23 May 2024, 04:05
By Furniture News Mar 08, 2023

Wonder women and the path to equality

Last April, Furniture News explored women’s changing role in the furniture industry, by asking leading female professionals for their views on equality and the trade’s likely directions – and with International Women’s Day here again, we decided to revisit the topic in March's issue …

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women across the globe. That the disparity between the sexes remains an important issue in 2023 indicates that there is still much work to be done in the journey towards equality – and this holds true even for the UK furniture sector. 

In last year’s feature, while our interviewees were able to share some examples of sexism and misogyny in the workplace, they also felt in general that women were increasingly enjoying greater representation and empowerment within the industry.

The bigger picture, too, reflects some improvement – particularly in the UK. We noted then that PwC’s 2021 Women in Work Index found that the UK lagged significantly behind other countries in its share of women in full-time employment. However, the 2022 index saw the nation achieve the most significant improvement of all the 33 OECD countries ranked, moving up seven places (since 2020) to ninth – the first time in the index’s history that the UK has taken first position among the G7 economies.

The index’s historically lower-performing regions showed the greatest improvement, helping narrow the gap between the best- and worst-performing regions, and “indicating an improvement in equality in employment outcomes geographically, for women across the UK”, states PwC.

The House of Commons Library, meanwhile, estimated that the gender pay gap – the difference in average hourly earnings for men and women – in April 2020 was 15.5%, and this fell to 14.9% in April 2022. 

It appears that progress, albeit gradual, is being made. Yet, despite these gains, women from ethnic minority groups in the UK continue to experience significantly worse employment outcomes than white women, and this disparity has actually widened over the last decade, states PwC – and McKinsey’s annual Women in the Workplace report, which surveys women in corporate America, adds that women are still drastically underrepresented in leadership roles, and women leaders are now leaving their companies in greater numbers.  

This month, we’re again asking some of the trade’s most inspiring women to share their thoughts on the industry’s gender balance, the challenges they’ve faced, and the direction of progress – as well as offering would-be newcomers a few words of advice.  

While the debate currently raging around gender recognition has some questioning the very nature of womanhood, the recognition and celebration of successful women within a male-dominated space remains important – not least so because, without progress, the industry could remain less attractive to much-needed new female recruits, and the huge potential they can offer.

Thanks to this month’s feedback panel: Alice Rowen Hall (Rowen Homes); Jessica Alexander (National Bed Federation); Frankie Haynes (Bensons for Beds); and Fara Butt (Shire Beds). 

Read the feature here, and see related articles for last year's report.

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