Is International Women's Day Needed?
I suspect you’ll see posts this week with #ChooseToChallenge and you may wonder, “Is International Women’s Day really needed?” Maybe you’re bored of stories about how inequality has been vanquished, “Are we really still talking about this?”
Because we still have significant bias in our economic, political, corporate and family systems. There is no country in the world where children experience gender equality, yet. This means that the institutions which represent our society do not include all voices in their future; our collective decisions do not reflect the lived experience of our population. Which is why I support women and leaders to ensure their whole possibility is realised.
Although 51% of the UK population are women, they make up only 34% of MPs, 21% of national newspaper editors, 39% of secondary school heads and 5% of FTSE 100 CEOs. We still have a 15% gender pay gap in the UK and a culture of secrecy around salaries, despite 50 years since the Equal Pay Act. These statistics are even more unrepresentative for women of colour.
Our system doesn’t support men fairly either. Male mental health is worsening; British men report lower life satisfaction than women and male suicide is at its highest reported rate for twenty years (three times higher than women). Transgender people continue to experience severe harassment, stigma and discrimination in the most basic of ways. We have yet to get comfortable with the fullest expression of our human right to an authentic identity. Bottom line, we have a long way to go until we achieve true equality.
Global oppression of talent due to gender bias is crippling for everyone
Our ability to solve problems like poverty, sanitation, health and social welfare are restricted without a diverse contribution of talent. Even in affluent countries we’ve still not overcome sex-based assumptions at a meta-level. It makes good business sense to ensure more adult humans can give their all, but we don’t have everyone contributing fully and continually throughout a lifetime’s career. We want a vibrant economy, which draws on everyone’s best contribution, to create a society at ease with itself.
However, our cultural norms and internal beliefs are not supporting everyone equally.
International Women’s Day (8th March), International Non-Binary People's Day (14th July), International Men’s Day (19th Nov) and Equal Pay Day (varies by demographic) are all campaigning for the same thing: International Gender Equality. Are these days needed? Yes.
#ChooseToChallenge, with one hand up, publicly shows your commitment to choose to challenge inequality – to call out bias, question stereotypes and do your bit to forge an inclusive world, for each of us.
This pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities experienced by women. It has revealed the lack of care in our economy, a predisposition towards out-of-date workplace norms, disparity of labour within families and other “essential work”, with an intensified threat of domestic violence and financial risk for women in the job market. These tangible, real inequalities in 2021 are underpinned by a hidden, invisible responsibility.
We each hold assumptions which limit others. We cannot help the beliefs we were given by the gendered society we were raised in, but we can elect to consciously challenge and change them. Left unconsidered, these subjective judgements twist into restricted choices, like loops of invisibly strong spidery thread they constrain our potential as an organisation, a community and a system. They restrict the ways we interact; they minimise our creativity and dampen our willingness to reach for what’s possible. Instead of seeing everything as a competition, a chance to better our own position, we can choose to widen our perception of value.
Wherever we have the privilege of being an active decision maker, we can use that role to receive a wider contribution.
Equality is a change which will take years of determined action. It’s not an easy strategy to commit to because of the inherent personal exposure and uncertain shareholder reward. Wherever we have the privilege of being an active decision maker, we can use that role to direct the agenda towards change and receive a wider contribution. Think - can you request a new list of candidates, focus on the work not the hours, adjust this year’s performance review to include the reality of childcare, dig into your company wage data to see if women really stayed the course in this pandemic.
You will feel at risk if you’re genuinely being an ally to inequality. I help leaders to understand their own vulnerability behaviours during change, so they can boldly level up and transform our world. From working with individuals under pressure, I know that when we’re presented with ideas which challenge our norm it takes discipline and strength to tune to what's positive. Finding the words, “What I appreciate is...” when we're vulnerable and, “What’s difficult for me is ...” when we're stressed takes practice. It's unhelpful to sugar coat it, the work of equality is uncomfortable, unless we do it together.
We need each other’s support. When we visibly make a choice – a comment, an investment, a policy, an act of solidarity – to create equality we are an inspiration to others. It’s contagious, and it’s not only for others to do. It’s no longer acceptable to personally hide from the edges which challenge us individually. Our beliefs, feelings and representations require alert consideration. We each have a duty to treat each inkling equally and entertain that which we might not know, yet. Our collective intelligence is yearning for more diversity; we need new perspectives which bring interest and challenge.
That’s why #ChooseToChallenge is needed. Almost every day leaders experience an opportunity to include others proactively, to accept the positive pressure to expand beyond their comfort zone. It’s #NotJustOneDay when we're all responsible for waking up to our own thoughts, words and actions. The awareness generated by a day like International Women’s Day increases our public accountability. It signals that we’re willing to face the inevitable discomfort of doing this work and be an ally to mutual growth.
If you’re wondering what more you can do …
Ask a female or non-binary colleague what she/he/they really think the issues are and listen. Really listen, without interrupting, with an open, curious heart
Watch 'The Morning Show' or 'Motherland' or 'Mrs America'
Read something which stretches the boundary of your gender understanding – ask an ally you admire for recommendations. Try texts by Audre Lorde, Caroline Criado-Perez, Roxane Gay or Kate Bornstein. Download 'Girl, Woman, Other' or 'We Should All Be Feminists'
Try Brené Brown’s podcasts 'Dare To Lead' and 'Unlocking Us' to hear about topics related to vulnerability and leadership (which is the inner work of equality)
If you’re interested in doing something to make progress more real, then consider donating to the Fawcett Society, vote for a female candidate when you next get the chance to, become a member of the Women’s Equality Party, officially mentor a diverse talent in your organisation or invite some challenging speakers to start a vibrant conversation about what’s needed in your workplace
That’s all it takes. Simple, and yet challenging. Just like the experience of inequality. Blindingly obvious, but continuously confronting for those who have to live with it. Today, and every day, is an invitation to be present to the edge you’re crossing personally and to support the change our whole system is moving towards, together.
We need you with us.
1. Data sourced from Fawcett Society, Sex And Power Index, 2020
2. Data sourced from ONS, Gender Pay Gap Reporting in the UK, April 2020
3. Data sourced from ONS, Personal Wellbeing in the UK, 2017 reporting on gender
4. Data sourced from ONS, Suicides in England and Wales, 2019 registrations
5. Goals stated by Women’s Equality Party, website, March 2021