This time of year, it seems that everyone is preparing for International Women’s Day (IWD). The media, business leaders, and politicians are all are keen to share their opinion on its meaning.
Regardless of the day itself, the problems for women remain the same. Women are routinely paid less, promoted less, and rewarded less than their male counterparts in the world’s workplaces. The World Economic Forum revealed that none of us would see gender parity in our lifetime, and nor likely will many of our children, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. The same report revealed that gender parity would not be obtained for nearly a century.
Business leaders need to address the gender imbalance in the workplace now. Organisations are losing market share due to services not built for women and are falling behind competition due to lack of innovation caused by a homogeneous workforce. Ironically, they are also losing investment opportunities due to lack of workforce diversity, not meeting investors’ standards.
Other negative outcomes include the risk of bad brand reputation and even boycotts due to lack of gender diversity. At the very worst, businesses risk gender discrimination lawsuits due to their homogeneous workforce. At the same time, recruitment efforts can be hurt too, as they are less likely to attract and retain female talent.
So, how should organisations prepare for International Women’s Day this year? Read the following recommendations and learn how engaging with International Women’s Day could transform your company’s approach to gender equality.
The danger of the tick-box exercises
There is much hypocrisy in the corporate world. Some advertising campaigns that are run specifically for International Women’s Day demonstrate this perfectly. So much so that there is a special word for it: ‘femvertising’, or advertising using aspects of feminism when convenient.
For International Women’s Day in 2018, Budweiser featured female workers in the environmental safety, health management and mechanical engineering sectors on their social media. However, Budweiser has historically been well-known for running sexist advertising, including “the Budweiser Girls” campaign.
Likewise, on International Women’s Day in 2018, Google shared a trends dashboard showing search volumes for keywords relating to gender equality in an effort to celebrate IWD. However, just a few months before, 20,000 Google employees walked out of their offices after the New York Times reported that Google had allegedly protected high-level executives accused of sexual misconduct and paid a $90 million severance package to one of the men. Google did not respond to requests for comment.
In March 2019, fans of the popular British soap opera Emmerdale threatened to boycott the all-female International Women’s Day special episode for being sexist. In that instance, the programme leaders took a very narrow-minded approach to International Women’s Day, which failed to address the real problem of gender imbalance and was therefore criticised by their audience.
“Women are vital to ensuring finances — and financial education — trickle down to other parts of society,” said Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. He continued: “Governments and businesses serious about giving all members of society access to financial services should gear their resources toward women. It’s absolutely critical”. Bill and Melinda Gates recently donated $ 1 billion to promote gender equality. This is an example of a long-term commitment to supporting women, anchored in actions, rather than a tick-box exercise just on International Women’s Day.
If you want to avoid a tick-box approach to International Women’s Day, download this FREE eBook: “7 mistakes to avoid with diversity programmes” and learn from the most common mistakes organisations make with diversity programmes. You can also implement programmes to better support women in your organisation by reading this article: “5 ways companies can bridge the COVID gender gap”.
Do this one powerful thing to support women at work
If you really want to transform how your organisation supports women in a meaningful way, you must implement a year-long programme to support women. Many leading organisations have understood that supporting women goes beyond just celebrating International Women’s Day and have implemented a 365-day programme solely focused on gender equality.
Vodafone celebrates gender equality 365 days a year through its long-term gender equality programme. They have a major ambition to become the world’s best employer for women by 2025 and hold a week-long celebration to coincide with International Women’s Day.
Nestlé has been running multiple programmes promoting gender equality for the past few years. In January 2020, they were recognised in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for their transparency in gender reporting. In 2019, they laid out an action plan to globally increase the number of women in senior executive positions. With its Gender Balance Acceleration Plan, Nestlé announced it would put further emphasis on increasing the proportion of women in the group’s top 200 senior executive positions from around 20% currently to 30% by 2022.
Pfizer was also recognised for creating an outstanding programme to support its female talent pool through its internal global women’s network. Pfizer also stands out for sharing their annual gender pay gap report and being transparent on the female pay gap in their workforce, which is not the case for many organisations.
As the late Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court and women’s rights champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. … It shouldn’t be that women are the exception”.
When businesses ensure that women are in all places where decisions are being made, everyone benefits. This includes enjoying more market share due to services fit for a wider customer base, more innovation thanks to a more creative workforce, a better brand reputation, reduced discrimination, and better talent attraction and retention thanks to a more equality-minded brand.