 2025, which is starving community support systems of the required oxygen. 


Why does any of this matter?  


It matters because as the old adage goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ . When many women today are absent of help from their fellow villagers, society has to step up and provide the supportive scaffolding. Without this infrastructure, active inclusion in the workplace and society at large is much more difficult – forcing women once again to make impossible choices which are largely gender determined.   


The impact of this invisible load is therefore profound. Women who juggle unpaid work alongside their careers often face burnout, stress, and limited opportunities for advancement. The expectation to excel both at work and at home creates a constant struggle for balance, leaving many women feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. It’s the classic ‘can I have my cake and eat it’ syndrome that is always hotly debated with strong views on both sides of the fence.  


So, what more can be done? 


Continue to challenge gender norms and stereotypes, especially when it comes to the unequal distribution of work and tasks. It may require new muscle memory to begin to spot and solve these situations., but we must wake up from our societal slumber if we’re ever going to change anything. 


Workplaces must get better at recognising and rewarding the contribution that women make both inside and out of the workplace. This will help to further career enhancement, boost leadership potential, start to rewire policies and workplace practices to drive through systemic and lasting change. 


Education is key, and needs to be constantly topped up and invested in. From presenting young girls with alternative role models and providing greater freedom.  To self-select the choices they make and thought leadership on the big topics that define news and views. Learning is one of the most powerful tools we have on our journey towards greater gender equality. 


None of this is easy to achieve. Nor can it be accomplished by any one voice, one campaign, or one moment in time. But cultural change is possible if we start to look at problems more three dimensionally and examine the issues holding women back in a more root and branch way. Often, these things may not even be visible – often they are skillfully masked – but that doesn’t mean their impact is not felt. Quite the opposite. 


But where there’s a will, I always believe there’s a way. I feel hopeful that rallying cries like these, amplified by causes like International Women’s Day, will serve to ignite change.  


To read the full TEAM LEWIS Foundation report, please click here: 


[i] OECD