Another International Women’s Day has come and gone. There were some amazing events, campaigns and rallying cries showing the work that’s needed to achieve equality for women around the world. There was also the predictable “But when’s International Men’s Day?” whingeing (19th November, guys, come on, you should know this by now; if you’re so concerned about it, how come you haven’t looked it up yet?!) – and kudos to the awesome Richard Herring for putting in an epic shift for the eighth year in a row replying to the many tweets asking that question and raising more than £70,000 (so far) for Refuge in the process. There were also the tone-deaf, insensitive and downright offensive activities from organisations that we have come to expect, such as this truly mind-boggling effort from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, holding a ceremony to recognise the contribution men have made to their female colleagues.
Sadly, this kind of behaviour is all too common. Businesses of all kinds fall over themselves to make a gesture for International Women’s Day that papers over the cracks of their entrenched gender imbalances, or even outright misogyny. Brands make a stab at token, often patronising, efforts for their female staff and companies shove their lone female member of senior management in front of a camera so they can tweet about how great she is, before ignoring her in all meetings for the rest of the year. On what should be an empowering and inspiring day, it all leaves a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth.
I would love to see less businesses shouting about International Women’s Day on social media. I’d be thrilled if there was less noise around the day altogether. What I would like to see is a few key people talking – the women who are on the front line of driving change, the community groups providing research to measure the issues and facilitating action to address them, the women with lived experience of misogyny, harassment and discrimination, and the organisations who have demonstrated how genuine progress can be achieved – and everyone else piping down and listening.
International Women’s Day shouldn’t be a time to try to protest that you’re wonderful really and the fact that you only have one woman on your board isn’t your fault and is actually a sign of how far you’ve come. It should be a time for you to accept that there is a long way to go, to humbly accept that you’re not perfect (like everyone else on the planet!), and to make a commitment to moving towards positive change.
One of the biggest challenges to equality for women in the workplace, I believe, is the unwillingness of business leaders to accept they have a problem. A lot of people become incredibly defensive when gender imbalance is mentioned – they interpret it as an attack on them, as if they’re personally being accused of being a misogynist, and dig their heels in protesting that issue rather concentrating on the actual problem. Which is nothing to do with them personally. Which is a global, systemic, historical problem that has taken root over centuries and will take a long time and a concentrated effort to reverse.
80% of UK businesses are paying men more than women for doing the same job, and more CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are named Dave than are female; so if your business has a gender imbalance then it’s definitely not just you. No one is accusing you of anything – although, I don’t know you, maybe they are and maybe they’re right to, but that’s a separate issue; I mean that just the stating of the fact that you have an imbalance is not in itself an accusation. It would be a wonderful world if more bosses were willing to listen to those facts and take them on board. A leader who can hear, take on board and act on criticism is a great leader indeed.
I would love to see more business leaders accepting that they have work to do. No one would think any less of them – on the contrary, I think the general public would fall a bit in love with them. Nobody respects you for pretending you’re better than you are or outright lying about an issue that you have. People, on the other hand, adore you for owning your shortcomings and committing to working on them.
For International Women’s Day 2021, I hope to see more businesses being quiet and taking in the scale and shape of the problem. Maybe we’ll even get a few brave ones standing up to own their humanity and making a pledge to work towards genuine, meaningful change.
If you’re a business in Brighton and you want to know what changes you can make to create a more diverse and empowered workforce, contact us and have something genuine to shout about next March!
Allegra Chapman is a marketing strategist and business mentor, helping women to build purposeful businesses. She is also a fiction writer and has very many opinions.
You can find Allegra on Twitter: @Allegra_Chapman