Last updated: International Women’s Day: It resonates even more today than when it first began

International Women’s Day: It resonates even more today than when it first began


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2018 marks the UK centurion when women were given the right to vote. From moderate suffragists to a radical suffragettes, female participation to fight for social and political change has advanced throughout the 20th Century, bringing to light the dialogue and actions needed to support and enhance equality for women.

As the recent global campaigns #metoo and Time’s Up demonstrate, female empowerment has never been stronger as women speak up about experiences of gender discrimination and harassment. Supporting these movements through a myriad of industries has inspired women to question the status quo and look to revolutionize the cultural differences we need to transform in modern society.

The founding principles of International Women’s Day (IWD) were born out of social movements originating back to 1910 in Germany, where women gathered annually to entice action and push for female political rights. Perseverance is key to continue the movement which has been implemented by our mothers, grandmothers, and grandmother’s generations. This subject is coming further to the forefront of our social agendas in business, in the home, and in education.

The wait for equality has been too long

Improvements made over the course of our history demonstrate just how male-dominated our society is, and the longevity at which cultural changes are still taking place. Passing legislation to support elevating women’s rights takes time, and has proven to be difficult geographically. Looking back to the early 1900’s in the UK, the Law of Property Act, which allowed both husband and wife the right to inherit property equally, was only passed in 1922.

Twenty years later in 1944, the Education Act  enabled girls access to free education, from primary to secondary school. Furthermore, despite all the work women supporting men fighting on the frontline during World War II by stepping up in different professions vacancies, it took until 1979 for the UN to recognize them with the ‘Bill of Rights for Women’ through CEDAW, which aimed to support eradicating discrimination and abuse of women. Although this still stands in place today, with many branches having extended the support of women on an international stage, the pattern shows how long it takes to implement necessary social changes.

Most recently in 2017, women in Saudi Arabia have just been granted the freedom to drive, demonstrating how far we have to go in order for different cultures to listen and adhere to these demands.

To continue making momentous changes throughout this generation and future generations to come, we need to understand what IWD means today, and what can we do to encourage further this revolution.

How we can make changes and empower women

Think big in business

Internationally, corporations are failing culturally due to the lack of representation of women in board level, executive, and managerial positions. Without women at the table, no change can filter down throughout the company. Cultural changes, therefore, are designed to fail. Recently, I listened to the influential TED Talk from Sheryl Sandberg, which consequently initiated her ‘Lean In’ organisation.

This encouraged women to discuss how they integrate in both the workplace and domestically to make larger social changes. For people to listen on this scale demonstrates the urgency and necessity in which change is needed. As of 2017, only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of color, demonstrating the lack of diversity at the top. These promotional disparities begin from the entry-level positions for women, where 18% of women are less likely to be promoted than their male peers.

The dialogue in the workforce needs to be readdressed in order to empower women, to use language which does not describe women as ‘bossy’ but as leaders, to provide equal opportunities to excel in their specialised industries, and to support communities in which women can look to achieve and empower each other.

Furthermore, the issue of disparities in the gender pay-gap signifies just how stagnant change is for women in many corporations. In 2017, statistics show that ‘women effectively worked for free for 51 days a year’. This is even worse for women in minority groups, for example African American women make 63 cents to every dollar a man makes. The fact this is still an issue is provoking more women to speak out than ever before.

Refusing to accept the status quo was exemplified in 2017 when BBC employees’ salaries were released and showcased a significant pay difference between men and women in similar roles. Consequently, this caused backlash from many senior figures within the BBC who released a public letter, demanding revaluation for equal pay across the corporation and led to the resignation of BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie.

Iceland took legal action to implement cultural change by making it illegal to pay women and men differently in the same positions within a company, and it demonstrates just how far we have to go before these changes are made. Getting women into the board room in any industry is hard, and with it still being a global conversation, we need to look at what we can do both individually and within the workforce to support these movements and pursue equality.

Think domestic diversity

As we look to see what more we can do for women in the workforce, this also requires our attention to see what support we can provide for men in domestic environments. In 2017, only 2 percent or less of both genders were willing to leave the workforce to focus on their family. This shows not only that women feel they cannot leave, as they will lose their authority and position in a company, but also that men don’t feel comfortable in a female-dominated community of raising their children.

Gender-bias is therefore seen on both ends of the social spectrum. In order to see women as leaders in business, we need to understand how to support men in raising their families. As women need to feel that they can return to work and enjoy the challenges they face when leaving their young families in the care of others, it also requires another cultural paradigm to make it easier for men to get involved in domestic communities and to not feel inferior in their domestic settings.

One way we can support engaging all genders in society is with the ‘f’ word movement. Feminism has been receding the margins of society to support female empowerment since the 1960’s, with architects of the era like Gloria Steinem redefining the structures of feminists and women in society, and calling women out to be more conscious of their role in supporting changes. However, this is a dialogue we need to integrate with more men to demonstrate that feminism is about the equality of women, and there’s nothing scary about it. With men on board this movement, we can escalate these changes from both ends of society to become more unified in our messaging. Therefore, changing the norm in domestic settings will enable both parents to continue their work, to support each other, and to continue the climb up the career ladders to achieve success.

Think educational influences

To change societal norms, we must understand how we teach and influence gender roles in our schools, and the implications this has on female representation in later life. The top of the social funnel begins in our education. What both girls and boys are taught in the classroom is a stimulus for how we will work with our peers throughout our careers. The concept of ‘nudging’ theorises the equation that initiating small variations consequentially administers larger changes. This can be on a minor scale – for instance initiating healthier eating habits – to focusing on wider social implications. For example, teaching girls at school to strive for success and perfection differs from how we engage with boys to be risk-takers and take charge. The principles we are consciously indoctrinating in the youngest brains on the planet is setting 50% of our global population to only succeed to a certain degree.

For over thirty years women have continuously earned more college degrees than men, yet are still underrepresented at every level in corporate America. This demonstrates that it’s not about brains or beauty, it’s about the personable traits and quality characteristics which are required for women to be taken more seriously.

The influence in our classrooms has ultimately shaped the way in which we are treated in society and in our professions. To change this, we need to redefine what it means to be a leader and how we consider these from a young age. We need to question why we aren’t allowing women to rise to leadership challenges from a young age. We need to be accountable for how we shape the future; only then will we be able to see change through generational influences.

The time is now: Let women lead

Leaders are disrupters and agents of change. No matter what industry you look at, women represent more than just their professions. Journalists like Christiane Amanpour and Lynsey Addario, technology trailblazers like Sheryl Sandberg, Roya Mahboob, and Bozoma Saint John, athlete Serena Williams, political figures like Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and Christine Lagarde, prolific figures in film and media like Sheila Nevins, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Angelina Jolie, and women hoping to improve society, like Melinda Gates and activist Yeonmi Park: all these women are iconic, and uplift other women.

Whatever role they are responsible for in their work, they prove daily that they have the calibre to do their job in the best ways possible. They go above and beyond to promote female equality. They are leaders in their own rights, causing disruption in their industries to enable further social changes. By showcasing their capabilities on a global scale, they demonstrate to children that they can do it, and so can you. Once we place more accountability on our leaders and alter these peripheries from a young age, we will see cultural alterations filter down to the workplace and domestic living.

As a young woman working in technology, the time has never felt more motivating to see how my role in this industry can support the voices of women on a larger scale to help instigate change. Speaking out, encouraging others to join the dialogue, and being active in my community by supporting other women are three of my key principles to promote the wider social movement which I wish to partake in.

Working at SAP, where in 2017 they reached their goal of ensuring that 1 in 4 managerial positions be held by women, I’m proud to be part of a company which supports diversity. However, I’m also excited to welcome new challenges to discover what I can do to further increase these numbers and enable changes to be norms, not just statistics in progress.

So ask yourself, what will you do this International Women’s Day to show your support?

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