Women Are Not the Weaker Sex. They Are Stronger Than They Think

Ewa Kurowska-Tober, Head Partner of the IPT Practice at DLA Piper.

If men gave birth, had periods, raised children, the world would be… very different, obviously. Certainly more open to the needs related to having children.

I’m sure there would be regulatory mechanisms to support combining motherhood, or rather ‘fatherhood’ with work – something women have spent years fighting for, and are still fighting for in this area. But maybe, the world would simply be a better place, too. Workplaces would be more open to the needs of people who have children, who menstruate, but also – more broadly – to those who have various needs related to their private lives.

Women are heads of large corporations less often, so business still… many needs of women are still not sufficiently noted by executives. Unfortunately, male dominance in management is reflected in their style of work and lower sensitivity to gender differences, not only related to motherhood but to female biology in general. The world is increasingly realising that women manage in a way that is more open to others, to listening to the other person, that is more empathetic, more capable of recognition and the will to reach an agreement.

When I hear the term ‘a working woman’, I imagine…. my female colleagues at work who are modern, confident, educated, able to reconcile work with their family, private and social lives. However, it is not always sunshine and rainbows. Many of us holding different positions in different industries, spend years bravely balancing between hard work, raising children (often as single moms), going to parent-teacher conferences, cooking dinners, cleaning and shopping. And rarely are they ‘perfect housewives’. It is the responsibility of modern employers to provide women with a workplace where they can feel safe and comfortable in a working environment that understands women’s needs.

Are women the weaker sex? When I hear this sort of thing, I think… This is a huge misconception! Women are not the weaker sex. In fact, they are stronger than they think. I tend to understand this sentence exactly the opposite. When I think about all the brave women across the ages, and now at modern strong women occupying higher and higher positions, it is really hard to say they are the weaker sex. For a long time, we have been able to reconcile many roles: the one of employee, manager, mother, or social activist for that matter. It doesn’t come easily since women have a natural tendency to perfectionism and juggling all too many responsibilities. Life shows, however, that we have tremendous resilience and talents, especially in the area of soft skills, which men often lack.

Careers are most hampered for women by unequal standards between the sexes. Even in seemingly ‘modern’ workplaces, we are constantly confronted with absolutely unacceptable stereotypes, such as that a woman with a child would work less well, that a young woman would soon become pregnant and ‘will be of no use at work’, or that menstruating people are ‘moody’ and are difficult to work with. Such crass statements are very harmful to hard-working women who often sacrifice much more than men in an equivalent position. A modern career path should level the playing field for both sexes, make people feel secure that pregnancy or being a mom would not be a reason to halt a career if a woman wants to continue it; or that returning to work after maternity leave would be fully supported by the employer and other team members. In order to be able to navigate this, women need to be in good, reliable workplaces that they will want to return to. The Career Cycle project is part of just such a good workplace that understands the needs of women.

If I could introduce one regulation to encourage women to be professionally active, it would be… It is difficult to point to one such solution here. Many elements are required to create a good workplace. Obviously, such regulations include provisions regarding maternity and parental leave. However, they only apply to women working under employment contracts. It should be remembered that many women work on other terms such as contracts of mandate, cooperation agreements, etc. Employers are increasingly trying to meet the expectations of their associates by offering programmes to support maternity. This is, for instance, what our law firm in Warsaw decided to do. It is also a good idea to enable flexible choice of your workplace and working hours, as well as to introduce solutions that support and facilitate the involvement of fathers in childcare wherever possible, which usually helps to ease the burden on women (who usually take on most of these responsibilities). Pandemic home office programmes are there to stay with us and are very much appreciated by employees, including women.

What impresses me about the women I work with is… their vast knowledge and responsibility, commitment and passion. They are wonderful ambitious women whose hard work and overcoming many obstacles have led them to great success in the legal world, which is becoming increasingly feminised. Many years ago, when I was negotiating large IT contracts, I often used to be the only woman in the room. Now young legal fledglings are confidently taking on specialisations related to new technologies. They are fierce, bold, eager, fantastically prepared. The world is their oyster.

In order to empower women in my company… we decided to create a local LAW (Leadership Alliance for Women) Group – the Warsaw team of our law firm’s global initiative. The LAW team runs a number of projects. Among other things, we announced our Manifesto where we made commitments to creating a good workplace that supports both genders in their career development. Our commitment includes respect for our colleagues, customers and business partners, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability or socioeconomic background, openness to different ideas and innovation aimed at supporting diversity and growth. We updated our absence policy to meet the needs of those who work with our law firm under civil law agreements and are not in an employment relationship. We are actively involved in the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest initiative that brings together sustainable businesses. We joined the Career Cycle project and we installed ‘helpomats’ at our law firm to distribute personal hygiene products for menstruating people.

What I would most like to hear from my female employees… is that they like our workplace and feel good and feel safe there as women, and enjoy the support and trust of their employer. That the steps we take effectively create conditions for their growth at every stage of their professional careers.

Menstruation at work is still a taboo… But this is slowly changing. In order to get rid of stereotypes, you need a mental change. Many of us, if not the vast majority, come from families where menstruation was a taboo topic, especially for men. Only now, thanks to public debate and social campaigns, are we beginning to talk about menstruation as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Employers will have an important role to play in this area by not avoiding the subject and responding to the needs of people who menstruate. As a law firm, we try to make the topic more familiar, respecting on one hand those who need more time and support to abandon their inhibitions, and on the other – people who feel a pressing need to make a difference and want to talk about many topics openly. In large cities, where the quality of life is high, issues related to menstrual exclusion are not as huge as in rural areas, where the living standard that sometimes borders on poverty, can contribute significantly to exclusion.


The text was published at biznes.gazetaprawna.pl on 19 May 2022