Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day. A date to celebrate the achievements of women, to raise awareness of bias and take action for equality, International Women’s Day (IWD) is now an established fixture in the March calendar. But how are businesses really doing when it comes to gender equality?
We’ve worked with organisations including eBay, Rolls-Royce and EY to raise the topic among their employees. Let’s take a look at the top six gender equality lessons we’ve learned along the way.
The numbers tell a clear story that we have a long way to go to reach true parity. Women represent half the population, so is aiming for 20% female representation at board level among FTSE Russell 1,000 companies really enough? Your Gender Pay Gap report (if your organisation is large enough) is another demonstration of the inequality that may exist between men and women. Use this data as part of your messages to set the context for marking IWD.
There’s a difference between positive action and positive discrimination. Positive discrimination based on someone’s protected characteristics is illegal – as is actual discrimination. Positive action doesn’t negatively impact other groups. For example, if you currently hire very few women and decide to run a behind-the-scenes event for women to show what it’s really like to work in your organisation, no other groups are adversely affected. Identify those areas of your organisation that have less women and organise events just for them.
It’s not the job of women alone to fight for equality. Organisations wanting to make meaningful change are encouraging men and women to identify the barriers in their organisation and work together to overcome them. When people are active participants in identifying solutions, they feel more committed to implementing the new ideas and seeing them through. Workshops for this purpose are a great way to get people from across the business working together.
In her powerful TED Talk, Kimberlé Crenshaw – who originated the term ‘intersectionality’ – encourages us to bear witness to the stories of African American women killed by police in the US. She says that while we often hear stories about police brutality against black men, and against women, the narrative of violence against women of colour is frequently ignored. Sharing the real-life experiences of women in your organisation is one technique for raising awareness of the biases and barriers that women face. And these biases and barriers are not just because of their gender, but additionally because of their race, sexual orientation, physical ability or family status.
For decades, research into automotive safety has been done using dummies that represent a very specific, 50th percentile, man: a 171-pound, 5-foot-9-inch dummy first standardised in the 1970s. The result is that female drivers and front passengers are 17% more likely to be killed and 73% more likely to be seriously injured. It’s an extreme example, but it neatly demonstrates how looking at the same problem from a different perspective can lead to a wildly different outcome.
Challenge any cynics seeking to drag down your efforts this IWD with the simple fact that IMD does exist and happens in November each year. It celebrates the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities. The stats show that men face challenges linked to their gender too. For example, globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide. International Men’s Day aims to raise awareness of men’s wellbeing and share stories from positive role models.
As I explored in my recent blog on communicating divisive issues, gender equality is not as easy a topic to communicate as it perhaps should be. IWD provides a powerful motivation to push the topic into the spotlight in your organisation.
There probably will be cynics in your organisation, and you’ve probably already heard the arguments they’ll make. Being prepared to encourage a more mature discussion about gender equality is one way you can run a more impactful campaign of communications in your organisation this IWD.