Businesses around the world have been marking International Women’s Day on March 8 with week-long celebrations and events.
And of course, it’s the right thing to do. It is the ONE day of the year we get to honour the history of women’s fight for labour rights and acknowledge the struggles that still play out today.
But what happens when the curtain comes down on International Women’s Day, the pledges have been made, minds have turned to March 9 and business as usual, and the volume muted on this year’s theme #EachforEqual.
International Women’s Day celebrations overflow with narratives about ‘milestones’ already achieved. But, when 25% of women in the UK live in poverty; more than a 1/3 do not have pensions; black African women have a pay gap of 19.6%, and Muslim women are living under heightened Islamophobia, the language of ‘milestones’ seems redundant.
International Women’s Day celebrations must also signal businesses’ intent to remove privilege, make gender diversity core to hiring, improve workplace cultures
Organisations are not getting to the heart of what women need, nor understanding why investing in dedicated female development results in sustainable organisational change.
It is time we change the culture
Natasha Mudhar, CEO of The World We Want & Sterling Global, says: “The fact that we are in an unequal world whereby one’s gender defines their social, cultural and economic outcome is truly outdated. While a lot of the countries have reversed age-old practices of prescribing gender-oriented roles and requisites, there is still a great degree of progress to be made internationally. This is the simple reason why we have a day set aside for Women international, to remind us of the significant progress made and perseverance required to complete it.”
She adds: “Organisations should also take the lead in refining the culture by training staff and managers to get rid of unconscious bias and ensure transparent practices. Another key aspect to address is the culture of relaying the burden of childcare responsibility solely on mothers. More often, women are forced to take an extended leave of absence to several months or years for maternity and childcare, having to part away from the workforce for long periods. This further affects their work-life and adds up in widening the gender pay gap as men with more experience tend to move forward onto senior management roles. This is visible in the fact that women only hold 16.9% of boardroom seats globally.
“The year 2020 represents an unmissable opportunity to mobilise global action to achieve gender equality and human rights of all women and girls with the theme #EachforEqual” drawing attention to the difference individuals can make. Don’t just Mind The Gap, together though our smallest actions, we can Close the Gap!”
International Women’s Day
Citrix’s area vice president for Northern Europe, Michelle Senecal de Fonseca, comments: “In over 30 years of promoting International Women’s Day, to me, it doesn’t feel like things have changed much for women in many sectors as far as career progression is concerned – including in the technology sector.
“Yes, there have been advances, but change, on the whole, seems to happen at a glacial pace – global warming is happening at a faster rate than gender equality. In many instances, women often have aggressively pursued pay rises and promotions in comparison to their male peers, and they still struggle to get into the C-level jobs for the most part.
“International Women’s Day this year takes place against the backdrop of the renewed prominence of the #MeToo movement following the Harvey Weinstein trial. Without wanting to draw a direct link between the #MeToo movement and International Women’s Day, I do believe the Weinstein trial has put a spotlight on business behaviours that most professional women have dealt with but haven’t openly discussed in those last 30 years.
“To fit in and succeed within organisations that have traditionally been defined and managed, we women may have unwittingly contributed to this imbalance in the workforce by not speaking up more. With the increased numbers of women at all levels of organisations – even if they may not be the right proportions – we are finding our strength and voice. The jurors in the Weinstein case validated the fact that what women have to say matters. We need to be more comfortable in continuing speak up – but fairly and responsibly.”
Long way to go
Rachel King, Marketing Director at Breathe, says: “Days such as International Women’s Day are a great initiative to celebrate women and the role they play in the world of work. In 2020, it should really go without saying that any small business that doesn’t appreciate the importance of women in the workplace is missing out.
“Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from achieving gender parity, with women still paid less than their male colleagues in many cases. What’s more, there is still often a stigma around women returning to work from maternity leave. The first issue is an ongoing battle for campaigners, politicians, and employers, while the second requires a change of mindset, repositioning new mothers as a positive asset to their employers.
“While there have been significant leaps forward in these areas, there is still so much work to be done. Investing in your people is always the foundation of business success. Just last year, only 27.8% of women were still in full-time work or self-employed three years after childbirth, according to the University of Bristol. But rather than worrying about a lack of motivation or commitment on their return, new mothers and employers alike should look at the new skills they’ve developed while away, and how this can only be better for business.”
It is the time for organisations to put aside the safe choice of generic talent development and use International Women’s Day to drive female-centric lasting change for the women most marginalised by society’s systems of inequities.