The legacy of International Women's Day
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
March 8th 2022 was International Women’s Day.
It brought with it the usual fanfaring of female employees from organisations far and wide - with news feeds fit to burst with female team members being celebrated or thanked in one way or another. But as the dust settles and business as usual resumes, has anything actually changed?
For over a century, International Women’s Day has provided an important opportunity to campaign for change. The original aim was to achieve full gender equality for women across the world. Yet despite the heady positivity of International Women’s Day online, real gender equality is still a long way off. The gender pay gap still resolutely exists, with a recent report by the Fawcett Society noting that women currently hold less than one-third of the UK’s top jobs.
Following the pandemic, this gap has widened again, with data from UN Women suggesting that the pandemic could have put gender equality back by 25 years, as a result of women doing significantly more domestic chores and family care.
So in order to leave a lasting legacy, International Women’s Day has to be more - much more - than just the day itself. Corporates must use the momentum generated by these fantastic campaigns as a springboard to make concerted efforts to redress the balance.
This year’s hall of fame… and shame
On March 8th this year we saw hundreds of organisations celebrating International Women’s Day online, with news feeds filled to burst with pictures of female team members and lists of thank-yous to female colleagues, bosses, mentors, friends and family.
However, one twitter bot was ready to call out those organisations who’s approach to International Women’s Day was no more than skin-deep. The twitter account @PayGapApp - which has over 75,000 followers - made the news by replying to every corporate tweet that used the hashtag #IWD2022 with a tweet highlighting the salary disparity between men and women in the company. The founders of PayGapApp were quoted as saying: “On IWD, Companies will show their support across all their comms and their social media, but they don’t provide any data or evidence to show what they are doing to challenge discrimination.”
By comparison, The Economist magazine marked International Women’s Day this year by inviting education campaigner and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai to be its guest editor of its online essay section. It also published the findings of its yearly Glass Ceiling Index, which combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity and paternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. The stories were then featured on its International Women’s Day hub.
Taking steps to #breakthebias in the workplace
Social media campaigns aside, it’s true that many employers have made steps towards redressing gender inequality in the workplace, including offering tools and resources to help with flexible working. The pandemic has shown how flexible working benefits the lives of many employees, and that expanding flexible working beyond the traditional uptake of mothers with young children has a positive effect on gender equality.
However, these are still not going far enough. Beyond tangible corporate initiatives including maternity policies and part time working, gender bias runs deeper and presents differently to different people. Not every woman is a mother, for example, so equality is more than maternity and childcare policies. It’s about creating a workplace culture thatembraces and encourages different voices and styles – of any gender.
This article shares four excellent practical steps towards identifying and tackling bias in the
Examine and track more than representation data: Use more advanced tracking to understand disparities. Globally, organizations report low levels of tracking key metrics by gender, with just 28% reviewing gender differences in performance. Breaking the bias will come through examining data, identifying shortfalls, and making changes to the underlying policies, processes and programs in those areas to ensure they are no longer hospitable to bias.
Ramp up reporting and transparency: Greater public disclosure and transparency can accelerate change by holding decision makers accountable. Not to mention the fact that employers and job seekers now expect better representation: 76% of Gen Z and 72% of millennials have said that D&I is an important topic for brands to address, and they want to see more effort surrounding representation from the brands they support.
Build a balanced talent pipeline: Inclusivity and equality starts at the hiring stage. This may include ensuring competencies and inclusive behaviours are integrated into the job description and performance measures.
Evaluate and employ DEI technology solutions: DEI technology has the potential to be a disruptor to the structural biases that hide in our processes and behaviours. Applied correctly, technology can enable scalable, consistent decision-making while also alerting users to previously hidden patterns of bias — allowing leaders to measure and monitor the impact of DEI initiatives more effectively.
The impact of women’s equality at work isn’t just on the individual. It’s well documented that organisations with greater diversity among their executive teams tend to have higher profits and longer-term value. Businesses that show a commitment to gender diversity also tend to attract and retain better talent (read the report here).
International Women’s Day is fantastic for awareness of the issues, but it’s time for businesses to look in the mirror at their own longer-term approaches to breaking the bias year round.
After all, the aim of International Women’s Day is that it’s never needed at all.