Today is International Women's Day (IWD). The day has been marked worldwide on March 8th since the 1920s. And it's been backed by the United Nations since 1975. Depending on where you are, International Women's Day may be a national holiday, or simply an observance.
The origins of International Women's Day are rooted in early 20th-century protests in different parts of the world to honor working women and agitate for change in terms of pay, voting rights and more. Some 45 years later, many of these issues are still relevant. Those who observe the day may be celebrating women's achievements or protesting because there's still a long way to go to achieve equity.
In this guide, I'll look at this year's International Women's Day theme, and examine the continuing problem of gender inequality. The guide will also cover gender equality in the workplace and will share resources to help you create a more equitable workplace wherever you are.
#EachforEqual: What Is Collective Individualism?
If you're wondering how to celebrate International Women's Day, a good starting point is checking out this year's theme. There's been an official UN theme since 1996, with recurring topics including peace, access to education, women's empowerment, ending violence against women, equality and women in the workplace.
The 2020 IWD theme is #EachforEqual. As the IWD site explains, this is about collective individualism. But what exactly does collective individualism mean? The site says it's about choosing to
"challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements."
Collective individualism is also about using individual behavior to make a collective impact on the world. Every conversation and action can help create change. Importantly, this isn't just about taking actions on International Women's Day itself, but about taking action throughout the year to reduce gender inequality.
This is something everyone can participate in, not just women. Research done for IWD 2019 found that two-thirds of people around the globe agree that men have to be involved in the battle for gender equality or it won't be achieved.
Gender equality has been a goal since the first International Women's Day, and it's one of the reasons why International Women's Day is celebrated at all. Yet, it remains an enduring problem.
The Problem of Gender Inequality
Though gender inequality is reducing in some parts of the world, there's still a long way to go. UN statistics show that, in many parts of the world, girls and women are more likely than men to be subjected to violence, and to have impaired access to education and health facilities. They're also underrepresented when it comes to access to economic resources and in public life.
In fact, the World Economic Forum reveals that there are only six countries in the world (Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden) where women have equal work rights to men.
Another major issue is the gender pay gap, which currently it'll take 108 years to close, according to the World Economic Forum. Women are routinely underpaid compared with men filling the same roles.
One famous instance of this was at the BBC, where at one stage male employees routinely earned 9.3% more than their female counterparts. In one landmark case, a male presenter earned more than seven times as much as a female presenter hosting a similar type of show.
In addition, women's careers and earning potential are adversely affected by childbirth and childcare. And women are underrepresented in senior roles both in the government and within companies. UN statistics show that in government, Finland leads the way with more than 60% of government ministerial roles filled by women.
In Pakistan, there are just 4.2% of women in senior business roles. At the other end of the scale, Namibia has 48,6% of women in senior roles. Around the world, there is a general lack of diversity in hiring practices.
The Benefits of Gender Equality in the Workplace
The International Women's Day team is clear on one thing:
"Equality is not a women's issue, it's a business issue."
The #EachforEqual theme recognizes that gender equality is essential for thriving communities and businesses. Here are 10 tangible benefits of gender equality in the workplace.
1. A Better Economy
Women spend double the amount of time as men do on unpaid work such as caregiving and household tasks. This prevents them from participating fully in the economy. Add to that the gender pay gap and you have a serious problem.
McKinsey estimates that were more women to be able to fully participate in paid work, and earn equal pay, that could add $28 trillion to the global gross domestic product (GDP). That would be a 26% increase by 2025. This would also contribute to company profitability, as another McKinsey report shows that increased gender diversity should improve profitability by 21%.
2. Improved Productivity
Gender equal workforces work better in many ways. One of the major benefits of improved gender equality in the workplace is a more cohesive and more productive workforce. A University of Greenwich study suggests that providing more child care and elder care would free more skilled women to return to work, which is good for productivity.
Plus, according to multiple research studies, diversity of opinion leads to a more holistic approach and therefore higher achievement. Gender equal workforces are more likely to have varied perspectives and approaches, resulting in better decisions.
3. Increased Growth and Innovation
Accenture believes that if companies want to grow, they also have to innovate. Workplaces that have a culture of equality exponentially increase their ability to do both.
An empowering, bias-free and supportive gender equal workplace leads to an innovation mindset. Key aspects of this are willingness to get inspiration from beyond the organization, to work across the organization, and to be willing to experiment.
According to Accenture, this has the potential to add $8 trillion to the US economy by 2028.
4. Diversity of Views
That same Accenture report also promotes the value of diversity of views to business culture. As one business leader points out, if everyone looks the same and has the same background, then they also have the same blind spots.
A more diverse approach gives your company the chance to benefit from views that fall outside the norm. That's another major benefit of gender equality. Learn more about the benefits of workplace diversity in the following guides:
- A New Look at Diversity in the Workplace for 2020Sharon Hurley Hall14 Jan 2020
- How to Manage Diversity in the WorkplaceAlexis (Lexi) Rodrigo27 Jan 2020
5. More Flexible Working
As mentioned earlier, women around the world do the bulk of the unpaid caring. This negatively affects their career and income prospects. A more flexible work culture can minimize or eliminate this issue.
For example, in many Scandinavian countries (Finland is the latest to offer this), parental leave is shared equally between men and women. Plus, everyone appreciates the benefits of a more flexible work culture. A survey by PowWowNow shows that 81% of people says flexible working would make a job more attractive.
Telecommuting and part-time hours are a benefit everyone can enjoy, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn't hurt productivity at all. Recent data from Flexjobs shows that 85% of businesses say productivity increased with more flexible working.
6. A More Stable Workforce
When people feel excluded, they don't stick around. That means that companies that are not gender equal run the risk of failing to attract or retain the best talent for individual roles.
A good starting point, says Talent Culture, is to avoid asking for salary history when interviewing. This unfairly penalizes women who are already affected by the gender pay gap. Plus avoid preconceptions about which gender is right for which role. If you're hiring the best people, regardless of gender, then you have laid the foundation for a stronger and more stable business.
It's also important to make it clear that there are routes into leadership and management for people of all genders, not just men. For example, Oracle has a program designed to encourage and support women leaders.
7. Happier Employees
Gender equality isn't just good for women. In fact, as Global Women points out, it makes the whole workforce happier. Any steps you take to level the playing field for women level it for all genders.
For example, Flexjobs research suggests that offering the chance to work remotely means employees are 57% more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, and 80% of employees are less likely to be stressed.
And gender equity means that men can assume roles that normally go to women, if those roles make them happy - a win-win.
8. Improved Customer Targeting
Did you know that women are responsible for 70 to 80% of consumer purchasing? Despite this, in a typical workplace, women may not be involved at all in making top-level decisions about product development and marketing.
Why wait till you're about to launch a product or service to figure out if it works for this key demographic? If you get women involved at all levels of your company, then it's easier for you to target this huge segment of your customer base effectively - and early. This has the potential to make your company much more profitable in the long run.
9. Better Quality of Life
It goes without saying that a company with flexible work, equal pay, diverse hiring and is continuing to innovate, grow and be productive leads to a better quality of life for employees of all genders.
Men may find they're able to spend more time with their families and have a more balanced life. Meanwhile, women may find their contributions are prized, and feel more fulfilled in their working lives.
10. Improved Company Reputation
More and more, consumers care about company's ethics and social responsibility. Fair employment practices are one key issue, says research from Accenture. The report shows that 53% of consumers will complain when disappointed by a brand's stance on a social issue.
In addition, a quarter of UK consumers won't go back to a brand after they've been disappointed. Learn more about being an ethical and responsible company in the following guides:
- Community Involvement: How to Be a Company That Gives BackAndrew Childress21 Nov 2019
- What Is Business Ethics and Why It Makes a Difference for Your OrganisationAndrew Blackman08 Oct 2021
As we said earlier, gender equality is definitely a business issue. If your business has a reputation for promoting gender equity and diversity, then you'll have a better reputation, which will help you to attract the right workers AND the right customers.
Learn More About Gender Equality
To learn more about issues of gender equality in business, read the following guides:
- 10 Top Women in Tech: Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2018Andrew Blackman07 Mar 2018
- 12 Tips to Overcome Gender Bias in the WorkplaceAndrew Blackman08 Mar 2019
- Press for Progress: 40 Inspiring Quotes for Women EntrepreneursAndrew Blackman08 Mar 2018
Make Your Workplace Gender Equal
As Ogilvy points out, gender equality has to be a shared mission among all genders. Use the tips in this guide to promote gender equality in your workplace. After all, it's not just fair; it's also good business.