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The Problem with International Women’s Day

This might not make me many friends, but you know what, that’s not my role as a leader. So I’m not going to sugar coat what I want to say: I’m passionate about International Women’s Day but the problem with it is it’s in danger of being token.

We have great events every year, with fabulous speakers, creative keynotes, energetic shows of hands about everything from workplace discrimination to salary pay gaps, pledges over a cuppa or croissant when networking.

Then we all go back to work and nothing changes. The United Nations General Assembly began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975—that’s almost 50 years ago! Advances for women since then have been minimal and it’s gone backwards globally since Covid when women bore the brunt of home schooling. Funding for women’s enterprise also went backwards.

So here’s three things I’d like to propose to make IWD really count.

First, I’d love to see the focus be on inclusion in the workplace but also in society, and understanding that everyone has different strengths, qualities and experiences. When we embrace that we can really start creating magic and valuing everyone’s worth regardless of gender.

What we should be aiming for 365 days a year is creating a really strong, resilient and diverse workplace with non-homogenous thinking and fewer ‘yes’ people who reflect the leaders.

And the best way to achieve all of that is through technology. We learned enough lessons through Covid to understand that we can get tech right. When we do, it leads to being able to build those diverse workplaces where we are able to retain more women in the workplace and they can do their jobs around life events like leaving to have children or attending to other priorities such as ageing parents.

Our mission should be to enable women to work when they are able as opposed to what is dictated. To empower them to decide their own operating times that enable them to do their best work, when it suits them, and to keep them engaged when they go off on maternity leave.

My second priority is seeing men high up in the hierarchy, the ones in blue power suits with grey hair, lead inclusiveness and not just because they want to achieve a quota—but because they can see the incredible uniqueness that women bring to the table. Simple. See us for who we are and what we can do, not because we fill a box you can tick.

That brings me back to where I started. We have all these discussions and events around IWD and then it’s situation normal. Back to status quo.

So who is going to champion this change and continue to lead it? I’d love it to be me and you. Women need to champion women and challenge hierarchies that discriminate against women who have kids, who won’t be promoted because they are of childbearing age or nearing retirement age or work in a culture that is lacking.

I’d love to treat IWD as an ongoing project instead of an annual one-off, so we actually create change and are proud of it. I’d love to see the organisations which are killing it at inclusiveness role model the way forward and be a shining light for others. I’d love to see IWD not be token.

In support of this, my Leading You interview is with two leaders who are championing inclusiveness and have been for a long time. Have a listen to what they have to say below and you might also get some great ideas too.