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#BreakTheBias: The future of work imagined

The theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias and.this year organisers are calling on employers to take decisive action against all forms of discrimination and bias, conscious or unconscious, to create inclusive work cultures where women can thrive.

For a long time, businesses have been responding to calls for integration of social and environmental issues in company policy from investors, customers and employees. Since the 2010s, there has been a push for greater convergence in ESG (Environmental, Social Governance) standards and, as of 2020, 88 percent of public trade companies and 67 percent of privately owned companies have ESG initiatives in place [1]. Today, more than 3,000 investors around the world have signed the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment, which include a commitment to comprehensive ESG analysis in investment decisions. The combined value of their assets under management grew from $6.5 trillion in 2006 to more than $100 trillion in 2020 [2]. These figures are mirrored in corporate policy and commitments to diversify teams, address gender pay gaps, and minimise environmental impact. However, the COVID-19 crisis prompted the biggest shift yet in workplace culture. As people across the globe found their ordinary routines restricted, with many being confined to their homes, the line between domestic and corporate life became blurred. This was paralleled by a shadow pandemic of spikes in violence against women and girls and employers were, for the first time, being called upon by politicians and public officials to implement strategies to protect employees from violence and abuse in the home. Gender inequality, discrimination and harmful social norms were put under a spotlight as the pandemic compounded many of the challenges already faced by women across the globe. As a result, the World Economic Forum predicts that women now have a 136-year wait to achieving full equality with men, an increase from 99 years according to pre-pandemic estimates [3]. To achieve gender equal workplaces, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the bias, discrimination and violence that continues to be faced by women.

Although bias can be seen in individual assumptions, inclinations and microaggressions, it is a systemic issue whereby harmful social norms are accepted and reproduced. It is discernible in the absence of any women of colour amongst FTSE 100 CEOs [4], in the 74 percent of parliament seats that are taken up by men globally [5], or the 77 cents women make for every dollar men earn [6]. The so-called 'motherhood penalty' persists as women with children face a wider wage gap and proximity bias as they are more likely to opt for flexible working options [7]. For many women, gender bias is compounded by other factors of their identity, such as their race, sexuality, religion, disability, age, indigeneity, geographic location, or economic status. One in eight Black and minority ethnic (BME) ethnic women working in the UK are employed in insecure jobs compared to one in sixteen white women [8].

In addition to its structural manifestation, bias a